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:

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Unisys Contract - Re-evaluate or extend?

The City’s Business Information Services department is recommending a renegotiation of the City’s contract for information/technology services with Unisys Corporation.

The contract is set to expire in January 2013 and costs roughly $11 million a year. Under the proposed terms it would be extended for four years (through 2016) in exchange for some changes in service and a $280,000 savings in 2010 (and additional savings in future years) for total cost to the City of over $45 million. I have had concerns about this contract for some time and do not think we should move forward with this extension without conducting an analysis of alternatives, including potentially going out for open bids on this contract, exploring moving some or all of this work back in-house, and investigating whether open-source software can better meet the City’s needs. I was able to get my colleagues to agree to a two-week delay on this action, and I hope this will lead us to do more due diligence work before extending this costly contract. The matter is set to come back to Council next Friday, August 6. The staff report with more information is included in item 11 here:

You can find a copy of the current agreement here:

I welcome any input, questions, suggestions and opinions.

Is Minneapolis Ready for better Gun Control Laws?

In light of persistent gun violence in the City I am taking a serious look at improving the laws/regulations that ban or regulate ammunition and firearms in Minneapolis. Twenty two people have been killed with a hand gun so far this year. This fact, together with a recent article in the Star Tribune, “7 Shootings in 7 Hours”, that came just after the Supreme Court decision ruling the Chicago handgun ban unconstitutional, offers a chance to raise this issue again. We call this out in the Youth Violence Prevention Plan that I have been working so hard on since 2006, “Support sensible illegal gun laws and work to change community values around the acceptance of guns. This includes seeking stronger penalties for people who sell and distribute illegal guns, and profit from the sale and distribution of illegal guns to young people.” Chicago has already responded to the court decision with its own new ordinance.

Among other things, it does the following:

  1. Bans gun shops in the city.
  2. Prohibits gun owners from stepping outside their homes, even onto their porches or garages, with a handgun.
  3. Limits the number of handguns residents can register to one per month and prohibits residents from having more than one handgun in operating order at any given time.
  4. Requires residents in homes with children to keep them in lock boxes or equipped with trigger locks.
  5. Requires prospective gun owners to take a four-hour class and one-hour training at a gun range.
  6. Prohibits people from owning a gun if they were convicted of a violent crime, domestic violence or two or more convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  7. Calls for the police department to maintain a registry of every handgun owner in the city.
  8. Those who already have handguns in the city would have 90 days to register those weapons.
  9. Residents convicted of violating the city's ordinance can face a fine up to $5,000 and be locked up for as long as 90 days for a first offense and a fine of up to $10,000 and as long as six months behind bars for subsequent convictions.

Unfortunately, even if the entire City Council, Mayor and a majority of Minneapolis residents supported enacting similar legislation in Minneapolis we would be unable to do so because in 1985 the state legislature took away Minneapolis’ authority to regulate hand guns. I believe it is time for the legislature to restore that authority and at least give us more flexibility in determining how best to register and regulate hand guns in Minneapolis.

I also think we need to admit that hand guns and ammunition are a public health threat. If they are, we need to start looking to ways to hold the industry and users responsible for the costs associated with that. There is already a federal excise tax on bullets and sporting arms (11 percent) and handguns (10 percent) that gets split among the states. The tax goes into the Pittman-Robertson Fund, which was created in 1937 for conservation purposes. Imagine what a modest state tax on bullets and hand guns could offer to help cover the health costs associated with gun violence and provide funding for gun violence prevention efforts throughout the state.

