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:

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Diversity on the Police Force

One of the issues I have been working on since being elected is promoting a more diverse police force, that better reflects the residents of Minneapolis.

To help do that I have been tracking the make up of each new group of officers we recruit, train and hire and I will admit that some years have been very disappointing.

This year, however, the news is pretty good. Here are the highlights of a report I recently got from Deputy Chief Gerlicher:

There are currently 891 sworn officers within the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). Of those 165 are considered "minority" or people of color. This is the highest overall diversity level in the Police Department's history with 18.59% people of color.

We are at our highest levels ever for Hispanic (41), Black(67) and Asian (31) officers. Our highest level of Native American officers was 34 in 1994, currently there are 26.

New hires have helped. Fifty-two police officers were hired in 2008, with 23% people of color and 25% women.

The recruit class set for January 19th, 2009 will consist of 14 officers and should be our most diverse group ever (50%, or 7, people of color are currently enrolled).

37 Community Service Officers (CSO’s) were hired in 2008. These officers often go on to become "sworn" police officers. Of those 37, 46% are people of color and 19% are women.

Don't get me wrong, I realize that we still have a long ways to go to before our police force accurately reflects the diversity of our city, but this is better news that I have seen in the past. As a point of reference here is the ethnic make up of Minneapolis according to the 2000 census data:

Pop. 2000 382,618

Male: 192,232, 50.2%
Female: 190,386, 49.8%
White: 239,080, 62.49%
Black: 67,966, 17.29%
Asian: 23,282, 6.09%
Hispanic: 29,175, 7.63%
Other: 23,105, 6.04%

To see how far short we fall and where, here is a more specific break down of our police force by gender and ethnicity as of November 2008:

Female Employees: 141, 15.82%
Male Employees: 750, 84.18%
Minority Totals: 165, 18.52%

Total Employees: 891, 100.00%

Asian: 27, 3.60%
Black: 61, 8.13%
White: 603, 80.40%
Hispanic: 39, 5.20%
Native Am.: 20, 2.67%
Minority Total: 147, 19.60%

Asian: 4, 2.84%
Black: 6, 4.26%
White: 123, 87.23%
Hispanic: 2, 1.42%
Native Am.: 6, 4.26%
Minority Total: 18, 12.77%

I do not have the numbers for the gender and ethnicity distribution by rank and those will also be important to see. I expect to get those soon and will be paying special attention to how this year compares to past years.

Finally, I have been working with Human Resources to try to get an overall picture (or audit) of the diversity of all City employees. I am working with our HR Director, Pam French, to plan a study session for the full Council where I hope to get a complete report and analysis early in 2009. When I do, I will be sure to share it here.

Violent Crime Rates Down Again

On December 22 the City released our crime statistics for 2008. It looks like we are headed in the right direction with a second straight year of double-digit reductions in crime. It is especially good to see reductions in our most violent crimes and in juvenile crime.

Violent crime in Minneapolis is down 13 percent citywide so far in 2008 when compared to 2007 and down 24 percent compared to 2006. Homicides are down 22 percent from last year and down 39 percent from 2006. Robberies decreased 18 percent, aggravated assaults are down 8 percent, and juvenile crime dropped 17 percent in 2008.

As we look at crime statistics it is important to note that this data is only as good as our system of reporting and entering crimes into our system. I am sure we have all heard concerns in the past about under-reporting of crimes. I know for a fact of crimes in Ward 2 that have been reported to me but that have not resulted in police reports. Just as we need to encourage our officers to follow up on calls and complete reports so that we have good data and so that we can hold criminals accountable, we also need encourage one another to call to 911 when crimes are in progress and 311 to report crimes. I hope that the efforts we have made in recent years to make reporting crimes easier has helped. If you have had trouble reporting a crime please let me know.

Still, the best evidence we have leads us to one clear conclusion: Violent crime is down in every Minneapolis police precinct.

The Second Precinct, which covers the Southeast Como, Prospect Park and the University neighborhoods, led the city in violent crime reduction, falling 21 percent. Violent crime fell 12 percent in the First Precinct, which includes Cedar Riverside, and 11 percent in the Third Precinct, which includes the Cooper and Seward neighborhoods.

It is hard to know exactly why the crime rates go down and many variables, including economic forces, that are beyond our control undoubtedly have an impact.

Nevertheless, this news gives use a chance to highlight some of the effort that have been made over the last two years by Police, policymakers and community activists alike to focus on proactive, preventive efforts that may be factors in our success.

