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 20, 2012

Aurora's Message about Guns in America

Last night a young man killed more than a dozen people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.  News reports indicate that he was armed with a military-style assault rifle, a shotgun and handguns.

One of the most terrible things about this tragedy is just how unsurprising it is.  Our country has become inured to the constant catastrophe of gun violence, and even mass murder has become appallingly familiar.  Aurora will be just another place name suffused with new meaning, to add to Tuscon, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and on and on and on.

But at least these large-scale massacres get some level of attention in our national conversation.  Not so with the steady stream of gun-related violence that goes on day after day.  Here's a sample of gun violence from eight days in Minneapolis:

- Tuesday the 10th: Two young men were shot at on the street, likely due to their sexual orientation.

- Wednesday the 11th: Police arrested a man who fired a gun four times from his car - the gun was unlicensed.
- Friday the 13th: A man was shot in the calf.  Shots were fired into another man's house.  A man pointed a shotgun at three kids because their dog was barking at his dog.
- Saturday the 14th: A young woman was shot to death in her home in North Minneapolis.  A young man threatened another young man with a handgun at a party.  A group of youths robbed two people at gunpoint outside of a convenience store.

- Sunday the 15th: A young man was assaulted and shot at in a gang-related incident.  A man pointed a gun at some youths near his car while shouting racial slurs.
- Wednesday the 18th: Two men were shot in an apartment near 38th and Chicago. One died.

In recent weeks I've heard about many other similar incidents.  A man fired multiple rounds at another in South Minneapolis in broad daylight.  An inebriated man accidentally fired a handgun through the wall into his neighbor's apartment, thankfully missing her.

We're awash in guns, and we have to do something about it. 

I'm with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  We need action at all levels - local, state and national - to address this crisis.  The people should put pressure on elected officials and candidates at all levels. 

I'm sure that the NRA will be gearing up to fight any new, sensible controls on handguns and military-style rifles, but it's time to take them on.  They stymied the sensible controls that Colorado lawmakers tried to put in place after Columbine, and now there's a fresh tragedy only 30 miles away from Littleton that they should be held accountable for.  They have prevented the assault weapons ban from being reauthorized, allowing guns just like the one used in Aurora onto the streets.  It's time that more politicians had the courage to demand that the NRA stop abetting the murder of thousands of Americans every year by opposing any and every effort to prevent gun violence.

Police Chief Dolan has described an idea for a voluntary registration system for handguns.  That is a tiny first step, but we should take it.  We should also pass a local law requiring that people who have a gun lost or stolen report that loss or theft to the police.  We should also demand that the State Legislature rescind its 1985 limitation on local governments' ability to regulate handguns. It is time for Minneapolis to be allowed to create better gun control laws.

The shooting must stop.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Electric-Assist Pedicabs

Friday, I plan to introduce subject matter of an ordinance that will, if passed, allow electric-assist bicycles to be used as pedicabs in Minneapolis.

This idea came from Bill Beekman, a resident of Ward 13, who wants to start a small business pedaling a particular European-made pedicab called a Veloform.  It was discussed during last fall's complete revamp of the pedicab ordinance (which, as you can read here, also made things difficult for another small business owner), but the City could not legally allow electric-assist pedicabs then due to a quirk of state law.

That quirk was that electric-assist bicycles were categorized as a subset of "motorized bicycles," rather than as a subset of "bicycles," and it's against state law to let anyone ride on a motorized bicycle.  That law makes sense, when thinking about a bike with a 2-stroke motor that goes 30mph; you don't want people giving each other rides on bikes like those.  It was pretty clearly not intended to outlaw electric-assist pedicabs.  Last fall, the City's Bicycle Advisory Committee recommended that we ask the legislature to fix that quirk.

Senator Scott Dibble has made the fix, redefining electric-assist bicycles as bicycles, the way they should have been categorized.  That opens up an opportunity for the City to revisit the idea of allowing electric-assist pedicabs.

Building on its past support, and after extensive conversation with both the hopeful entrepreneur and others in the pedicab industry, the Bicycle Advisory Committee has unanimously supported allowing electric-assist pedicabs in Minneapolis.

I look forward to working with staff to come up with an ordinance that will gain the support of bicyclists, the existing and hopeful new pedicab operators, the Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Council.  Some of the key restrictions that I will insist we include in that ordinance include a complete prohibition on pedicabs that move without the operator pedaling (for instance, the eVeloform, which is completely electric), and a limit on the amount of power the electric motor can provide.  This process will take a few months, to draft the ordinance and have it vetted by the BAC.