Here is what the state legislature passed in 1995:

“Laws of Minnesota 1985 CHAPTER 144-H.F.No. 576 An act relating to local government; setting authority to regulate firearms and related matters; amending Minnesota Statutes 1984, sections 624.7132, subdivision 16; and 624.717; proposing coding for new law in Minnesota Statutes, chapter 471; repealing Minnesota Statutes 1984, section 624.718.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA: Section 1. [471.633] [FIREARMS.] The legislature preempts all authority of a home rule charter or statutory city including a city of the first class, county, town, municipal corporation, or other governmental subdivision, or any of their instrumentalities, to regulate firearms, ammunition, or their respective components to the complete exclusion of any order, ordinance or regulation by them except that: (a) a governmental subdivision may regulate the discharge of firearms; and (b) a governmental subdivision may adopt regulations identical to state law. Local regulation inconsistent with this section is void. Sec. 2. Minnesota Statutes 1984, section 624.7132, subdivision 16, is amended to read: Subd. 16. [LOCAL REGULATION.] This section shall be construed to supersede municipal or county regulation of the transfer of pistols except more restrictive regulation in cities of the first class. Sec. 3. Minnesota Statutes 1984, section 624.717, is amended to read: 624.717 [LOCAL REGULATION.] Sections 624.711 to 624.716 shall be construed to supersede municipal or county regulation of the carrying or possessing of pistols and the regulation of Saturday Night Special Pistols except more restrictive regulation in cities of the first class. Sec. 4. [REPEALER.] Minnesota Statutes 1984, section 624.718, is repealed. Approved May 17, 1985”

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hennepin and First

Public Works staff made an exciting presentation to the Transportation and Public Works committee this morning about the Hennepin and First two-way conversions and bike facilities. They've got a tremendous amount of data on the successes of the conversion. Traffic volumes are up. Bicycle volumes on Hennepin, First and the Nicollet Mall are up. Crashes are down. Crashes involving bicycles are down to literally zero. The facilities are working.

But staff have heard complaints from various stakeholders since the change. Cyclists have complained that the shared bike/bus/right turn lanes on Hennepin are badly marked, and that the cycle track-style facility on First is too narrow, without enough of a buffer from parked cars. Area businesses have complained about the ban on parking during the 4-6pm peak and the difficulty that their customers have had understanding the new parking rules (cars can only park to the left of the bike lane, which is unusual).

Public Works staff took these concerns seriously, and have come up with some great solutions. On Hennepin, they will be increasing the size of the stencils that indicate the bus/bike/right turn only lane and adding a green shared lane marking - our first colored bike facility ever. On First, the northbound car volumes that they expected never materialized, so they will be making the parking lane on that side of the street permanent - all day, every day. This frees up some space on the street, because parking lanes are narrower than driving lanes, and they are putting those extra feet into painted buffers between the bike lanes and parked cars. They'll be supplementing this buffer with some "candlestick"-style cones to further delineate the space.

I am extremely supportive of all of these refinements, which I believe will make both streets function better for every type of road user. I want to publicly acknowledge the great work of the people who made this possible: Public Works staff, including Steve Mosing and others; Council Member Lisa Goodman, who has been hearing the complaints from all sides and took an active role in seeking solutions; and Mayor Rybak, who got personally engaged on this and helped set the tone for the great solution that is moving forward.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mini Markets

There is a great article on Minnesota Public Radio today talking about the success and proliferation of mini farmers markets in Minneapolis. It talks at great length about the change in the licensing process that I helped enact back in 2007.

It's great to see a small change that my office helped make possible, working with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Department of Health and Family Support, paying these real dividends in the lives of Minneapolis residents.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Minneapolis Economic Growth

The City's Director of Economic Development, Cathy Polasky, has shared some interesting information with Council Members.

"The City of Minneapolis has fared better than most areas of the country during the recession. We’ve been cited by Forbes and others as being in a good position to emerge from the recession. In May, 500 more people were employed in Minneapolis than in April, and 3,700 more were employed than a year prior. This compares to a one-year loss of 866,000 jobs nationally. The Minneapolis unemployment number for May was 6.0%, down from 7.6% a year prior.

"We think that the City, through its policies and programs, played an important role in helping residents obtain jobs and in attracting and retaining jobs through our business support tool box."