We have been able to maintain and increase the number of officers on our forces. Additionally, we have a more diverse police force that ever before. Many of us have also been pushing for more community-oriented policing strategies to better connect police to communities, combat juvenile crime, and improve overall public safety.

Here are some highlights that I have been supporting that I think may be part of reason we are doing better.

1. Our coordinated youth violence enforcement and prevention programs appear to be having results. Less than 20 percent of all arrests in 2008 involved juveniles – a decrease from more than 30 percent in 2006. Juvenile violent crime fell 23 percent in 2008. Over the last two years, juvenile violent crime in Minneapolis has dropped 42 percent --- at the same time as we have implemented several interwoven prevention and enforcement strategies launched as part of our Blueprint to Prevent Youth Violence: a multi-faceted, multi-year action plan takes a public-health approach, treating youth violence as a preventable problem. These include:
• A new Juvenile Supervision Center in City Hall that provides teens committing lower-level offenses with resources they to stay in school and get back on track.
• A Juvenile Criminal Apprehension Team that arrested nearly 950 of the city’s most violent youth offenders. Getting the most violent teens out of the community helps them and keeps neighborhoods safer.
• Minneapolis Public Schools awarding a five-year contract for School Resource Officers to the MPD. This new effort provides increased opportunity for officers to work with youth in constructive activities and build stronger relationships.
• Police are using a Safe Routes to School collaborative program with the Minneapolis School Board to identify a six-block radius around ten schools which are most challenged by crime. MPD is partnering with McGruff House coordinators and neighborhood associations to ensure that children can take the safest possible paths to walk and bike to school.
• A two-year $200,000 grant from the United States Department of Justice to fund a new full-time youth gang prevention coordinator position, focused entirely on solving gang-related problems.

2. A more community-oriented approach may be paying off.
• Minneapolis, for the first time ever, has a Neighborhood Policing Plan for each of its 83 neighborhoods. Now as we enter the second year of this effort it is even more important that MPD officers, crime prevention specialists and residents work together to leverage these plans into more meaningful tools to address crime concerns specific to their neighborhood and measure crime reduction efforts.
• In 2008, MPD Crime Prevention Specialists trained 89 new block leaders, bringing the total number of block clubs citywide to 1,893.
• For the sixth time in the past eight years, Minneapolis has won 2008 National Night Out’s top Award for cities with populations greater than 300,000.
• MPD Inspectors at the City’s five precincts have been working hard to implement a coordinated approach to helping neighborhoods most challenged by crime and the problems that can result from foreclosed and vacant properties.
• The First-Precinct-lead downtown SafeZone Collaborative is a great model for creating successful public-private sector public safety partnerships. The SafeZone Collaborative helps make downtown safe and welcoming for residents and visitors. This successful collaborative will be replicated next year in the Cedar-Riverside area of the West Bank.
• MPD added a new type of vehicle to its fleet this year. The battery-powered, zero-gas-emission T-3 personal mobility vehicles let officers see farther, move faster, and allows people to connect directly with officers on the street.
• Late this year the MPD opened a new substation at Block e. The Block e station and Community Outreach Center is a joint effort among Block e, the Minneapolis Police Department, SafeZone Collaborative, St. Stephens Human Services and other community organizations aimed at connecting people with information and services as part of an ongoing effort to keep downtown a safe place to live, work and visit.
Community Impact Statements are now available on-line for the first time allowing the public to submit statements to the courts and have an effect on sentencing.
• MPD is has more officers than ever involved in community outreach initiatives. Approximately 250 officers have participated in Spanish language training and regularly use their foreign language skills at community meetings, schools and churches. MPD has a full-time liaison to the Latino community and a full-time liaison to the Somali community.

Finally, above and beyond these more direct public safety efforts, is the work that we do as a city to promote affordable housing, economic opportunity, job training and job placement. Education, housing and employment are all key to reducing crime. These may become even more important as we enter potentially less certain economic times next year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Budget Woes Welcome in the New Year

Shortly after we approved our 2009 City budget we learned that the Governor was "unalloting" 13.1 million of the 41 million dollar payment we were anticipating in December.

In addition to the loss of Local Government State Aid we are also being challenged by Minneapolis’ closed pension obligations. Because of commitments made decades ago, the City must cover the pensions for some retired public employees. Because there are no new retirees who are entering into these pension programs they are called closed funds. For these closed funds, losses due to stock market drops in the 2008 calendar year are expected to exceed $38 million over the next 5 years. Unless the state is willing to reform its pension laws and merge these few older pensions into the larger state pension plan, the City must cover this loss.

The unexpected pension obligations together with the state aid cuts expected next year, mean that we will likely need to make significant changes to our budget in 2009.

