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: http://secondward.blogspot.com/2006/05/disclaimer.html#links

Friday, December 22, 2006

Council Bans the Box

Today the Minneapolis City Council unanimously removed the question requiring disclosure of past criminal records on applications for employment with the City.

The Council on Crime and Justice has been working with Council Members Glidden and Samuels on this for months. (I have been supportive as well, but they took the lead.)

The reason to "ban the box" is that otherwise qualified applicants are discouraged from even applying for work with the City if they know that they will be asked this question. State law prohibits the City from making the answer to that one question the sole basis for refusing to hire someone, but it's understandable that folks are less likely to apply when they see that question asked right on the front of every application.

There are some positions that require background checks. If and when a background check is needed, it will still be performed. All we've done is remove a question that doesn't provide meaningful and useful information to our Human Resources personnel.

If we believe that the thousands of people being released from prison every year can and should be productive members of society, it is important that we do what we can to reduce the obstacles that can come from past convictions. This is a small step in that direction.

We can now go to other employers in Minneapolis and ask that they "ban the box" as well.

It should be noted that the St. Paul City Council has also taken this action - they beat us to it by just a few weeks. I hope that this is the beginning of a larger movement in our metro region, towards rehabilitation and second chances, away from unnecessary and demeaning obstacles to work.

CRA Subpoena Power

Months ago, the Civilian Review Authority (CRA) Work Group recommended that the City put
subpoena power for the CRA on our Legislative Agenda.

The purpose is to increase the quality of CRA investigations by giving them more access to information. City staff, including police officers, are already required to participate with CRA investigators, but there is obviously information concerning alleged incidents of police misconduct outside the City's enterprise: surveillance tapes, witnesses, documents, etc.

There was some back and forth in the group about how broad our request for subpoena power should be. Should we ask for full powers, like the EEOC, Civil Rights Commission and others use, or should we ask for a narrower, limited power to subpoena just documents and not witnesses?

At first, the Police Federation said they would fight us at the legislature if we asked for full subpoena power, but might not fight us if we asked for the narrower version. Partly for this reason, the subpoena power subcommittee of the Work Group recommended the limited version. Later, the Federation clarified that they would fight us no matter what. The Work Group then voted nearly unanimously (with only the Federation representative voting against) to ask the Legislature for full subpoena power.

That is how the proposed request remained on the proposed 2007 Legislative Agenda until this past Tuesday, when Council Member Ostrow successfully moved to narrow the focus again.

Today, I moved to return the language in the Legislative Agenda to the full, broad subpoena power the Work Group supported. The power to get documents from outside organizations is important, but the power to compel witnesses to participate with our investigators would also be immensely helpful. I requested that CRA staff let me know if there have been specific incidents that full subpoena power would have helped us investigate. The short answer is yes. Some examples:

  • Several months ago, police responded to a wrecker service company that does a significant amount of business with the city. Cameras on the premises recorded the incident and a company employee witnessed the incident. A CRA investigator contacted the company to retrieve the video; the company informed the investigator that the video had been re-recorded. Since the video was no longer available, the investigator left several message for the employee who witnessed the incident to call the investigator; however, the employee has not returned any of the investigators calls.
  • A while back, a complainant alleged that police had goaded him into a foot chase, and then, upon capturing him, had beat him severely, causing him to lose a lot of blood. The incident occurred on the private property of an office building, and two of the building’s private security guards had witnessed the capture and had actually helped the police take the complainant into custody. The property manager refused to allow the CRA investigator to interview the guards, and refused to provide the investigator with a copy of the guard’s report. The guard’s testimony was very critical to the determination of the case.
  • Quite often, the Minneapolis police assist the Minneapolis Park Police and police officers from other jurisdictions. Joint police operations range from simple arrest on and transport from city parks to warrant searches. The CRA lacks the ability to compel the Minneapolis Park Police and other police departments to provide their officers reports involving alleged incidents of police misconduct.

These support my belief that the power to subpoena witnesses would significantly improve CRA investigations.

The counterargument from CMs Ostrow and Hodges was that a) subpoenaing witnesses is not likely to be fruitful, as they will be 'uncooperative' and b) if we ask for full subpoena power, the Legislature is less likely to give us anything at all.

I disagree with both of these points. As in the example above, sometimes all a witness needs is an excuse to give their employer - hey, I didn't want to but they subpoenaed me, so what choice did I have? As to the second argument, I am not opposed to compromise, and would be happy to see the Legislature allow the narrower version if that's all we can get. But I am not convinced that's all we can get, and the assertion that we get more by asking for less doesn't make sense to me.

My motion to amend failed 8-5 (CMs Gordon, Lilligren, Glidden, Schiff, and Remington voting yes and CMs Ostrow, hofstede, Johnson, Samuels, Goodman, Benson, Colvin Roy and Hodges voting no).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Roosters

Several weeks ago, my office started getting calls from concerned Mpls chicken owners. They had noticed a proposed ban on roosters in the city, and wanted to know whose idea it was.