This is good news, and shows that our economic development and job training strategies are paying off. The one caution I want to raise is that while these numbers look great, there are continuing disparities between whites and people of color. In my opinion, we should definitely talk about our successes, but we can't rest until these economic opportunities are shared by everyone in our city.

Transit Ridership Up

There's an interesting article at the National Review about transit ridership in the 00's. They note something very important, which hasn't gotten enough notice: between 2000 and 2008, transit ridership went up nationwide for the first time in 40 years. They go on to note that more than half of this increase is due to people taking buses.

The bad news for most cities is that the recession, along with decisions to cut service and increases in rider fees, contributed to a decrease in ridership of four percent nationwide between '09 and this year.

But one metro area stood out. From the article: "of the largest systems, only Minneapolis’ Metro Transit saw any increase (0.2 percent)."

Way to go Metro Transit! (Though it should be noted that this increase was despite a fare hike and some reductions to service.) It just goes to strengthen my view that people in the Twin Cities metro are looking for more alternatives to single occupancy automobiles.

Hiawatha LRT Trail Detour

On July 6th, after the 3-day weekend for the Fourth of July, I encountered something surprising on my bike ride into work: the Hiawatha LRT Trail had been closed under I-94. This was odd, because I had heard nothing about such a closure, despite the fact that the trail is in Ward 2 in that location, and the fact that I track bicycle-related issues fairly closely.

My surprise turned to shock when I attempted to use the marked detour, which directed me to travel the wrong way down a one way street - Cedar Avenue, south of Minnehaha - and take a left at the extremely complicated intersection of Cedar, Minnehaha, and the ramps for I-94. At that location, cars are typically going much faster than the posted 30mph, navigating a curve in the road, and many are turning onto the freeway. It's not a good place to be a cyclist making a left.

When I got into work, I learned who was responsible: the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). They had closed the trail over the weekend in order to take down one of the bridges for the 5th Street off-ramp from I-94 westbound, as part of a project to repair the entire ramp. According to both City staff and the Metropolitan Council - which owns the Hiawatha LRT Trail - MnDOT had indicated that the trail would be closed for the weekend.

But what I heard from the MNDoT engineer responsible for the project was that the trail was to be closed throughout the month of July.

This concerned me on a number of levels. First, according to our 2008 bike counts, this facility is among the most-used in the city.

Second, when closing any facility, especially one serving so many people, the responsible agency should communicate that it will be closed to the users. For an example of how this should be done, the Central Corridor project did a great job letting the public know that they would be closing the East River Parkway bike/ped trail this year. This info was on local media, signs were posted on the trail, etc.

Third, the detour chosen by MnDOT was dangerous and required cyclists to break the law. The City has people, like the invaluable Shaun Murphy (our Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot coordinator) who could have helped MnDOT come up with better options.

Finally, the closure was simply excessive. We typically don't completely close streets for a month unless it's absolutely necessary, especially when the detour options are so unsafe and unappealing. Why should we treat a trail that's used by thousands of cyclists and pedestrians a day any differently?

I made these points to MnDOT. To their great credit, they listened, and took actions to correct the situation. The trail was reopened by the end of the week. Their engineers have let City staff know that there will be two additional short closures coming up: July 20th and 21st, and again July 26th-30th. This information has been added to the City's bicycle detour page, and will be sending it out to the City's bicycling e-list. In addition, MnDOT has put signs out informing trail users of the 2oth-21st closure. This is immensely helpful in getting the word out to trail users who may not be plugged into any of these other channels.

I have not heard that MnDOT will be changing the detour route, which I still find problematic. But MnDOT makes a fair point, which is that any detour at this location would be an issue. At least we have informed trail users of the closure, so that they can now plan to avoid the trail entirely and find alternate routes during the closures.

It is my hope that all of the agencies involved can learn from this situation, and that we can work better together to do a better job of limiting the impact of construction on cyclists and pedestrians, communicating well when we must close a facility, and working together to find safe and convenient detours for the duration of the work.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Prospect Park Historic District

The Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) has voted to not designate Prospect Park as a local historic district, in keeping with both the community's stated preference and City staff's recommendation. I expect that this action will be upheld by the Council.