Fortunately we have a reserve of about $50 million dollars, so we will be able use this to cover the lose of the 13.1 million. Then part of our work early next year will be making adjustments to our budget to replenish our reserves.

Of the City’s overall budget of $1.4 billion , the majority (about 75%) is restricted for specific uses, such as water utility, storm water, solid waste/recycling, and the Convention Center.

The City’s “general fund” makes up the non-restricted dollars and is about $374 million. The 13.1 million was to help pay for the following that make up the general fund:

Some highlights of the budget include:

  1. An 8% property tax revenue increase for 2009. This is up from the Mayor’s original proposal of 6.9%, and will increase total property taxes collected by $2.6 million. I supported this both because of the anticipated cuts to state aid and because of unexpectedly high pension obligations.
  2. Increased spending on road maintenance and infrastructure repairs by $5.5 million per year for the next five years. I supported this because I do not think we have adequately funded road repairs for many years and much of our basic public infrastructure is in desperate need of repairs. As road conditions worsen they are much more expensive to fix so fixing them now will save money in the long run and this is a way to reduce future debt for Minneapolis taxpayers. To cover these costs we approved tapping into a specially reserved fund, known as the Legacy (or Hilton) Fund (formed with proceeds from the sale of the Hilton Hotel several years ago). This was a difficult decision because this has been a source for discretionary development dollars, that have helped small businesses and improved our commercial corridors and nodes. In the end I agreed with the mayor that it is worth using it to pay for much needed transportation infrastructure improvements, including: $19.5 million to resurface 43 miles of streets and parkways and seal cracks and patching potholes in another 26 miles of streets; $5.25 million to replace 900 traffic light and street light poles that are corroded beyond repair, and repair 3,800 other poles that are at risk of corrosion; $2.5 million to make infrastructure improvements in Minneapolis parks, including construction of a new pedestrian bridge in Minnehaha Park.
  3. We also approved $100,000 a year to maintain bike trails throughout the City, including snow removal and resurfacing of the Midtown Greenway and other trails. This is the first time we have set aside funding specifically dedicated to maintaining our bike trails.
  4. After a good deal of discussion about how to divide up the revenues, we voted to re-authorize 100% of the TIF districts that are set to end in 2009. These districts are projected to produce up to $24 million per year for 10 years. This will provide funding, starting in 2010, for a new Neighborhood Investment Fund, for neighborhood association administrative support and Target Center debt relief. I fought unsuccessfully to exclude 3.5 million for a new "neighborhood commercial revitalization" program that was added in the last weeks of the budget formation. But I was successful in getting an amendment passed that stipulates that if the proceeds exceed $24 million some or all of excess may go to the Neighborhood Investment Fund.
  5. The overall City budget directs $210 million for public safety, which includes the Police Department, the Fire Department, 911/311 and the City Attorney’s criminal division. That’s an increase from just under $200 million spent last year. $8.5 million will help implement the Youth Violence Prevention Plan and includes $75,000, (that was not in the original Mayor's Proposed budget) for Somali gang prevention and $75,000 for graffiti prevention grants.

Overall I think that we adopted a good budget. Unfortunately, these difficult economic times also make it difficult to be certain about future funding and so make it especially challenging. In the months ahead we will have to be mindful of the changing financial projections, especially of the anticipated cuts to state aid. I will also continue to to push for reform at the Legislature so that, even as we make sure to have the funds to fulfill this $38 million obligation, we can merge this group of closed pensions within the larger, less risky state retirement fund that is used by nearly all the other Minnesota public employee pension programs.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Funding for Neighborhoods

Last week, the Council passed the 2009 Minneapolis budget. But most of the discussion in the meeting focused on a funding question for 2010: how much money will the City devote to neighborhood groups?

At issue was the expected $24 million per year from the Tax Increment or Transformation districts whose existence the legislature approved to allow us (if we chose to do so) to use a portion of the property taxes on a number of properties for neighborhood revitalization activities and Target Center debt relief. This actually grew out of a resolution initiated by CM Scott Benson last March and represented a significant compromise that was able to unite all 13 Council Members, some who were desperately seeking ways to reduce Target Center debt; others, like myself, who were searching for a future funding mechanism for a next phase of NRP; and some who wanted to retain some funding for City-wide discretionary development spending. Although I was scrambling hardest to find a source for NRP phase 3 funds, I supported the other uses as well. In the resolution we stipulated that 100 million dollars (over 10 years) should go to pay Target Center debt and 100 million go to neighborhoods as follows:

