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, February 20, 2009

Transfers of Animals

This morning, I was able to convince my Council colleagues that the City shouldn't take an action that could have led to the unnecessary deaths of dogs in Minneapolis.

Last Wednesday, Animal Care and Control (AC&C) staff brought a proposal to the Public Safety and Regulatory Services committee. One of its provisions would have prohibited owners of dogs that have been declared either dangerous or potentially dangerous from transferring ownership of the animal to someone else. Given how onerous and expensive we've already made it for folks to own declared dogs, I was concerned that the proposal would have led to a large numbers of dogs being impounded and killed by AC&C.

I also know that in some cases, dogs that have been declared potentially dangerous can thrive in a different setting. A dog that has threatened or even bit someone when living in an abusive or neglectful setting - or even just a home with no yard, no one to walk him or her or with one or more agreesive cats or too many rowdy kids - can do fine in a better environment. I believe we should allow for this possibility.

However, I also understand some of the concerns AC&C is trying to address. Some bad pet owners have claimed that a dog has been transferred to someone else when it is not true, for instance. Such animals are then hidden, often continue to be neglected and abused, and sometimes even fought.

Working with AC&C staff, I drafted an amendment that requires people to get permission from the AC&C Director before transferring ownership of a declared dog. I am still concerned that this might lead to an inordinate number of destrutions, if AC&C unnecessarily denies these requests, so I also authored a staff direction. In a year, AC&C staff will have to report back to committee on how many people have asked to transfer ownership, whether the requests were approved, and what happened to the animals in question.

I'm pleased to have been able to craft this reasonable consensus that will address staff's legitimate public safety and animal welfare concerns, while still offering a second chance for animals that can lead happier, safer lives in better homes.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

University District Partnership Alliance Report is Complete

The University District Alliance Progress Report for 2007 - 2009 is now available here.

The report offers an overview of the work that has been done by Alliance over the last 16 months and make recommendations for the future. The report will be coming to the City Council's Intergovernmental Relations Committee this Tuesday morning and then to State Legislature sometime in the next few months.

I hope that the full City Council will approve it on Friday.

One of the things the Alliance has been working on is getting more people who work in the District to also live int he district. To help to that we have developed a website - http://www.livenearyourwork.net/ - to help match homes that are for sale with potential buyers.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Reward Offered in Joe Sodd Murder

As you can read here, the Minneapolis Police Department is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in last summer's murder of Joe Sodd III on the West Bank. Despite having put hundreds of hours into the case, MPD has yet to make arrests or determine a motive for the crime.

If you have any information, please call CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or Minneapolis police at 612-692-TIPS.

Bed Bug Program at U

I realize it sounds like information from another time, but surprisingly enough there has been a bed bug epidemic in the University neighborhoods for the past few years. The parasites often make their way into homes with infested used furniture. The University has put together a program to educate folks about these pernicious little pests. Here's the notice:


Learn how to recognize an infestation and what to do about bed bugs.

Dr. Kells, a Ph.D. in Entomology, is an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota, with extension and research responsibilities in Food Processing and Structural Entomology. This includes studies in biology and control of bedbugs. Dr. Kells served for five years as Technical Director, leading the Quality Assurance and Technical Services Department for Abell Pest Control, Inc. He has published numerous articles on the subject and continues to speak across the country as the problem expands.

DATE: Thursday, March 12, 2009-02-12
PLACE: Coffman Union, Mississippi room
TIME: 10am-noon

Sponsored by: University Student Legal Service (www.umn.edu/usls)
PLEASE RSVP: (612) 624-1001 (Parking Available in the River Road Ramp)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Binge Drinking Work Group Proposal

There was a story on WCCO yesterday about Binge drinking, and I wanted to let people know that despite how it may have appeared on the segment, I am not necessarily supporting banning happy hour or drink specials in the City of Minneapolis. What I am willing to do is follow up on the recommendations of our Our Public Health Advisory Committee and our Health Department, to create a task force to look into the problem of binge drinking and related City regulations and explore possible things we can do.