I hope, in a few months, that we will allow Bill and others like him to start this new, interesting business type in Minneapolis, with the jobs that will come with it.

Voter ID's Consequences

At the request of Council Member Glidden and me, our superb City Clerk and Elections staff have prepared a very detailed report on the potential impacts of the Voter ID Constitutional amendment.  I say "potential" because the actual ballot language is extremely vague, and the Legislature would have to put together the actual rules that  election administrators would have to follow.

After reading the report it is clear that this would be a major step backgrounds for voting rights in Minnesota. If this amendment passes it will be disastrous for democracy in Minnesota, for election administration, and for local governments.  It is not a "Voter ID" initiative, but a voter suppression initiative.  The key impact will be to make it harder for Minnesotans - especially the most vulnerable Minnesotans, like people in nursing homes, young people, and the poor - to vote.

I encourage you to read the report, but here are some of the key concerns that it raises.

1.  Minnesota would go from First to Worst on voting.  Minnesotans rightly pride ourselves on having nation-leading voter turnout.  This amendment would change that, making it harder to vote, less likely that many people would vote and reducing voter turnout.

While the amendment's proponents can accurately point to thirty other states that have adopted Voter ID requirements, that argument is extremely misleading for one key reason: the proposed Minnesota amendment is more stringent (that is, more anti-democratic) than any that has been adopted in any other state.

Here's why.  As you can see starting on page 5 of the report, nineteen of the thirty states with Voter ID requirements do not require a voter to show a photo ID.  Of the remaining eleven, only six have the sorts of strict requirements that this amendment would creat in Minnesota.  That includes making government-issued IDs the only sort that voters can use - no private university or college IDs, for instance.

But this amendment would go one large, terrible step further.  In addition to requiring that the government-issued ID feature a voter's name and picture, Minnesota would also require that the ID list the voter's address.  If you've moved recently and haven't yet gotten your address changed on your license, too bad.  Vote in your old precinct or don't vote.

2.  It will scrap vouching and same-day registration.  In addition to the above changes to make voting more difficult, the proposed amendment would do away with vouching and same day registration.  States with same-day registration have ten to seventeen percent higher voter turnout than states without it.  Same-day registration accounts for between five and ten percent of the votes cast in typical Minnesota elections.  The amendment would replace these good systems that are working just fine, and...

3.  It will create a terrible new Provisional Ballot system.  Rather than allowing people to register same-day or have someone vouch for them, people without valid photo IDs would have to vote by provisional ballot.  They would then have to show up, in person, within a short window of time  after an election, to show a photo ID.  If they fail to do so, their vote would not count.  This is extremely important: what are the chances that someone without a valid photo ID showing their current address on election day will be able to get one within a few days of the election?  Slim to none.

According to a 2009 Pew study, thirty percent of provisional ballots are never counted.  Provisional ballots are clearly a way to throw out about a third of the votes that would be cast and counted under same-day registration.

And that's not the only problem with provisional balloting.  In close elections like the 2010 Gubernatorial race or 2008 Senate race, and in ranked choice elections in Minneapolis, elections administrators will have no choice but to wait until the time for voters who cast provisional ballots to make their votes "real" has expired, before even preliminary elections results can be shared.  That means days of waiting for close races to be called.

4.  It will make absentee voting harder.  The ballot language requires "all voters" to show a photo ID, meaning that, as the report states, "military and civilian absentee voters, voters with religious objections to being photographed, voters with disabilities, and voters who are residents of nursing homes or long-term care facilities" would have to provide photo ID, without exceptions.  How would this work?  For example, how could a military absentee voter on assignment in Afghanistan show a photo ID?  It's unclear, and would have to be worked out by a future Legislature.  But the language on the ballot clearly indicates that exempting certain classes of voters from this onerous requirement will not be possible.

 5. It's an unfunded mandate.  It's ironic that this amendment was put forward by politicians who claim to oppose wasteful government spending, because it will dramatically increase the costs to run all elections in Minnesota.  Just some of the likely new costs higlighted in the report:
  • At least one additional election judge in each precinct to run the provisional ballot system.
  • More space in polling places - and completely segregated, separate space - for the provisional ballot system.
  • Staff to run the provisional voting system after elections.
  • Additional training for all election judges on provisional balloting, photo IDs, and the removal of vouching and same-day registration as options for voters.
  • A massive public education campaign to ensure that voters understand and are ready to comply with the new requirements - which could leave them disenfranchised if they aren't aware of them.  (The State of Georgia was required by the courts to do much more voter education than they had originally planned, for exactly this reason.) 