:....That the City of Minneapolis urges the State of Minnesota to enact legislation to extend the pre-1979 tax increment financing districts in the Minneapolis Common Project.
Be It Further Resolved that the Intergovernmental Relations staff hereby is directed to work with the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, and the Minneapolis Legislative delegation, and other partners in neighborhood revitalization efforts to develop a bill to extend the pre-1979 tax increment districts of the Common Project for the minimum time necessary to cumulatively provide over the period of extension:
(1) $100 million to allow the City to fund the administrative and programmatic needs of a neighborhood revitalization program that includes support for neighborhood organizations and neighborhood-directed action plans after 2009 in the City of Minneapolis);
(2) $100 million to fund repayment of the Target Center bonds and the capital improvements necessary for Target Center to remain a first class facility as required by contract; and
(3) Provide continuing support for discretionary development investments by the City of Minneapolis..."

Several months after passed that resolution and the state had empowered us to create a new Transformation District out of the old district, the Council voted to create the Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission. The new resident commission will, among other things, monitor 3 important new funds that we also established: the Neighborhood Investment Fund (or programming dollars), and the Community Innovation Fund (programming dollars for nontraditional community engagement activities) and a Basic Citizen Participation fund.

During these discussions it was mentioned several times that the Basic Citizen Participation funding and the services that neighborhoods provide the City are so valuable and important that this would be something worth funding even if we did not have Tax Increment funding available.

But when the matter of the new Tax District returned this month for a next vote not only was the Basic Participation Funding wrapped into it (implicitly) but also a new funding item called a neighborhood commercial revitalization fund. Here is the way it was presented:

Redevelopment TIF District Establishment #16

Direct Finance staff to prepare and return to the Council with a proposed tax increment finance plan to establish a redevelopment tax increment financing district, as provided under Laws of Minnesota 2008, Chapter 366, Article 5, Section 37. The plan will be circulated for public review and comment, consistent with State statutes and City ordinances, and submitted to the Council for consideration no later than July 31, 2009. The plan should consider the following financial parameters:

a. annually provide after the administrative costs of the district:

i. At least $10 million to retire Target Center debt;
ii. No more than $14 million to be allocated as follows:
1. $2 million, if needed, to further expedite Target Center debt payment;
2. $8.5 million for general neighborhood revitalization purposes;
3. $3.5 million for neighborhood commercial revitalization;
4. Each of these three items would be proportionally reduced should their available revenues be less than $14 million.
”If this proportionate reduction occurs, the dollars for general neighborhood revitalization purposes (item #2 above) shall be allocated as follows:
a) Full funding for Basic Citizen Participation Services, as defined by the Neighborhood Community Engagement Commission, up to $3 million.
b) All other uses under general neighborhood revitalization purposes would be proportionately reduced.

iii. Revenues received in excess of $24 million can be applied to further expedite Target Center debt repayment or returned to the contributing tax jurisdictions. b. That parcels comprising up to 50% of the captured tax capacity of the district will be decertified and their captured tax capacity returned to the tax base when they are no longer needed for Target Center debt.

b. That parcels comprising up to 50% of the captured tax capacity of the district will be decertified and their captured tax capacity returned to the tax base when they are no longer needed for Target Center debt.

Now, while I was also general supportive commercial revitalization I was also concerned that the Target Debt relief was getting a larger portion of the fund and the amount devoted to implementing neighborhood plans was getting too small and being viewed as the lowest priority. So, here is the alternative I proposed. The bolding indicates a new language:

i. At least $12 million to retire Target Center debt;
ii. No more than $12 million to be allocated as follows:
1 $9 million for the Neighborhood Investment Fund;
2. $3 million for neighborhood Citizen Participation Services funds;
3. Should available revenues be less than $12 million, funds will be reduced in such as way as to maintain, first, full funding for Citizen Participation Services funds and second, the maximum possible for the Neighborhood Investment Fund

iii. Revenues received in excess of $24 million can be applied to further expedite Target Center debt repayment, applied to the Neighborhood Investment Fund or returned to the contributing tax jurisdictions.

In the end I was unable to get the first portion of my changes passed. I did however get the second passed so that , should be end up with more money that we expect, some may be applied to the Neighborhood Investment Fund. I am convinced that this is the fund that will actually empower and energize neighborhoods to find creative ways to address their problems and improve their communities and make a new improved third phase of NRP, or neighborhood-based planning and implementation, possible.

I will continue to fight to see that this fund gets the resources it needs and encourage everyone who is concerned about the future of neighborhoods to follow and support the formation of an effective Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission early next year. I know that I will be doing all I can to make it, and the formation of the new Neighborhood and Community Relations Department, as healthy and effective as possible.