My office asked Council Member Don Samuels' office about this, as Don was listed as the author. They pointed us to the Animal Care & Control staff, who had included the proposed ban in a list of amendments to the animal ordinances. Don was listed as author by dint of being Public Safety & Regulatory Services Committee (PS&RS) Chair.

When we asked staff what the rationale was for the proposed ban, we heard it was about crowing. Staff had received some complaints about roosters crowing, but felt that they could not respond if the rooster is permitted.

However, they could not provide me with the number of complaints, which had not been tracked. Additionally, the current ordinance requires chicken owners to get 80% of their neighbors within 100 feet of their property to sign a petition expressing their willingness to live near chickens. One does not have to do this for a dog, for instance, so there are safeguards that allow neighbors to keep crowing roosters off their blocks. And if a given rooster owner doesn't have a permit, that's already a violation of the ordinance.

Another reason to oppose the ban came from Chicken Run Rescue owner Mary Britton Clouse: even for experts and Animal Care and Control staff, it can be hard to tell the sex of a chick. That cute little yellow ball may grow up to crow. If the ban had gone through, a certain number of juvenile chickens would have to be impounded or given up for adoption every year - and many would likely be killed.

I talked to Don, and he agreed to move to withdraw the proposed ban. You can read some of his comments to the Star Tribune here. My office communicated this to the chicken enthusiasts who had contacted us, and they were thrilled, but still sent in formal statements opposing the ban.

At committee yesterday, Don's motion passed unanimously. (Look here, and scroll down to item 14.) Minneapolis roosters are safe.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Library Funding

There has been a great deal of justified community concern and involvement about Library funding in recent months. Libraries are a vital public investment. Their health and welfare are intrinsically linked to the overall health and success of our residents and our City. I believe that we should be working to improve and expand library services and that we are right to resist closing libraries or limiting services in any way.

I also appreciate the enormous pressure on the library board to make responsible decisions based on the funds they have available. Clearly this is a complex situation and serious issue worthy of the most informed and careful decision-making.

All of this came into focus for the City Council this month during our budget deliberations and at our final budget meeting where we approved the budget on December 11.

Throughout that process, and for the meeting on the 11th, there were three major goals I wanted the Council to accomplish:

1. Allocate enough "emergency" or “bridge” library funds for 2007 so that the Board would not be forced to sell or close any libraries, and could reopen the two recently renovated libraries (East Lake and North Regional) without cutting hours at any other community libraries.

2. Have the City Council make a firm commitment to be part of finding a long term on-going funding solution.

3. Preserve the option for the Library Board to follow through with plans and commitments to renovate community libraries based on what the voters approved with the library referendum vote of 2000.

I am hopeful that we were able to accomplish that at our meeting, although I understand that not everyone will agree that we did and that ultimately the Library Board will make their own decisions based on our actions. I do know that accomplishing as much as we did was not easy and was not without controversy.

I personally am especially proud to have crafted the compromise and motion that ultimately succeeding in reallocating an additional $105,000 to libraries, the amount that the Library Board has said it will take to keep open all neighborhood libraries in 2007. These funds came from three sources: $35,000 from the “City Hall Meet and Greet” program, $35,000 from street renovation and $35,000 from public safety fuel costs. I also supported the $1.1 million that the Ways and Means committee had already identified in additional funding for the libraries. I was one of the six Council Members who voted to make $250,000 of those 1.1 million “ongoing” rather than “one-time” dollars. That motion did not prevail meaning that all the additional funds we approved were for one time use only.

I also supported stipulations and staff directions that require this issue to return in to the City Council at least four times in the first half of 2007 including for updates by January 30th, 2007, within two weeks of the closing of the 2007 State of Minnesota legislative session, and after the two already established Advisory Groups complete their work.

We also requested that the Library Board incorporate a community engagement process in 2007 for related decisions and assigned both City Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) staff and Finance staff to work with Library Board of Trustees and Library staff as they develop a strategic plan for maintaining a sustainable library system. The Finance staff will work with the City Attorney's office to examine the financial impact of making the Library Board a department of the City. The CPED report will come back to the Community Development Committee by May 1, 2007. A financial report regarding making the Library Board a city department will be given to the Ways & Means/Budget Committee, the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, the Library Advisory Committee, and the Minneapolis Library Board by March 1, 2007.

While all of this may look like micromanaging, I think it also shows that the Council is very concerned and plans to be involved. The fact that we have required at least 3 of our Committees to review this issue before June is very significant and I believe demonstrates our commitment to work (with the community and other concerned government partners) on finding a more permanent solution in the first half of next year. These will not only offer Council Members, but also community members, an opportunity to learn about and influence what kinds of solutions are being considered and will be implemented.

I am also glad that we were able to find this additional money for libraries, while leaving library capital dollars untouched. This means that they are still available for physical improvements to community libraries. I hope that the Library Board will use this $1,205,000 in new funding to keep all of our libraries open next year while long term solutions can be developed well before the 2008 budget. If you would like to contact your representatives on the Library Board and encourage them to keep all libraries open, you can find their contact information here.