They brought this idea to the Health Energy and Environment Committee in December and we decided that before taking any action they should meet with industry representatives and then return to the committee so we could consider this further.

I am inclined to think that education is a better way to approach this, but I am also willing to see if there are some things we can regulate. I know some bars have some games and specials that other cities have banned. I also suspect that the vasts majority of binge drinking occurs in homes and outside of bars and clubs. There may be some drink specials or drinking games that a majority of the Council might agree are too extreme but I would suspect these would be the same ones that bar owners would also agree are excessive. I know that happy hour itself would not be one of them. I would also be very reluctant to do anything that would give business in neighboring cities some kind of unfair advantage and see benefits to having people drink closer to home where they don't have to drive a car.

I also acknowledge that there are serious, and sometimes fatal, health consequences to binge drinking and think a more careful look at the problem might help raise awareness and also identify some sensible and reasonable ways we can address the legitimate concerns.

Here is the proposal that will likely come to our committee for consideration later this month.

Request for City Council Committee Action
From the Department of Health & Family Support
To: HEALTH, ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE
Subject: RECOMMENDATION FROM THE MINNEAPOLIS PUBLIC HEALTH

Minneapolis Public Health Advisory Committee
Recommendations to Reduce Young Adult Binge Drinking


Background:

The 2007 University of Minnesota Health Survey showed that students who binge drank were far more likely drive under the influence, be taken advantage of sexually, do poorly on a test or project, miss class, and get into arguments as a result of their drinking.

Nearly 27% of 18-24-year-old Minnesotans reported binge drinking in response to the 2006 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey. In this survey, binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks on one occasion for males; and four or more drinks on one
occasion for females.

A University of Minnesota College Student Health Survey showed drinking in the past 30 days by 74.3% of U of M 18-24-year-old undergraduates

According to an analysis of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health of 2005 and 2006 youth reported having 4.9 drinks on the days they drove compared to 2.8 drinks for adults.

Studies reveal that alcohol consumption by adolescents results in brain damage - possibly permanent - and impairs intellectual development (Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, Volume 24, Number 2).


Alcohol is linked to as many as two-thirds of all sexual assaults and date rapes of teens and college students (Youth and Alcohol: Dangerous and Deadly Consequences, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, April 1992).

Alcohol plays a key role in accidents, homicides and suicides, the leading causes of death among youth ((American Academy of Pediatrics, information related to planning and promoting October 1998 Child Health Month, May 1998).

More than one-third (37.5%) of young adults (ages 18-24) in Minneapolis reported binge drinking in the past 30 days, more than half of these at least 3 times (SHAPE 2006).

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that the 21 drinking age has reduced traffic fatalities for drivers 18 to 20 years old by 13 percent, saving some 900 lives a year.


Studies by the National Institute of Health indicate that delaying drinking by youth contributes to reductions in alcohol dependence, binge drinking and alcohol –associated traffic crashes, injuries and fatalities and violence.

Recommendations:

No single step is likely to be successful, a combination of approaches is needed in order to change the environment related to binge drinking by young adults.

The Minneapolis Public Health Advisory Committee recommends to the City of Minneapolis
that the City address the public health problem of binge drinking in Minneapolis by:
• Opposing legislation that would lower the drinking age
• Limit/prohibit the sale of 40 ounce malt liquor
• Banning or limiting practices by licensees that contribute to binge drinking, such as:
• Serving more than one drink to one person at one time
• Encouraging or permitting drinking games
• selling multiple or unlimited drinks for a fixed price
• The PHAC recommends that the City form a work group from the departments of Health and Family Support, Intergovernmental Relations, Regulatory Services, Police, and the City Attorney’s Office to examine:
• Current zoning and licensing standards for liquor establishments for the impact on access for and proximity to concentrations of young adults
• The resources for and impact of current enforcement efforts
• Possible collaborative efforts between the City, neighborhood groups and schools, colleges and universities
• Possible legislative initiatives that would reduce binge drinking

The PHAC fully recognizes that the problem of binge drinking is by no means limited to young adults and also recommends that the City pursue these and such additional initiatives as the w
ork group may develop in cooperation with community groups in addressing the broader problems of binge drinking by Minneapolitans of whatever age.

