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:

Monday, July 28, 2008

Hiawatha Bike Trail Lighting

Last Friday night, a constituent of mine was attacked and robbed on the Hiawatha LRT Bike Trail. Here is the account he posted to the Seward E-Democracy list:

I was just mugged on that path last night in a very dark area near 24st. I was
biking south on the path from the cedar riverside area to the greenway. Around
24st two guys came out of the darkness on either side of the road and one of
them tackled me off my bike. They then proceeded to kick and hit me after I
They didn't take much. Not even my bike which is in pretty bad
shape from the crash. The drivetrain is messed up and the back wheel in now
untrue. Though they hurt me pretty bad and I'm also messed up from the
Because it was so dark I didn't get a good look at them and I think
that they were able to ambush me because of my headlight.
That area needs
better lighting and call boxes. Some approaching bikes scared them off while
they were trying for my phone. If that hadn't happened it would have been much
worse I'm sure.
Public Works submitted a proposal to the City's Capital Long-Range Improvement Committee (CLIC) this year to install lighting on this trail and extend the trail from the Greenway south to 32nd St in 2013. CLIC zeroed this project out in their recommendations. However, I have heard from one of my CLIC appointees, who serves on the transportation subcommittee, that most of the CLIC members' concerns regarded the trail extension, not the lighting.

Here are the numbers that Public Works submitted to CLIC. The estimated cost of the lighting portion of the project is $1.2 million. The estimate for the whole project (lighting and trail extension) is $2.1 million.

There are a number of good reasons to light up this trail. The City's Bicycle Advisory Committee ranked it first of six potential projects the City could fund in 2013. It had a count of 800 cyclists/day in October of last year, more than the Greenway at West River Parkway, more than the bike lanes on Marquette and Second. We are investing through the Non-Motorized Transportation program to build a good connection between this trail and downtown, which we expect to increase usage even more.

If we are serious about increasing our bicycling mode share, people need to be able to rely on our infrastructure at any time of day and year-round. I have heard from a number of constituents that they do not use this trail after dark, because it feels so unsafe. And now it’s clear to me that this trail is unsafe as it is now. This isn’t just a transportation or environmental issue, it’s a public safety issue. And the more incidents like this occur, the less the trail will be used, in turn making it more unsafe and undercutting our good efforts to increase bike mode share.

We need to light this trail.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Council Associates

This morning, I was one of only two Council Members to vote against a proposal to reclassify all of the Council Associates from civil service positions with union protections, to appointed positions without those protections.

Here's a little background. Each Council office has three members: the Council Member, her/his appointed Aide, and the Associate. In most offices, the Associate does much of the direct constituent service, schedules meetings, tracks the office budget, files, and otherwise provides administrative support. Associates are paid on an hourly basis, unlike CMs and Aides, who are salaried - a reflection of the common understanding that whereas CMs and Aides work irregular hours including numerous night meetings, Associates have more predictable daytime-only schedules.

I joined AFSCME local 9 in opposing the move to reclassify Associates as appointed positions. I understand the reasons that Council leadership is bringing this forward, and I agree that Council Members need greater capacity to hold their staff accountable. We have certainly had difficulty earlier this term with holding certain specific Associates accountable for less than stellar performance. It’s clear that the current management structure, in which Associates are accountable to the Clerk’s Office, could be improved.

However, I’m not convinced that the proposal to make these positions appointed is the best or only answer, and I do not believe that other options have been seriously considered. I agree that there will be some benefits to having appointed Associates, including clearer accountability to the Council Member and a greater capacity for elected officials to control the constituent relations of their offices. However, I believe that there are also some serious potential downsides. It will make the Associate position far more political than it has been historically. The ramifications of this are unclear, but it could negatively impact relations between Council offices. More importantly, with the capacity to bring on one’s “own people,” new Council Members could lose the invaluable institutional memory that our current Associates bring.

My office is a great example of this. My Associate, Nancy Olsen, worked for the past two Ward 2 Council Members, Paul Zerby and Joan Campbell. This has been a great help in understanding specific past issues. When my Aide and I started in January of 2006, we found that the Associates – our own and those of other offices – were one of the most helpful groups in helping us to understand the vagaries of Council procedure.

I have heard from some of the Associates, including my own, that they have serious concerns about being switched from civil service to appointed positions. For example, what happens to my Associate if I decide to appoint her, and then decline to run for another term? Will she be offered the option to return to a civil service position, or will she be terminated?

