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, October 21, 2011

Healthy Food Policy

This morning, the Council passed a Healthy Food Policy.  That's the good news.

The bad news is that it passed on a razor-thin 6-5 vote.  Those who joined me in voting yes: CMs Hodges, Glidden, Hofstede, Lilligren, and Quincy.  Those who voted against it (in favor of unhealthy food?): CMs Reich, Goodman, Schiff, Tuthill, and Colvin Roy.  CMs Johnson and Samuels were absent this morning.

There was no discussion at this morning's meeting to explain the motivations of those who voted "no," but the positions of those who voted against it were made clear at yesterday's Committee of the Whole meeting.  However, many of the concerns were based on misreadings or distortions of the policy. Here's an attempt to set the record straight:

1) There’s a problem.  According to a recent employee health assessment, 65% of City employees are overweight or obese and 60% aren’t getting enough fruits and vegetables. This has an impact on costs to the City in health claims, and costs to City employees through health insurance premiums.  In 2009, approximately $110 million was spent on claims related to chronic conditions – the amount spent on claims dictates premium costs. These costs can directly be reduced through healthy lifestyle choices.

2) City employees asked us to solve it.  Over 70% of City employees indicated in the employee survey that they want more healthy options.  Would it be responsible for the City's leaders to ignore this request from our employees?

3) Staff worked on this because the Council told them to.  At least one Council Member questioned why we have staff working on this issue.  The answer is simple: they were directed to do so by the Council itself.  The City Wellness Committee was established by a Council action in 2007, and directed to do exactly this sort of work by the following Council resolution:

Whereas, research shows that comprehensive health and wellness programs increase employees’ overall health and productivity and reduce health care costs, absenteeism and workers’ compensation costs; and

Whereas, the City will continue to partner with union representatives, benefit plan vendors, city council departments, independent boards and agencies and employees to identify and implement strategies and programs to assist employees lead healthier lifestyles and decrease rising health care costs.

Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved by the City Council of the City of Minneapolis: That the City Council does hereby declare that it will assist employees in leading healthier lives by supporting activities associated with a comprehensive Health and Wellness Program to be extended to employees and retirees of the City and its independent boards and agencies with the goal of reduced health care costs and an improved quality of life at work and at home.

Be It Further Resolved that the City Council will support the formation of a Wellness Committee that will develop and promote a comprehensive Health and Wellness Program to address our most costly and prevalent areas of risk. Such committee will be composed of all levels of employees, both represented and non represented, from various departments across the City. The departments of Human Resources and Health and Family Support will establish and co-chair the committee.

Be It Further Resolved that all departments will allow and encourage employees to participate in health and wellness activities.

Be It Further Resolved that the Wellness Committee will report annually on the program participation and other findings to the Executive Sponsor, to include one Council Member, one union representative, the Director of Human Resources and the Commissioner of Health.
Adopted 8/3/2007.

4) Our vendors are already serving healthy food.  One Council Member attempted to make the new vendor in the City Hall cafe space an issue, as in: should we really be telling them what they can serve?  But she didn't bother to learn that this has already happened to a substantial degree.  The City Hall food vendor responded to a Request for Proposals issued by the Metropolitan Building Commission, the entity that controls City Hall.  Before that RFP was released, the Wellness Committee worked with the MBC to ensure that it included language incentivizing healthy food.  And lo and behold, the vendor offers numerous healthy options, including half-portions, whole grains and legumes, fresh fruit and more.  Additionally, the intent of this policy is to highlight their healthy food options, not dictate them.

5) The policy doesn’t apply to ‘treats’ brought in by individual employees.  Multiple Council Members either insinuated or openly claimed that this policy would prohibit employees from bringing in treats like birthday cakes, purchased with their own funds.  Either they didn't read the policy before objecting to it, or they were deliberately trying to mislead.  The policy applies only to food purchased with City funds and people contracting to be food vendors in City facilities (including vending machines).  Individuals bringing treats to share with their coworkers - including Council Members bringing baked goods in before Council meetings - are simply not covered by the policy.

This debate has been amplified - but unfortunately not clarified - by the Star Tribune.  The post quotes certain Council Members doling out some of the above-referenced misinformation, for instance implying that birthday cakes will be prohibited by the policy.  A glance at the policy makes clear that this is not true.

I'm disappointed that this good idea - which is responsible given the impacts of rising health costs on the City's budget, responsive to the requests of our employees, and completely in line with wellness policies being adopted by large institutions around the country - became so controversial.  I'm even more disappointed that so many of the arguments against it were so uninformed or misleading.


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