========================================================


I welcome your thoughts and ideas related to this.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hennepin and First

The good work of my office and others has paid off: as you can read here, the bike lanes on Hennepin and First Avenues in downtown will be connected together as one corridor for less-experienced cyclists.





Read here for more history on this issue. The short version is that First Ave will have a wonderful new two-way bike facility. The lanes will be a different color pavement, and run right along the curb. In off-peak hours, parked cars will form a barrier between cyclists and traffic. These lanes will be highly attractive to less-experienced riders. Hennepin will also feature a bike facility, but it will be a shared lane for bikes and buses and, on every other block, right-turning cars. Some people (like my Aide and other regular bike commuters) will feel comfortable enough in these lanes to use them, but many will not.





The issue was that, especially at the south end of the two projects, near 11th and 12th Streets South, there wasn't a good way in the first staff plan for cyclists to get from the one road to the other. This was a major problem, in my estimation, given the fact that we've got Non-Motorized Transportation funding for extensions of the Hennepin Ave bike lanes further south (and further north as well, into northeast/southeast Mpls).





Working with Council Members Lilligren and Goodman, we passed a motion directing staff to return to the Transportation and Public Works (TPW) committee with a plan for getting less-experienced riders from Hennepin to First and vice versa.





Today, they returned to committee with a great solution. For northbound riders, the bike-only lane will continue to 11th St, where cyclists will have a bike box they can use to turn left onto the existing 11th St bike lane up to First. For southbound riders, the high-quality bike lanes I described above will extend to 12th St, where another bike box will help them connect to a new one-block bike lane on 12th, which they can take to Hennepin.





These two changes help stitch together Hennepin and First into one high-quality, attractive bike corridor through downtown. The Bicycle Advisory Committee formally supported this plan at a meeting last week, and this morning TPW approved the recommendations unanimously. Construction on this project will begin this spring.





I don't usually do this (and maybe I should do it more), but I'd like to call out the three Public Works staffers who came up with this great plan: Jenifer Loritz, Steve Mosing and Mike Anderson. Good job.

Police Policies

The taser-related death of Quincy Smith, which has been ruled a homicide by the Medical Examiner, has highlighted an increasingly important issue I have been working on for some time: the Minneapolis Police Department's Policy and Procedure Manual.

This document lays out the rules that Minneapolis police officers are to follow. Both the MPD's Internal Affairs Unit (IAU) and the Civilian Review Authority (CRA) hold officers accountable chiefly to this document.

The problem is that MPD has, over the past two years, made at least two major changes to this document that, in my strongly held opinion, are bad for residents and bad for the City as a whole. I am also concerned about the process that is being used, or not being used, to make these changes, especially those changes that have to do with the Use of Force. In partiocular I am concered that changes are not first brought to the Council or CRA in any formal way.

The first of these changes that was brought to my attention was an amendment to the policy regarding disciplinary use of squad car video. The purpose of this video, which turns on when sirens are activated, is to keep everyone honest. It serves as evidence of crimes committed by suspects and also of any instance of a police officer violating the law or police policy. The change prohibits MPD supervisors from initiating disciplinary proceedings against an officer based solely on evidence on tape, without a complaint against that officer. A hypothetical situation: an officer uses excessive force against a suspect, and is caught on tape. The suspect is too intimidated to make a complaint. Despite the clear evidence that the officer used excessive force, his/her supervisor's hands are tied, and the incident does not result in discipline.

This is terrible policy. It opens the City up to significant liability, if an officer has a known history of bad behavior which has been documented on film, and then ignored. More importantly, it decreases accountability, flying in the face of the Chief's commitment to develop an "early warning system" for officers with behavioral issues. If this policy question had been brought to the CRA or the Council, we could have given that feedback. But neither body was asked - the change was made quietly, adn as far as I can tell, completely within the MPD.

