Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Chief Bleskachek

Yesterday, the Executive Committee decided to reject the current terms of the proposed lawsuit settlement presented by her attorney and directed the City attorney to begin the process for removing Fire Chief Bleskachek as Chief of the Fire department. The first step to do this is to formally notify the Cheif of our intention.

This decision was the result of one of the most intense, focused and serious meetings I have participated in since taking office. It took place during a closed meeting (closed because we were discussing confidential personnel matters) of the Executive committee over the course of nearly 4 hours. Even though it was a meeting of the 5 person Executive Committee, all 13 Council Members, as well as the Mayor, attended. We all listened carefully to staff reports, asked questions, engaged in earnest discussion and worked hard to come consensus about what the best next steps should be.

In the end, all five of the other Committee Members: Mayor Rybak, Council President Johnson, Council Vice President Lilligren and Council Member Bensen, agreed with the two motions I ended up making. I made then, in part, because we were able to build a consensus around them, but also because I was convinced some formal action was needed and that these two steps were the right steps to take on behalf of the people of Minneapolis.

Our primary concerns concerns centered on maintaining the excellent level of Fire Department service we have in Minneapolis, stengthening public trust, protecting public dollars and improving the morale of all Fire Department employees.

My fear is that we may still be a long away from the end of this matter, but I think we took a good next step and remain hopeful that might be resolved soon.

You can find a description of the process for firing and demoting City staff here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Riverside Market Art

Last week, a bit of a brouhaha erupted over the art project that Seward Neighborhood Group and Seward Redesign had put together on the vacant Riverside Market. (See past posts for more information on the planning process for the redevelopment of this site.)

The project's goal was to cover the large, blank walls that had increasingly become graffiti magnets with public art. The artists were each given a portion of the wall to work in, and their finished products were striking and, as art often is, controversial.

My office heard from the City's Solid Waste and Recycling (SW&R) department that they had received numerous complaints through the City's 311 program about graffiti on the site. Unless the owner of the property agreed to cover the 'graffiti', it would be covered by a City crew.

My office forwarded this information to SNG and Redesign to alert them to the possibility that the murals might be covered, and the response was immediate and unequivocal: the murals are a public art project, not graffiti.

It took some effort to convince our diligent SW&R folks to accept this. It's complicated. The aesthetic style of much of the art is definitely in the 'graffiti' mold. (Interestingly, one of the "tags" that the City documented read "Seward Art Crawl" - clearly an authorized statement).

Add to this the fact that some of the artwork on Riverside Market is done by individuals who have done unauthorized graffiti vandalism elsewhere. Another complicating factor is that there were clearly some unauthorized tags on the building, though how many is disputed. Lastly, the ownership of the building is in flux (Seward Redesign has a purchase agreement with the current owners, but the City does not consider that legal authority).

I heard from quite a few Seward neighbors about this issue, almost all of whom opposed any City "cleanup" of the art. A few wrote that, though the art itself isn't their visual cup of tea, they support the right of the artists to express themselves and, as importantly, the right of the neighborhood to organize public art projects.

My position was this: public art, even if in a "graffiti" style, is not graffiti unless it is unauthorized. The City should not be an arbiter of aesthetics. Therefore, those who control the site may allow people - even people known as destructive taggers, if that's their whim - to do public art without City intervention. However, those who control the site (in this case, that de facto means SNG and Redesign) must keep it clear of unauthorized tags, so as not to allow it to become a free-for-all.

Still, some neighbors continue to be concerned. Yesterday I heard that some neighbors who live in a High rise buildings in the area are offended by some painting on the roof that is not visible from the street level. Just today I received a call from an area business person who is concerned that the existence of this art has lead to an increase in unauthorized graffiti elsewhere and may discourage some people from buying property or doing other business in the neighborhood.

Clearly, this is a instance where there is not agreement among neighbors. Ultimately, the best solution will be realized (soon, hopefully) when the now-vacant property is redeveloped.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Youth Violence Prevention

Youth violence is one of most serious problems we face in Minneapolis. Murder is the number one cause of death for our 15-24 year olds and just this morning another 24 year-old fell victim to another shooting death.

Working to stop the disturbing and persistent increase in youth violence in our City is, in my opinion, one of the most important things that we can do as a community and as policymakers in City Hall. Today I think we took a significant step forward.

The Youth Violence Prevention resolution that I've been working on for weeks passed the Council unanimously today. I encourage you to read the full resolution (here) - it presents a powerful rationale for why we ought to view this as a public health crisis and spells out a framework for developing a muti-year, muti-faceted strategic plan to dramatically reduce youth violence in Minneapolis.

The resolution redefines youth violence as a public health problem, rather than just a public safety and criminal justice problem. This new focus will help us better direct resources towards prevention before violence takes place, rather than just punishment afterwards. The public health model will help us use research-based approaches to identify risk factors and target prevention and intervention strategies where they will be most effective. Through this model, we will be better able to measure the outcomes of our investments, and see whether the dollars we spend are making progress in reducing youth violence.

The resolution also creates a Steering Committee which will draft the plan, identify funding sources, coordinate City and County efforts and facilitate cross-community partnerships and communication among stakeholders, including police, corrections, parole officers, parks, schools, churches, nonprofits, community activists and others.

I believe that this is a major accomplishment, and a significant step towards reducing violence overall and addressing this crisis in our City.

Monday, November 13, 2006

IRV Wins!

I was thrilled on Election Night to see that Minneapolis voters adopted Ranked Choice Voting (also known as Instant Runoff Voting or IRV) as our local election method. It was a landslide: 65% yes, 35% no.

I'm proud that the Second Ward had the highest vote totals of any Ward in the City: 70.7% yes.

This is a huge step forward for Minneapolis democracy, and hopefully only a first step towards better voting methods for the State and Federal levels. I also consider this an important victory for the Green Party as well, which has had IRV in its platform for almost a decade and a top prioriy in Minneapolis since 2001. It's exciting to see mainstream voters enthusiastically embracing such a fundamental part of the Green platform.

This is also gratifying for me personally. I have been advocating for IRV for years now, since the book clubs with Tony Solgard (now outgoing President of FairVote MN) and others in 1997. I remember how hard it was in 1999 and 2001 when we tried to get IRV/Proportional Representation on the ballot and failed (then we called it Majority Preference Voting). I also remember the hours of work my office put in on the IRV Task Force, the run-up to the vote to put IRV on the ballot, the discussions about the actual ballot language, and the hours of our own time we spent dropping literature in the Ward. It's been a long road, and it feels great to win.

Minneapolis owes a debt of gratitude to Jeanne Massey and the rest of the Better Ballot Campaign for their outstanding organizing. Even earlier this year, it would've been hard to predict that twelve Council Members would vote to put IRV on the ballot and 65% of voters would approve it.

After a brief pause to celebrate, the work will begin again. IRV advocates can build on this stunning mandate, both to organize similar campaigns in other Minnesota cities and towns and to implement IRV as soon as possible in Minneapolis, hopefully in 2009. It will be very important that we take care to develop a specific ordinance and procedures that will increase confidence in this new voting method and ensure that the will of the voters is accurately reflected in the election results.