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:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Equity in Employment

A resolution, "Supporting Equity in Employment in Minneapolis and the Region," that I am co-authoring will be coming for approval to the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Health Committee tomorrow, on August 22 at 1:30pm. Time for a public comment will be provided.

The resolution declares that racism, discrimination and racial employment disparities in Minneapolis are serious problems that must be solved. It commits the City government to lead by example and better incorporate racial equity into City policies and, if approved, it would direct the City Coordinator, Community Planning and Economic Development Director and the Civil Rights Director to engage with other department heads, staff and our Workforce Council to develop and implement an Equity Assessment Toolkit to inform city decisions including those related to the budget, hiring, promotion, contracting and purchasing. It also directs staff to assess and implement where appropriate, the other recommendations of the Equity in Employment Task Force report and recommend fair hiring provisions to be added to our code of ordinances.

Additionally, it would authorize the City to formally join the Ramsey County Blue Ribbon Commission's Everybody In regional collaboration.

This is the result of a great deal of work dating back to 2008 that many people have been part of. It is also a critically important next step for the City to take to make Minneapolis a more just city.

For more details see item 6. Equity in Employment on the Committee agenda and come tomorrow to see the staff report and show your support if you are able.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Major Changes Proposed for CRA

The Civil Rights Department, in conjunction with the Police and City Attorney’s Office, have proposed a major change (scroll to item 9) to the Civilian Police Review Authority (CRA).  If passed, the CRA would essentially cease to exist, and be replaced by an advisory board to the Police Department.  Internal Affairs and the Civilian Review investigatory functions would basically be merged.  

The current CRA board is not supportive of this proposal, and has recommended its own improvements to the civilian review process.  Though I understand the problems this proposal is attempting to solve – including the Legislature and Governor’s recent terrible decision to prohibit our CRA from making findings of fact, and the fact that the CRA cannot communicate its disposition of complaints – I have serious concerns about merging the police department’s internal affairs with the civilian review authority and making the citizen/civilian component advisory only.  It also removes the residency requirement and focuses more power with the chief.  

Given these concerns, I will not support this proposal in its current form.  I would note that the Star Tribune has also editorialized against this proposal.

When this was presented to the Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights and Health committee on July 25th, I successfully moved to have staff provide an analysis of how this compares to a reform proposed by the current Civilian Review Authority board and conduct community meetings on the changes.  The proposal is set to return to the committee on September 12 for a public hearing at 1:30pm.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Unisys Contract in the News

In case you missed it, the Star Tribune has run a very good article by Eric Roper on the Unisys contract.  I have been very troubled by the close relationship between past leadership in the City's BIS (now called IT)Department and Unisys, and those concerns are confirmed by the information Eric has dug up.

The bottom line, for me, is that for too long we have accepted the conservative, Reagan-era lie that government can't do things well.  We have outsourced essential City functions in ways that I don't think those who came before us would have been quite so eager to accept.  Small and underutilized local firms are crowded out by this one large, powerful corporation, undermining the City's efforts to create jobs, especially for women and people of color.  We're giving tens of millions of dollars to Unisys, without adequate oversight for me to be confident that we're getting our money's worth.  Remember, we're in a time of limited resources, and the City has cut vital services to the bone.  Every dollar we spend on IT means one fewer to spend on firefighters, streets, police and property tax relief.

When this contract comes back up, we need to seriously explore breaking it into several smaller contracts and bringing substantial pieces of this work back in-house.  I look forward to that conversation, and hope that this public focus on this multi-million-dollar contract continues.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

311 for Smartphones

People in Minneapolis can now request City services any time of day through a free application on their smartphone and similar devices. So far ten common service requests are available, including those related to folks will be able to report issues to Minneapolis 311 related to abandoned vehicles, graffiti, parking meters, parking violations, potholes, traffic signals and broken street lights. More will be added soon. The Global Positioning System (GPS) will provide the location of the service request and people will also be able to submit a photo to add more detail to their request.

Monday, August 06, 2012

What We're Up Against

The Council took a strong position earlier this year opposing the Republican attempt to write bigotry into the Minnesota Constitution through the anti-marriage amendment. Today, the Council had to respond to an open-ended fishing expedition for all communications having anything to do with the effort to defeat that terrible ballot measure, by none other than erstwhile Michele Bachmann staffer Andy Parrish.