The Voter ID bill that passed the Legislature but was vetoed by the Governor included a state appropriation that, in my view, would be nowhere enough to implement this major change.  (Also, ironically, much of the funding was lifted from federal Help America Vote Act funds, despite the fact that this initiative is clearly not designed to "help" Minnesotans vote, but make it harder for us to vote.)  It's also clear that this requirement would have ongoing expenses that would be passed down to local units of government.

It is impossible to know how much of a burden this amendment would place on Minneapolis taxpayers, but it is likely to be significant.

5.  The timeline is impossibly tight.  If this amendment passes, the Legislature will have to pass, and the Governor will have to sign, rules for implementing the new requirements.  The many questions raised by the vagueness of the ballot language (how do we deal with absentee votes?  what types of IDs can be considered "government-issued"?  etc.) will have to be answered.  It is unclear how long this will take, but it could take a very long time.

The best-case scenario is that Minneapolis Elections staff would have five months in which to implement this sweeping change to our voting system.  The worst case scenario is that they would have four weeks.  Four weeks in which to scrap the vouching and same-day registration systems, to create from scratch a whole new provisional voting system, to have their work vetted by the Secretary of State's office, to educate election judges, candidates, campaigns and the general public... all while also preparing for our second-ever ranked choice voting election.

But other cities that do not use RCV would actually have it worse, in one important way, because they would have to use the current system for their primary elections in August, and switch to a completely new system for the general election.

This is a recipe for chaos, and disenfranchising voters.  Again, it's clear that that's the point.

There are two additional problems with this proposed amendment not raised by the Clerk's report that I want to call out.

First, as you can read in the Star Tribune's article on the Minnesota Supreme Court's hearing earlier this week, it's clear that the Legislature's ballot language does not accurately tell voters what the Constitutional amendment would actually do.  It doesn't say it's scrapping same-day registration and vouching.  The Legislature's ballot language asks whether voters should have to show "valid" identification, but the actual Constitutional amendment would require "government-issued" identification.  Those are not the same thing, and the League of Women Voters have proven that the architects of this amendment were reminded of that fact repeatedly, but still put this misleading ballot language forward. 

Second, it is vital to remember that this Constitutional amendment is an attempt to solve a problem that does not exist.  The proponents of this massive push to suppress and disenfranchise Minnesota voters cannot provide any evidence of widespread voter fraud in Minnesota.  This is worse than a solution in search of a problem: it's a solution to a "problem" that its proponents will not honestly admit, in public, is their real motivator.  The "problem" that they're looking to solve is that too many people who tend to vote for Democrats and Greens - African Americans, college students, recent immigrants, poor people and others - are exercising their legal right to vote.  It would be better for conservatives if some of these people's votes could be legally torn up and thrown out.  That's the actual purpose of this amendment. 

Intriguingly, at least one Republican in the US has honestly (though perhaps accidentally) stated the real purpose of these Voter ID laws.  Pennsylvania Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai was quoted as saying that their new Voter ID law (which, again, is less stringent than what is proposed for Minnesota) is "going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."  It's not about protecting against fraud, it's about turning away enough legal voters to win elections.

I'm hoping that in light of these facts, the Court will prevent this misleading ballot question from being on this fall's ballot.  If not, I will be voting no, and urging Second Ward residents to join me in voting no.

Voter ID: the GOP and Uncle Joe

During the devastating report on the Voter ID Constitutional amendment this morning, our Clerk pointed out that under a provisional voting scheme large numbers of votes are thrown out, because the voters in question do not or cannot prove their eligibility within the short timeline available to them.  The Pew survey City staff cited indicates that 30% of provisional votes are not counted.

This reminded me of a quote I've heard many times, often paraphrased.  Here's the original, which appeared for the first time in Memoirs of the Former Secretary of Stalin:

"I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this—who will count the votes, and how." - Joseph Stalin

Who knew that there would be something that Minnesota Republicans and Soviet Communists could agree on?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Solicitors Ordinance

The Council is working on a needed change to our ordinances regulating door-to-door solicitors. 

The old ordinance required a license or permit for basically everyone knocking on doors, whether they were selling a product or service, or seeking charitable donations.  That opened the City to charges that we were violating First Amendment protections of free speech and Commerce Clause protections of commercial activity.  Similar requirements have been struck down in other places.

