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, December 28, 2009

Priorities for 2010

Each year I identify key priorities to guide my work. So far, I have identified 11 areas I plan to focus on and would like your input about what is most (1st choice) and least (last choice) important. If you want to share your thoughts please feel free to cut and paste the list below into an email, rank as many as you like in order of your preference and email it back to me at . Also, feel free to add your own ideas.

( ) Close the racial disparities in poverty and employment

( ) Increase affordable housing and reduce homelessness

( ) Fight climate change and work to clean up our soil, water and air

( ) Improve community policing and police-community relations

( ) Prevent youth violence and increase youth employment and health

( ) Enhance civilian oversight of police and end racial profiling

( ) Manage public dollars wisely and keep taxes and fees down

( ) Support small businesses

( ) Create green jobs

( ) Ensure that there is funding and support for neighborhood based planning and revitalization

( ) Improve the “City’s” relationship with other units of government including the park and school boards.

I am also always anxious to hear what concerns and goals you have for our city and your neighborhood. Please feel free to drop me a note, phone message or email anytime sharing your ideas and letting me know how can I serve you better?

I wish you all a happy and healthy New Year from all of us in the Ward 2 office.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

New Audit Committee

I voted against a move to take the City’s audit functions away from the Board of Estimate and Taxation and move them to a newly-created (and redundant and unnecessary) “Audit Committee” made up of three Council Members and three citizen appointees, one from the Council, one from the Mayor and one from the Park Board.

This was, in my opinion, an ill-advised action for the Council to take, for three main reasons.

First, I believe that it is preferable to have our auditors report to a more independent body, like the Board of Estimate, rather than to what will be, in effect, a completely Council-controlled body (the Council will, in effect, control four of six seats on this body).

Second, the voters just rejected, less than two months ago, a proposal to scrap the Board of Estimate. One of the main arguments used by the pro-BOE side was that it houses the City’s external audit function. The (large) Council majority appears to have chosen to disregard the will of the voters in this regard.

Third, the Council rejected a common-sense amendment I offered that would have made this bad proposal a little less bad, by adding a seat for an elected member of the BOE to this new, unnecessary audit committee. This would have given the group 7 members and prevented the potential deadlock a 6 member committee can get in and also done a slightly better job of balancing the domination of the the Council.

I am disappointed in our (12 to 1) decision to ignore the will of the voters and further centralize power in the hands of the Council.

The 2010 Budget Review

The 2010 budget that we approved in December has been the most difficult I have had to consider since taking office in 2006. Faced with significant cuts from the state, we were forced to balance a desire to keep taxes from escalating while still providing essential city services. On top of this, we learned late this year that the Police Department had overspent its 2009 budget by a staggering $3 million, increasing the deficit we had to fill.

Unfortunately, we were forced to cut almost 100 City jobs from nearly every department including 25 police officers, 30 civilian employees of the police department. The police cuts were especially hard for me because the Police Department had made great progress in terms of recruiting a diverse class of new officers, and these are among the first who will be cut. I will be paying closer attention to the 2010 Police Department budget, to prevent a repeat of this year’s poor fiscal discipline.

Fortunately, since passing the budget we were able to modify a previously awarded Hiring Recovery Program grant to allow us to re-hire 13 laid-off officers. Six of those officers had previously been serving in the Patrol Division and the other seven we from the recent graduates from the Police Academy. Additionally, the Regulatory Swervices budget will cover the costs of two more officers to work on problem properties and on Animal Control enforcement. In total, 15 of the 25 officers that received lay-off notices are being re-hired and we will continue to look for other funding to rehire the remaining 10 officers.

I regret that we were unable to develop a more robust voluntary unpaid time off program. Such a program could have saved jobs by reducing overall staffing costs. This tool was used extensively within some departments, but I hope to do more to promote and develop it next year so that by then we will have better ways to save jobs if needed for what I expect to be another challenging budget year.