The second change has to do with taser policy. Back in 2006, the Council directed MPD to make significant changes to the section of the Policy and Procedure Manual regarding tasers. These changes were driven by recommendations from the CRA, and included such good policies as:


  • Only one officer should use a taser against a given subject at a time

  • Tasers may not be used on a subject's head, neck, face, or genitalia

  • Tasers shall not be used on passive subjects or as a come-along tool

  • Officers should use a taser for five seconds and then stop - tasers should only be used for more than ten seconds if the subject continues to be serious threat of bodily harm to the officers or citizens

  • Tasers may only be used on children, visibly frail persons, women who are known to be pregnant, and people with known heart problems when other hard empty-hand control methods (hitting with fists, for example) have failed or deadly force is justified

  • Tasers may only be used against drivers of cars or bicyclists wheh deadly force is justified


As you can read here, all of these policies have been removed from the Manual. Again, MPD did not come before the Council or the CRA before making these changes. I find this change even more problematic, for a number of reasons.

First, the Council weighed in on these policies when we approved funding for more tasers. We basically directed that these policies be placed in the Manual. This issues points clearly to a lack or authority the Council has over police policy.

Second, the 2006 CRA Working Group Report makes clear that the Council expects MPD to solicit input from CRA on major policy decisions. Far from doing so, the MPD has actually failed to inform CRA that the changes have taken place. This leaves the CRA holding officers accountable to policy that is no longer valid.

Third, again, this policy opens the City up to significant liability. For example, Quincy Smith's death may have been brought about by two or more officers using tasers on him at the same time. This would not have been a violation of existing MPD policy at the time of the incident. However, it is clearly a violation of the policy that the Council directed MPD to enact. Given these facts, if Mr. Smith's relatives decide to sue the City, what is our legal defense?

Fourth, and most importantly, this policy puts Minneapolis residents at risk. We do not know exactly what happened between Quincy Smith and the MPD officers present at the time of his taser-related death. But I do know that once, Minneapolis residents were protected by a Council action from tasers being used on their faces and genitalia, or used against them if they are not resisting, or used against them by more than one officer at a time or for more than ten seconds. Now, without a Council action or any public discussion, those protections are gone.

I find this unacceptable, and I am working with some of my colleagues to find a way to change it.

Monday, February 09, 2009

More about Bike Sharing Program

The Twin Cities Daily Planet has run an interesting story about the proposed Bike Sharing program. You can read the full story here.


Near the end they focus in on one of the major concerns I have had with the program, which I am enthusiastically supporting overall. The concern has to do with the fact that there is no plan to provide helmets. I suspect that what I will do is try to have a spare helmet at work that I can use for bike sharing excursions, but I am not sure if that is the best answer. I would like to see some helmet rental option added to the program, but also wonder if there aren't other creative ideas or options that might help. It is interesting to note that many European cities with high bicycling mode shares have extremely low rates of helmet usage, and their fatality rates are significantly lower than here. I think we need to recognize, however, that we don't yet have the critical mass needed to make each cyclist as safe without a helmet as they are in Copenhagen.


The other improvement I would like to see, perhaps once this is up and running, is an alternative style of bike for the person who wants to use the system for a longer, faster trip. The current 3 speed bikes are great for short or leisure trips, but when I tested it, I was surprised by how much more difficult it was to bring it up to the normal speed I am used to riding at with my own old ten speed. I recognize that folks who currently bike are not really the target market, but we might be able to attract them in some cases if we provide more 'commuter-style' bikes.


I hope the open houses such as the one at Coffman Union tomorrow from 7-9pm will help build interest and offer more tips for how to improve the program.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Marriage and Family Protection Act

Last week, I got a surprise visit from David Strand, a good friend and a great activist on GLBT issues both within the Green Party (David helped form the Lavender Greens) and elsewhere. He had come down to City Hall to talk to me about a bill currently before the Legislature: the Marriage and Family Protection Act. I encourage you to read it, especially the findings, which are powerful, beautiful and, in my opinion, unquestionably true.