Monday, December 15, 2008

New Noise Ordinance

Last Friday, the Council voted in favor of the new noise ordinance I sponsored. I believe this is an important step towards better regulation of noise from commercial uses - especially bars - that impacts residences.

Working on a new noise ordinance was not something expected to be spending time on when I ran for office three years ago. But, for a number of reasons, noise and how we regulate it is something that many of my constituents car about, (especially those living on 7 corners and in areas where entertainment areas are close to residential properties) and it is something that I decided to tackle earlier this year.

One reason it became important to do something was because, several years ago, a downtown bar sued the City and won, convincing the courts that our old noise ordinance was unconstitutionally vague. Since then, we've only been able to use the State code to enforce, and in doing so we have discovered some significant gaps. For instance, if someone lives in a building that directly abuts the sidewalk - which is common, in commercial areas with lots of bars - the State code does not treat them like other residences. Rather, it treats them like industrial space or right-of-way, allowing much more noise.

Another major flaw of the current State code is that it uses a conventional "A" weighting, meaning that it discounts low-frequency noise. The new City code will use a "C" weighting, which treats all audible sound basically the same. This will allow us to much better regulate bass-heavy noise from bars - think about thudding beats for hours at a time.

One of the most important things to me about this change is that we will be using this new way of measuring sound that will allow us to better regulate the base tones that are often the most disturbing to residents.

The second thing I tried to accomplish was to come up with a acceptable and measurable standard that would help both businesses and residents understand when things get too loud and, for those businesses making noise, find ways to hand the noise so that could avoid violated our standard. It was a challenge finding a standard, but after looking at what other Cities use, working with staff and others and listening to what is and what isn't a violation we settled on noise that is an average of 10 decibels above ambient (or background) noise during the day time and 5 decibels above ambient noise between 10 and 6 am. Additionally, we listed a number of things that are exempt including snow plowing equipment and sporting events at our major stadiums (but not music concerts).

I know that some residents believe the new regulation does not go far enough, and some bar owners fear it's gone too far, but I'm eager to look at how enforceable it is over the next year or so. And if changes need to be made, I will be happy to bring them forward. I'm thrilled to have gotten this through Council, and hope that it will go a long way towards ensuring that a small number of business owners don't disturb the sleep and peace of residents.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Campaign Finance Reform for City Elections

I have been concerned about Campaign Finance Reform for many years. I raised it as an issue in the 2005 campaign. I have a number of concerns about how money is raised for City elections and I see several ways in which the process could be inproved.

Some of my most pressing concerns have to do with how little reporting is required today. Let me just share a few details.

No information about any individual contribution must be reported unless the contribution is over $100, or a person gives over $100 in a year. The legal limit allowed during non-election years is $100. That means no contributor information must be reported during the 3 nonelection years. Over three years, therefore, one person (or Political Action Committee) can give $300 that goes unreported. A couple can give $600. This campaign finance information is not made avaiable to the public.

I am convinced that we are all better off if we have better access to information and know who is funding campaigns.

With this in mind, several months ago I decided to begin working on an initiative to close this loophole in our Campaign Finance reporting system. I am hopeful that some new regulations could be put in place before this upcoiming election cycle.

I found a Council ally in Paul Ostrow, and began working with the City Attorney's office to explore some options for reform. Specifically, I asked about reducing the contribution size that must be reported from $100 to $25, increasing the number of reports required and possibly prohibiting contributions from lobbyists and from people who have “business” pending before the city.

The answer I got from the Attorney's Office was that we don’t have the authority to do any of those things by resolution, ordinance amendment or charter change. The issue of prohibiting contributions from lobbyists and people who have “business” pending before the city (which I try to do on a voluntary basis now) raised serious questions about conflict with federal constitutional law. Any changes to the reporting requirements were prohibited by state statute.

With this information in hand, I decided to focus on the reporting issues for now, and leave the other concerns on the back burner.

In order to get the authority to lower the minimum contribution size that must be reported and increase the frequency of the reports, we will have to change state law. A first step in doing that is to put this on the City's legislative agenda, enabling us to devote staff time and energy to this issue.

The Council is now in the process of setting our legislative agenda for next year. CM Ostrow and I will be proposing supporting amendments to the MN Statutes, Section 383B.058, to allow the City to increase the frequency for filing campaign reports and lower the reporting level of campaign contributions. We hope to present our case on December 9th to the Intergovernmental Regulations Committee. At this point we are not going to attempt to change any of the rules and regulations for this next cycle because clearly it is too late, but we would like to change them for subsequent elections.

Please let me know if you have any questions or ideas.