But as bad as it was, the 2010 budget situation could have been much worse. A legal victory in a lawsuit with the Police pension save us nearly $10 million, which helped us keep the levy increase to 7.3% rather than 11% and reduces the average tax increase for a Minneapolis homeowner from and estimated 6.6% to 2.1%.. The Council started out talking about much deeper cuts to staffing in the Police Department, as well as layoffs of firefighters, but we managed to keep these cuts as low as possible.

I was also very pleased by the outcome of some issues in particular:

  • On a 7-6 vote, the Council rejected a move that would have, in my opinion, decimated the Complaint Investigations Unit of the Civil Rights Department. This gives us time to more carefully come up with a solution that will deal with the complaint backlog and set our Civil Rights Department on a more successful path.
  • I was able to convince my colleagues to continue support of Restorative Justice programs, albeit at a much lower level than in past years ($20,000 this year versus $75,000 in the past).
  • Almost all of our Crime Prevention Specialists, the City’s most important community policing strategy, retained their jobs.
  • We saved the Arts Coordinator position, moving it to the City Coordinator’s office.
  • Though we had to take some funding from it, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund was held to a smaller cut than I had anticipated
  • We were able to provide more support this year to Park infrastructure and to needed and overdue maintenance to bridges and streets including funding to resurface many residential streets in Prospect Park in 2010 and to reconstruct Riverside Avenue from Cedar to Franklin, with design work to begin in 2010 and reconstruction in 2011 and 2012, construction of a new alignment of 22nd St in Seward, and lighting for the Hiawatha LRT trail.

In December we also voted on using Tax Increment Funds to pay for neighborhood revitalizations and Target Center debt. I wish that we had been able to fund neighborhoods more, but, due to the decision to recertification of only half of the Tax Increment Financing districts this will likely be closer to 4 or 5 million dollars a years for all 81 neighborhoods, and not the 10 we had hoped for. Also, due to the other pressing issues, especially the proposal to gut the Complaint Investigations Unit, it was clear that my motion to increase the Civilian Review Authority investigators would not have been successful, so I put it off another year.

All in all, though, we were given an incredibly difficult job to do in crafting this budget. The mayor made a strong proosal, we put a great deal of work into it and did a good job balancing priorities. So, in the end I voted for the budget that passed. To learn more, the 2010 budget should be posted here soon on the city’s Finance Department website.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Snow Emergency Declared

Winter storm "Dell" has reintroduced Minneapolis to the joys of winter, including the Snow Emergency. Parking restrictions go into place at 9pm tonight - go here to find out where you should park to avoid being towed.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

2010 Budget Priorites

As the Council considers the 2010 budget, there are some changes to the Mayor’s proposed budget that I will be seeking to make, and some principles that will guide how I respond to other Council Members’ proposals:

- Recertify TIF Districts at the highest possible level. Neighborhood groups depend on and deserve a reliable, long-term funding source. I will fight to increase the recertification from the Mayor’s proposed 50% to something higher, and better balance neighborhoods with Target Center debt relief.

- Continue supporting restorative justice. I believe that the City’s investment of $75,000 in restorative justice programs in the past several budgets has been very wise, both reducing repeat livability crime and ultimately saving the City money. The Mayor’s budget cuts this support. I will fight to put it back in.

- No loss of Crime Prevention Specialists. I do not agree with the Police Chief’s proposal to balance the MPD budget by laying off our successful and necessary CPS staff. The neighborhood policing plans the Department has been working on will simply not work without CPS support. I will fight to retain these jobs and offset them with cuts elsewhere.

- Save the Arts Coordinator. I believe that this staff person does a great job bringing film, video, recording and new media to the city. We need more of this sort of economic activity, not less. I will be working with my colleagues to find another position within the Community Planning and Economic Development department to cut instead.

- Increase Civilian Review Authority (CRA) Investigators. The CRA handles significantly more cases than the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit, but has about a third of the staff. This contributes to unnecessary delays that undermine the purpose of the CRA. I will be working to move a full time position from the Police budget to Civil Rights, for an additional CRA Investigator.

- Protect the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. While I understand that some money may have to be moved out of the AHTF into the general fund, I will be working to hold it as harmless as possible. Affordable housing is increasingly necessary during this time of economic turmoil, and is some of the only development moving forward given the credit situation.