I look forward to working with Prospect Park residents, the University, our staff and others on a potential Conservation District ordinance.

Park Board Participation Survey

During the month of July, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is conducting a public participation survey asking the public how you would prefer they engage you when they make changes in the parks. This is your chance to weigh in. They are holding meetings but would be just as happy to hear from you online. If you do take the survey please make sure to include your zip code.

Central Corridor Construction Updates

As I've noted before, construction has begun on the Central Corridor LRT. The project office is continuing to try to make sure that people in the area - residents, small businesses and others - know what is happening with the project.

These steps include a website and a 24-hour construction hotline at 651-602-1404. They're continuing to send out weekly emailed construction updates that you can sign up to receive here. They are setting up regular public construction meetings for businesses and the public to get updates and a look ahead from project staff and utilities. They've also put together a contractor incentive program to encourage responsiveness, create a partnership between contractors and the community and promote cooperation.

We Want You Back

As a member of the Youth Coordinating Board, I am excited about a new joint effort the YCB is embarking on this fall with Minneapolis Public Schools called We Want You Back. The goal is to enroll youth who have dropped out of school and get them on the path to graduation. The program’s goal is to attract back 200 youth and put them on a path where they can be successful.

Up to 1,900 young people dropped out of school between 2008 and 2010. The campaign is looking for volunteers to help reach young people who did not finish school this summer at various events and on Saturday, September 11 to join hundreds of people walking together, dropping information fliers, and talking to neighbors around the city. If you can, please help.

2010 Climate Change Grants

The City is once again offering grants to help save energy and find innovative ways to fight climate change. Nonprofits, neighborhood associations, businesses, and parks and libraries and others may apply. Grant amounts range from $7,500- $10,000 (no match required) and applications must be in by 4 p.m. Monday, July 26. To learn more, go here.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Bill Hinkley

I was honored to be able to help draft and deliver a resolution honoring Bill Hinkley yesterday at a memorial event held in his honor. It was a great gathering with wonderful music and an outpouring of community. Clearly he was well loved by many.

Here is the resolution the Council Passed in Honor of his Life:

Resolution Honoring the Life of Bill Hinkley

By Gordon, Reich, Hofstede, Johnson, Samuels, Lilligren, Goodman, Glidden, Schiff, Tuthill, Quincy, Colvin Roy and Hodges.

Whereas, Bill Hinkley was an invaluable cultural asset of the State of Minnesota, the City of Minneapolis and the world; and,

Whereas, for four decades Bill Hinkley personified the rich musical spirit and culture of the West Bank; and,

Whereas, Bill Hinkley shared his talent and passion for music with thousands and thousands of people in the Twin Cities area; and,

Whereas, Bill Hinkley and his longtime partner Judy Larson were the first musicians featured on A Prairie Home Companion in the opening days of that iconic Minnesota radio show; and,
Whereas, Bill Hinkley was the longest tenured and most beloved teacher of fiddle and mandolin music in the history of West Bank School of Music, teaching generations of students to play a variety of musical instruments and sharing his wealth of musical knowledge with students young and old without ever becoming pedantic; and,

Whereas, Bill Hinkley always made time for young musicians, whether mentoring, encouraging, giving a tip or showing a chord, with patience, grace and charm; and,

Whereas, Bill Hinkley exuded the joy of non-pretentious and soulful music making, and by example and direct communication encouraged the talents of others; and,

Whereas, Bill Hinkley was a Founding Father of the annual Minneapolis Battle of the Jug Bands; and,

Whereas, Bill Hinkley was respected by every musician he ever met, obscure or celebrated, regardless of the culture that musician came from or represented, for his command of the guitar, fiddle and mandolin; and,

Whereas, Bill Hinkley cheerfully lived most of his life in a state of genteel poverty; and,