The new ordinance brings us more into line with the Constitution by scrapping the requirement for "non-commercial door-to-door advocates" to get a permit or even register with the City, and making folks selling a product or service that will be delivered later get a free registration.  The new ordinance regime has four distinct categories of solicitors with their own sets of rules, based on what they are knocking on doors for:
  • Non-commercial door-to-door advocates.  These are canvassers for political or social causes, including candidates and their volunteers or staff, nonprofit organizations, and religious groups.  They don't need to register or get a permit.
  • Solicitors.  These are folks who are soliciting orders for goods or services to be delivered later.  They don't have to get a permit, but they do have to register with the City.
  • Peddlers.  These are people knocking on doors with actual physical products to sell, or offering to provide a service immediately.  They need a permit.
  • Transient Merchants.  These folks don't knock on doors, but set up shop for a temporary time to sell goods that they physically have or services to be provided immediately.  They need a permit.
I was mostly supportive of this ordinance, though I had some concerns about some new provisions that Regulatory Services staff had suggested.  The old ordinance contained no restrictions on the time of day that someone could solicit, nor did it have any language about "no soliciting" signs.

The new ordinance contains new restrictions on both.  As originally written, it would have limited soliciting to between the hours of 8am-8pm, and made it illegal to knock on a door with a "no soliciting" sign.  Problematically, from my perspective, these new restrictions applied to the "non-commercial door-to-door advocates."

I did not think that was appropriate.  In my campaigns for City Council, I have knocked on doors later than 8pm (in the University of MN dorms, for instance), and I have certainly knocked on doors with "no soliciting" signs.  I find that more than nine times out of ten, folks who have indicated that they don't want to be solicited appreciate the chance to talk to a candidate for public office. 

So at yesterday's Regulatory, Energy and Environment meeting I moved two amendments.  The first changed the required end time for soliciting to sunset or 9pm, whichever is later.  The second exempted non-commercial door-to-door advocates from the restriction on knocking on doors with "no soliciting" signs.  Quite frankly, I think we could do without a legal restriction on people knocking on doors with "no soliciting" signs, but I put forward what I knew I could get passed.

I will be supporting this at the full Council, given these amendments.  I think it is a step mostly in the right direction.

Senser Sentenced

Amy Senser, the driver who hit and killed Anousone Phanthavong in the Second Ward, has been sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison.  It's good to see consequences in this case, and I am thankful to Ms. Senser for apologizing directly to Anousone's family.  I'm hoping that this outcome will help give some closure to them, and to his friends at True Thai restaurant.

Farmers Market Finder

The City's website has a neat new feature that shows where you can find all of the farmers markets in Minneapolis.  There's also a printable map, links to individual markets' websites, info on hours and whether markets take EBT, and even a list of recipes for the fresh produce you can buy at the market.  This great resource was put together by Homegrown Minneapolis.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Dilla's Opens, Gets a Good Write-Up

Dilla's Ethiopian Restaurant on the West Bank recently opened for business, and has gotten some good press in the Minnesota Daily.  It's great to see the Baldy's/K-Wok site reopen - the West Bank's vibrancy is due to its eclectic mix of restaurants, bars and retail, and the whole area benefits from each business.  I wish Beko Tufa and Dilla's great success.

Unisys Contract Audited

The City’s Internal Audit department has conducted an audit of the City’s information technology contract with the Unisys Corporation.  The contract, which began in 2007 and ends in 2015, is currently valued at $86,363,655. 

The audit found significant issues in our contract management with Unisys.  First, quoting from the report, “While IT management reviews the invoices for accuracy and completeness, there is no evidence to support the invoice itself was reviewed. Also, the support documentation provided by Unisys only show total dollars without adequate details used to calculate the totals (i.e. rates and hours).  Additionally, while there are written procedures on the IT invoice review process, the procedures are very brief and do not include detailed steps.” 

Second, there are concerns about our contract monitoring: “IT management does not receive relevant reports from Unisys as stated in the contract. Also, there is currently no agreed upon process in place to validate that the City is receiving the most favored equipment prices and/or taking advantage of any special promotional rates or discounts.” 

I continue to have serious concerns about the amount of money the City spends on this information technology contract, and the lack of oversight found in this audit compounds that concern.  This seems like one of the clear consequences of outsourcing what had been – and arguably should still be – a core City function. My hope is that before 2015 we will evaluate alternatives to the current arrangement, ranging from bringing most or all of the services back into City Hall, to breaking up the contract into sections so that smaller local firms can compete for aspects of the business, to drafting a contracts that we are better able to manage and oversee and that will save the city, and us taxpayers, money.

In June the Council referred this report to the Ways and Means Committee for further review. That is a good first step.