Overwhelming numbers of residents called and emailed my colleagues and me in support of the libraries, helping make libraries the most visible issue in this budget cycle.

I look forward to the upcoming discussions between the Council, the Library Board, Hennepin County, the Library Advisory Committee and the Legislature, which I hope will lay out some concrete proposals for long-term solutions for funding our library system, and I hope that the public stays as engaged as they have been so far.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Community Engagement Report

A new Community Engagement Report, which reviews and summarizes a variety of reports and recommendations on the City’s current community engagement system and activities, is now available for public review and comment.

The City Council plans to discuss the Community Engagement report early in 2007. I encourage you to review this report and get your comments in as soon as possible to Clara Perrin, Community Engagement Coordinator.

It was brought to my attention that the timing of the comment period was just about the worst possible - releasing the report in late November and asking for comments by the beginning of January, coinciding with the holiday season. Many neighborhood organizations skip their December meetings, or hold more celebratory and less business-focused gatherings, or conduct annual meetings whose agendas are already full enough without a discussion of the City's Community Engagement Report.

I forwarded these concerns to Steven Bosacker, the City Coordinator, along with my opinion that we should extend the comment period until at least the end of January, to make sure we have offered a real opportunity for community input. I heard back this afternoon that the comment period has been pushed back until early mid February, which is great news.

I'm excited about the prospects for this discussion, early next year. Specifically, I am eager to tie this report on how the City engages its residents to the larger and thornier discussion of the future of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP). NRP is slated to run out of money in 2009, and the current Council will need to lay out the plan for future funding.

I believe that the City relies to a great extent on our neighborhood groups, and that NRP has been instrumental in helping them build their capacity to effectively work for their (and our) residents. The loss of NRP funding poses a very real threat to these organizations, and the City stands to lose all the tremendous progress we've made.

I am convinced that we need an ongoing City commitment to support, maintain and improve our neighborhood groups. This means allocating resources.

I look forward to getting this discussion going. Please send in your comments to the report, both to Clara and to me, and stay tuned.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Air Quality - Globe Tool

Recently, I've gotten involved in another air quality issue (see the Morningstar post below for the first), this time up in Southeast Como.

Southeast Como Improvement Association (SECIA) staff have recently learned that the air pollution permit for Greatbatch Globe Tool is coming up for renewal in December. They had earlier been told by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) that they would be notified of the renewal and have a chance to make public comment. This didn't happen. They found out on their own.

This is problematic for several important reasons. First, because according to SECIA staff, Globe Tool emits 26,000 pounds of trichloroethylene (or TCE, a known endocrine disruptor and carcinogen) per year, or 15% of the annual Minnesota TCE emissions. The facility is the 4th greatest emitter of known endocrine disruptors and 3rd greatest emitter of known carcinogens in Hennepin County. It's reasonable that not all air pollution permits require hearings, but this facility's emissions are so serious that the MPCA should offer an opportunity for public input.

Second, it sounds like Globe Tool has not been especially open to constructive dialog with their neighbors. According to the nieghborhood organization, several emails requesting meetings have gone unreturned. The renewal of this air pollution permit is possibly the one chance that neighbors have to encourage the facility's managers to engage with them.

SECIA staff asked my office to send a letter to the MPCA asking that they not approve the permit until there is an opportunity for public comment, which we did.

I've heard recently that the letter has achieved one of its goals - Globe Tool has agreed to meet with SECIA staff, neighbors and me on December 18th.

Air Quality - Morningstar Coffee

Since about June, my office has been receiving complaints from neighbors about nuisance odors originating from Morningstar Coffee Company, which operates a facility on Snelling Ave, near the Franklin LRT station. The smell of roasting coffee (for those of you who haven't experienced it) is surprisingly unpleasant, reminiscent of badly burnt toast. The odor is pervasive and widespread - you can smell it during certain morning hours at the LRT station, and it gets into people's houses and lingers. Those with chemical sensitivies and asthma find the odor particularly problematic.

I have learned that this is an ongoing issue that neighbors, the company and staff have been working on for over a year. The company has installed a "scrubber" technology to deal with the odors, which passes the smoke through water. This technology is clearly not working well enough. Many residents believe that the only technology that will fully address the odor is what most of the other coffee roasters in town use: an afterburner.

Working with the Seward Neighborhood Group (SNG) Environment Committee and their inestimable staff person Bernie Waibel, my office put together a meeting of concerned neighbors, Morningstar's owner and City Staff to talk about the complaints and possible solutions.

The upshot of the meeting is that staff will be writing an order to Morningstar, requiring that the company upgrade their odor control equipment. The nuisance odor ordinance (look here and search for Chapter 47) does not allow City Staff to require a specific technology, but to find that the current technology is not working and require improvement. My understanding is that the letter will require that a new odor reduction plan be submitted within a few weeks. If the plan does not offer substantive changes, it can be rejected.

My office will be paying close attention to this issue. My hope is that when residents of west Seward open their windows for the first time next Spring, they find the air fresh and free of coffee odors - permanently.