If enacted, this bill will prevent Minnesota from discriminating against GLBT members of our community by preventing them from marrying their partners of choice. It will also require that the gender-neutral term "spouse" replace all instances in law of "husband" and "wife."



I share David's enthusiasm for this bill, so when he asked me to check if it was currently on the City's Legislative Agenda as a support item, I was surprised to find that it wasn't. When David stopped by City Hall I made sure he had some time to make his case to the Intergovernmental Relations Committee chair, Betsy Hodge's office (thanks for being so flexible Ben). I don't serve on the committee and so couldn't introduce there myself, but David took the initiative to also bring the issue to Elizabeth Glidden who did bring it forward. It passed unanimously in committee earlier this week, and passed unanimously from the full Council on Friday.



I'm proud to have played a part - along with David, Elizabeth, Betsy, and the rest of my colleagues - in making sure the City is out front in supporting equal rights for all. I also thank the state legislators, including Senate authors Marty , Higgins , Dibble , Moua , and Torres Ray who have had the courage and wisdom to bring this forward. I wish them the best in their efforts.

Friday, February 06, 2009

IRV Moves Forward

After a great discussion yesterday at the Elections Committee, the Council took a solid (12-1) vote of support for 2009 implementation of Ranked Choice Voting today. While we did direct staff to develop contingency plans in case the lawsuit makes implementation impossible, the clear message from both the Council and the mayor was "full speed ahead." Staff will now be working on completing and implementing an education plan. We will also complete other elections training work that will include a mock election to test our procedures later this spring.

You can read the Election Committee staff reports here and a Star Tribune article here if you would like more information. I wanted to geive a speacial thanks to all the citizens who attended the committee meeting to show their interest - many were familiar ward 2 constituents. Thanks and please keep me posted about your thoughts, concerns and ideas for how we can keep this moving forward.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Seward Compost Collection

I'm excited to announce that Public Works is exploring setting up the second curbside organics collection program. This one may be in the Seward neighborhood. Last year, they began a similar program in Linden Hills neighborhood, and after some good organizing work by Seward residents - especially Seward Environment Committee Chair Carol Greenwood - the Solid Waste and Recycling department head has indicated that Seward will be next. The Seward Neighborhood Group board has taken a formal position asking for this project, and I have also formally indicated my support.

Under the pilot, Seward residents will be encouraged to separate their organic waste (vegetable trimmings, for instance) from the rest of their garbage. A special bin will be provided. After being picked up, the waste will be composted and reused by agriculture, rather than being incinerated. And not only will organics collection reuse the nutrients from our waste, but the garbage burner in downtown will work much more efficiently and emit less pollution. Good source-separated organics also make possible anaerobic digesters, which create and trap methane that can then be burned as fuel, for heat and electrical generation. There is enormous potential.

The purpose of these pilots, from my perspective, is to create a model for citywide organics collection. My hope is that once we address any challenges that the pilots highlight, we will be able to roll out this program within five years or less.

Once we've got this system going, we can push institutional partners to follow suit. For instance, the University is taking recycling seriously, but could compost a significant portion of its waste as well.

Lastly, I'd be remiss not to mention the tremendous work being done by Eureka Recycling's Make Dirt Not Waste program and some great Second Ward businesses, such as the Birchwood and Seward Cafe, to divert their organic waste to composting facilities. These folks are leaders, who can show the rest of us - the City, residents, and fellow businesses - the way to a more sustainable future.

Groping Suspect Arrested

As you can read here, thanks to the good work of the University Police Department and the Minneapolis Police Department, the 41-year-old man who groped at least ten young women on the University East and West Bank campuses has been arrested. He has been identified by two of his victims, has confessed, and will be charged.

It's heartening to see this rapid and successful response by law enforcement. Sexual violence, no matter who perpetrates it, has no place in the Second Ward.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Phone Book Opt-Out

As the Star Tribune reported this weekend, phone book companies have started offering opt-outs to residents who don't want to receive physical copies of the phone book anymore. I welcome this initiative by the industry. I'm also encouraged that the Legislature is poised to require this sort of opt-out offer.