Most importantly, though, I simply do not believe that the Council can honestly make the findings we are required by ordinance to make before changing the Associates to appointed positions. Those findings are as follows:

20.1010. City council to establish positions. The city council may, pursuant to this article, establish unclassified positions in designated departments of the city that meet the following criteria:
(1) The person occupying the position must report to the head of the designated city department or the designated city department head's deputy.
(2) The person occupying the position must be part of the designated department head's management team.
(3) The duties of the position must involve significant discretion and substantial involvement in the development, interpretation, or implementation of city or department policy.
(4) The duties of the position must not primarily require technical expertise where continuity in the position would be significant.
(5) There is a need for the person occupying the position to be accountable to, loyal to, and compatible with the mayor, the city council, and the department head.
The city council must adopt findings on whether the criteria in this section are met before an unclassified position is established. The city council shall establish the terms and conditions of employment for all unclassified positions, or may delegate that function to the director of human resources. (2003-Or-131, § 1, 11-7-03)

Clearly criterion #5 is applicable. I believe that the rest are either highly dubious or flatly non-applicable. Criteria 1 and 2 only make sense if we decide that Council Members are “department heads,” which I think is simply not accurate. As a Council Member, I do not have sole authority over the staff of any department. And if the “department” I am heading is my Ward office, this proposal would produce “departments” composed entirely of "management."

Criterion #3 is similarly problematic. Perhaps it is different in other offices, but my Associate does not have “significant discretion” or “substantial involvement in the development, interpretation, or implementation” of policy. She does extremely valuable work but not, as far as I'm concerned, “development, interpretation or implementation” of policy. If the Council chooses to push this boundary this far, it’s difficult to see which City positions could not be considered appropriate to be changed to appointed positions.

Lastly, Criterion #4 is ambiguous at best. I am not sure that Associates have “technical expertise,” but I am convinced that “continuity in the position” is important.

I opposed this at Executive Committee before voting against it this morning, and I'm disappointed that this action passed by such a wide margin this morning.

Success on Police Policies

I'm glad to report that the Council strongly supported my motions to strengthen the Police Policies resolution this morning.

We reinstated the complete prohibition on rubber and plastic bullets fired from conventional guns (this excludes the only less-lethal projectile the MPD uses, a 'foam round' that is fired by a different sort of weapon).

We added new language prohibiting MPD from subjecting law abiding demonstration organizers to disparate enforcement actions, and targeting law abiding persons not engaged in demonstrating, including journalists, camera people, and legal observers, for enforcement actions.

We clarified the protections I got added back in at PS&RS last week, making explicit that cameras may never be destroyed or tampered with, and may only be confiscated in compliance with 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. We also clarified that the use of tear gas, pepper spray and less-lethal projectiles may only be used if that specific level of force is reasonable (not a generic 'use of force').

The votes on almost all of these amendments, and the vote on the final resolution as amended, were unanimous. It is better than I expected and means that many of the protections of that were superseded last Council meeting have been re-instated to some extent.

I know a lot of people helped raise this issue and clearly I would not have been successful today it it hadn't been for people contacting Council members and the press about this issue. We managed to get there together, and I'm proud of the result. It's taken a lot of effort and energy, but I am hopeful that we now have a collective understanding about how the Council expects the MPD to respond to protest groups at the RNC and on into the future.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Planning for RNC

We are expecting more than 45,000 delegates, 15,000 media, thousands of protesters and a host of other visitors to be in Minneapolis for the Republican National Convention, Sept. 1 – 4, 2008.

To help the public understand what to expect during this period, my colleague, Council Member Lisa Goodman, the City of Minneapolis, the RNC Host Committee and other key stakeholders are hosting public meetings to detail plans and preparations for this historic event.

RNC Plans & Preparation – Public Meetings
Wednesday, Aug. 6, 4 – 5:30 p.m. and 6 – 7:30 p.m.
Terrence Murphy Hall Main Auditorium, University of St. Thomas1000 LaSalle Ave.

The meeting is free and open to the public.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Struggling for better Police Practices Resolution

Last Wednesday, the Public Safety committee voted unanimously in favor of what I agree is a disappointing compromise on the police policy resolution. I thought it might be helpful for people to understand the context and effort that led me to this compromise. Here is some more detailed history on the issue:

On May 21 at the Public Safety and Regulatory Services (PS&RS) committee meeting I presented a substitute resolution on police practices to larger one proposed by CM Ostrow that also included a section of registering public assemblies. It didn’t pass. The Ostrow resolution passed, without my vote, and went forward to the Council on June 6.