Whereas, Bill Hinkley maintained an unshakeable patriotism though he was often troubled by his beloved country's leadership; and,

Whereas, Bill Hinkley mastered the basic styles and repertoires of this country (Blues, Ragtime, Old Time, Jug Band, Bluegrass, Hot Jazz, Cool Jazz) as well as the styles and repertoires of many other countries; and,

Whereas, Bill Hinkley was an outstanding example of living by the Golden Rule, prior to and apart from being a professional musician, who enjoyed his position within his community without ever once taking advantage of it; and,

Whereas, Bill Hinkley passed away on Tuesday, May 25, 2010; and,

Whereas, since the Facebook page “Friends of Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson” was created on May 21, more than 550 members have joined and hundreds of people have shared stories of how Bill touched their lives; and,

Whereas Bill Hinkley maintained a teacherly demeanor until the day of his death and even beyond it by donating his body to the U of M Medical School; and,

Whereas, Bill’s friends and family have organized a Memorial Celebration of the life of Bill Hinkley on Wednesday, July 7th at 5:00PM at the Nicollet Island Pavilion in Minneapolis,

Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved by the City Council of the City of Minneapolis

That the City of Minneapolis honors Bill Hinkley for a lifetime of sharing and teaching music in Minneapolis.


The Charter Commission has voted to put a question on this fall’s ballot that will, if passed by the voters, do away with the Redistricting Commission and empower the Charter Commission to draw Ward boundaries.

I understand that there are some significant concerns being raised by good government groups such as Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, about both the criteria that will be used to draw ward boundaries and the transparency of the process that will be followed. I am working with the City Attorney’s Office to see if there is any way for the Council to set these criteria by ordinance.

While I do not believe the Charter amendment as proposed is perfect, it is an improvement over the Redistricting Commission process, which allowed a small group of unelected, unaccountable party insiders to draw maps based on an overtly politicized process.

Reconstructing Riverside

Public Works is planning to reconstruct Riverside Avenue starting in 2011 and continuing until 2012. They have presented their initial plans at a meeting with the Seward and West Bank neighborhoods.

The plans include several positive changes: bike lanes from Franklin to 20th Ave S, bump outs in numerous locations, the capacity to make a left from eastbound Franklin onto Riverside and more.

However, there are also some aspects of the plans that I am concerned about, including a gap in the bike facility from 20th Ave to Cedar and a reduction of on-street parking. There are also some locations in which midblock refuge islands would help people, especially people with disabilities, cross the street safely. I am interested in exploring a “cycle track” model of bike facility, which creates a protected bike lane between the parking lane and the sidewalk. I have heard that the business community has concerns about the two-year construction timeline and about the loss of some on-street parking, and I am raising these concerns with staff.

Not With a Bang, but a Whimper

Back in March, a brand-new group called "Citizens for a Better Minneapolis" and the Minnesota Voters Alliance launched a petition drive to put a very bad idea on the ballot in Minneapolis: to force every voter in a municipal election to provide a photo ID in order to vote. I criticized this wrongheaded scheme here on SecondWard, and pointed out that "Citizens for a Better Minneapolis" had existed for about a week before launching the campaign, leaving the distinct impression that the actual driver of the campaign was MVA, a group of conservative suburbanites with a record of suing Minneapolis and losing. I expressed confidence that Minneapolis voters would see through these groups' rhetoric and vote this terrible idea down.

It seems that I was right to believe in my fellow Minneapolitans. The deadline to turn in signatures to get a question on this fall's ballot has come and gone, with nary a word from "Citizens" or MVA. In fact, the most recent activity on their website as of today is the press release from March 23rd informing the public of the campaign's launch. It seems that the voters of Minneapolis were even wiser than I had hoped - rather than voting this awful idea down in November, they declined to support putting it on the ballot in the first place.

I'd welcome "Citizens" or MVA to share the reasons they believe their petition drive failed, though I expect to continue to hear crickets.