My office often receives complaints from residents just after phone book delivery dates. Folks are concerned about the amount of paper that is used to make each book, especially when a household uses electronic lookup services rather than hard-copy versions. If you're concerned about the ecological impact of receiving phone books you don't need, I encourage you to opt out using the following contact info (from the Star Tribune article):

"To make changes for Dex phone books, go to www.dexknows.com and click on "directory options" at the bottom. You may also call 1-877-2-GET-DEX. For Yellowbook, call 1-800-YB-YELLO. For Verizon Yellow Pages (Idearc), call 1-800-888-8448."

Charter Amendment Proposals

This week Council Members Ostrow, Remington and Samuels announced that they intend to move forward with three significant charter amendments that they hope will be put before the voters in November. One would eliminate the Board of Estimate and Taxation, one would create a more centralized City Administrator and one would eliminate the independent Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Of these three I am most concerned about eliminating the Park Board and especially concerned that we are taking this drastic step without first having had a complete and inclusive community conversation about other alternatives to address the concerns Council Member Ostrow, and others, have raised about the current governance.

In response the Park Board idea and in preparation for a first vote to forward this to the Charter Commission set to come up February 6, Park Commissioner Annie Young and I released the following statement on Friday:


Green Party Elected Officeholders Cam Gordon and Annie Young Oppose Plan to Eliminate Independent Park Board

Second Ward Council Member Cam Gordon and At-Large Park and Recreation Board Commissioner Annie Young were surprised this week to learn that Council Members Ostrow, Samuels and Remington are proposing to eliminate the 126-year-old Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Both officials agree that this proposal risks seriously diminishing the nationally-renowned Minneapolis park system. Their concerns are rooted in the Key Values of the Green Party, including Ecological Wisdom, Grassroots Democracy, Decentralization, Social and Economic Justice and Future Focus.

“Ecologically, the Minneapolis park system is a jewel,” said Young. “From green space to water quality, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has protected the natural environment in this city. Our parks, lakes, river and urban forest serves the natural, leisure and recreation needs of adults, children and families alike. This is the legacy of an independent Park Board, and there is no certainty that the City Council will manage the park system with such diligence and success.”

Council Member Gordon noted that residents are right to be concerned about an apparent ‘power grab’ on the part of City Hall. “Grassroots democracy can only be effective when the public has direct access to decision makers. Multiple points of contact offer residents more opportunities to make their opinions known and have their voices heard. Now, just over a year after the elimination of the independent Library Board, is not the time for us to talk about consolidating still more power in the hands of fewer people.” Both Gordon and Young agree that decentralization of power is important in order to have checks and balances, increase residents’ access to decision makers, foster innovation, and preserve services.

Young and Gordon also warn of the potential impacts this proposal could have on poor communities and working families. “One of the reasons being given for eliminating the Park Board is to ‘create efficiencies.’ In this era in which schools have been closed in low-income neighborhoods, the City has instituted a hiring freeze and all levels of government may be poised to lay off staff, I am wary of allowing ‘efficiency’ to mean loss of services to the least well-off and the loss of good paying union jobs,” adds Gordon.

“We also need to maintain our focus on the future,” said Young. “Over my 20 years of service on the Park Board, I have consistently fought against selling off park assets for development. I fear that the City Council will, in the name of ‘streamlining’ the system and reducing costs, sell off some of our incredibly valuable parkland. This will become much more likely if parks must compete with other City priorities, like police and firefighters.”

Young and Gordon agree that there are significant governance issues that must be resolved between the Park Board and the City. However, they both feel that there are other, as yet unexplored options to preserve parkland, manage public dollars responsibly, and clarify accountability. “One option is to rethink the old 1994 agreement between the City and the Park Board which in effect makes this supposedly independent board dependent on the City for its funding,” said Young. Gordon agreed, saying that “there are concerns about the future of our parks and the relationship between the Park Board and City Council, and it is time for the Council, Park Board and people throughout the city to have a serious, open and inclusive conversation about how to address those concerns and figure out all of the options. It is not time to put the question of the Park Board's elimination before the voters in November.”