On June 6th, with the help of other like-minded Council members, we successfully divided the police policy section from the public assembly registration section. The registration section was amended and passed (without my support) and the police policy section was referred back to the PS&RS committee after CM Johnson introduced and then withdrew a motion to amend it to supersede a 2000 action dealing with police practices.

Since I supported many of the provisions of the 2000 action, I quickly set the goal of getting as many of the useful items from the 2000 action into the police policy resolution so as to minimize the possible negative effects should the amendment to have it supersede pass.

On June 11, when this came up at the PS & RS Committee I attempted to make several changes, many based on the 2000 action. The following 4 amendments passed.

  1. That MPD officers shall not infiltrate public assemblies or gatherings held to plan such assemblies, except in compliance with constitutional standards.
  2. That MPD officers taking enforcement actions against participants in a public assembly will use the minimum level of force required to effect such enforcement actions.
    That the MPD shall provide written notice identifying information on the Civilian Police Review Authority and Internal Affairs Unit to each person arrested in connection with a public assembly who requests such information. The notice shall also identify all officers involved in effecting the arrest of the arrestee.
  3. That the MPD shall not take enforcement actions against participants in a public assembly, or order participants in a public assembly to disperse, unless the MPD determines that the threat to public safety posed by not taking enforcement action is significantly greater than the risk associated with taking enforcement action, and that before such action is taken, an MPD incident commander shall be designated and the MPD incident commander will document the reasons for this determination.

At the following Council Meeting I was still concerned about what good provisions we were losing, however, and offered a series of additional amendments taken directly from the 2000 action that included the following:

  1. The ban on plastic bullets and the requirement that less-lethal projectiles and pepper spray only be used when use of force is necessary
  2. The requirement that MPD presence at public assemblies be commensurate with the size of the assembly
  3. The prohibition on confiscating, tampering with or destroying cameras.

It was clear from Council Members’ comments that these would not be passed but I was able to get them referred back to the committee. Remembering that some of these items had already been rejected by the committee I determined that my best hope for getting anything additional added at the committee level would require some kind of compromise.

Because I believe these are extremely important protections to put back in place, I worked on an amendment to the resolution, and brought it before last week’s PS&RS. To ensure that some protections would pass, I convened a meeting with members of the MPD leadership and CMs Ostrow and Samuels, whose votes I needed to get the measure passed. We came up with a watered-down compromise resolution that left me disappointed. It does not explicitly ban plastic bullets, though I have been told that the MPD has never used and has no plans to use rubber bullets, and does not plan to use beanbag rounds. I believe that it’s more important to put some protections in place than to dig in my heels and get nothing.

On Wednesday, the PS&RS committee passed this compromise resolution unanimously. Here is the exact text:
1) That MPD presence at public assemblies will be based on legitimate public safety concerns and not be based upon intent to chill First Amendment rights.
2) In concurrence with state law, and city ordinance, MPD officers will not use pepper spray, tear gas, or similar substances, or projectiles except in situations where the use of force is reasonable.
3) That MPD officers shall not confiscate, destroy or tamper with cameras or other recording devices being used to document public assembly activities or MPD enforcement actions. This shall not apply to situations in which a) cameras or recording devices are to be used as evidence, or b) MPD officers arrest an individual in possession of cameras or recording devices.

I am still working to see if further improvement might be possible before the full Council meeting next Friday.

Friday, July 11, 2008

National Night Out

This year, on August 5, more than 60,000 Minneapolis neighbors will gather for the 25th Annual National Night Out, celebrating and building community across the city. Advance planning makes it easier for everyone to have a good time, share the work and make things go smoothly on NNO. Last year, over 900 groups planned their parties in advance. Some events will be as simple as neighbors sharing food and conversation on a front porch; others will close off streets and provide music, face painting, chalk art, potlucks, dancing, games, and piñatas. So start your planning early and join the celebration.

It’s Free and It’s Easy to Register Your NNO Party and to Close Your Street for NNO
One process makes it possible to register your NNO event and apply to close your street. Visit here or, if you don’t have Internet, call 311 or 612-673-3000. If you register by July 22, you’ll be eligible for a door prize drawing. It’s not essential to close your street to have a successful NNO event. Many groups meet in yards, parks, vacant lots, or inside. Closing your street is FREE if you apply by July 22. From July 23-July 31, there is a $100 late fee. Applications for street closure will not be accepted after July 31.

If you have NNO or Planning Week questions visit or call 311 or 612-673-3000.

I also invite you let us know here where your gathering will be and what you will be doing that evening. I know a lot of things are happening in the ward and I am going to try to make it to some of them.