Here's just one of the narrowly tailored requests our office spent an hour and a half of taxpayer-funded time responding to:
"Any communication or contact between any combination of the following individuals, their staff, and the identified organizations (including officers and staff) that relates to the proposed constitutional amendment to recognize marriage: Mayor, all current City Council Members, the City Administrator, County Administrator, the City Attorney's Office, and any city established Human Rights Committee or other committees, Project 515, Minnesotans United for All Families, OutFront Minnesota, Freedom to Marry, the Human Rights Campaign, the DFL state party, and state legislators."
Given that Cam is both a member of the Council and a board member of Minnesotans United for All Families, does this include every communication he has with himself on this topic? And how can we share our communications with the Minneapolis City Administrator when there is no such person? (Might they mean the City Coordinator? Who knows!)  And one has to appreciate the artfully euphemistic purpose of the amendment: to "recognize" marriage.  I can recognize marriages just fine without adding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation to the fundamental document of our state government, but then again I do wear glasses.

But hey, at least the bigots aren't yet to the point of lighting the City's lawn on fire, as they've done to General Mills.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Coal Tar Sealants Banned in Mpls

The Council has passed an ordinance, supported by the Citizens Environmental Advisory Committee, which bans coal tar-based sealants from being sold or used on any driveway or parking lot in Minneapolis.  The purpose of this ban is to keep Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons – toxic chemicals present in coal tar sealants but not alternative sealant products – out of our lakes, streams and river.  I enthusiastically supported this ordinance, and commend Council Member Colvin Roy for taking the lead on it.

Recycling at Major Events

The Council has voted to require all large block events and all parades and races on Minneapolis streets to recycle. The changes are designed to reduce the amount of trash being generated at these events.

Beginning next year, organizers of any block event with more than 2,500 in attendance and any parade or race that uses City streets will need to have a written recycling plan for the collection of all paper, cardboard, and plastic, glass and metal containers.

I was very supportive of this initiative by Council Member Betsy Hodges.  I see this as a continuation of the City's work to increase waste diversion, including our requirements that multifamily housing and commercial properties have recycling.  It's tremendously important that we continue to reduce the amount of recyclable (and organic) material going into landfills and the garbage burner.

Xcel Trying to End Solar Rewards

Xcel Energy, the electrical utility for Minneapolis, has submitted a new Conservation Improvement Program (CIP) document that would do away with their Solar Rewards program.  Thanks to some good work by our Sustainability Director Gayle Prest and Regulatory Energy and Environment Chair Elizabeth Glidden, the City is now on record opposing this change.

Here's a little bit about the program Xcel wants to dismantle.  The Solar Rewards program offers a financial rebate for qualifying small / medium sized solar photovoltaic (pv) installations.  It is fully subscribed and has been successful.  For example, from our comments, "In 2011, within the City of Minneapolis geographic area, there were 30 solar projects totaling 216 kW that received Solar Rewards rebates compared to only two solar installations in 2009, the year prior to the start of the Solar Rewards program."

As we try to build a robust, self-sustaining solar industry, rebates are essential.  Unfortunately, the rebates at the State and Federal level have been extremely inconsistent.  Xcel’s decision to scrap Solar Rewards would add to that inconsistency.  As the City's comments state: "according to a local solar installer, even with the Solar Rewards program and federal incentives, the time for Return on Investment for a homeowner is typically 10-15 years. If the Solar Rewards program is eliminated we predict that the number of installations will dramatically decrease and the recent successes in driving down costs will be undermined."

Other justifications Xcel attempts are similarly not compelling.  They state that, with near flat growth in customer demand, "the addition of new solar generation no longer makes economic sense at this time."  The City has rightly pointed out that "this is a short sighted view, and largely inconsistent with the intent of the Solar Rewards program. The program was never intended as a response to load growth, but as a stepping stone to developing a self-sustaining market in clean energy generation."

Lastly, it's not as if Xcel is providing reliably clean energy.  The carbon intensity (the amount for greenhouse gases produced per unit of energy consumed) for Xcel’s NSP region increased 4.6% in 2011 compared to 2010.

Xcel’s attempt to scuttle Solar Rewards betrays a disappointing lack of commitment to solar, and to renewable energy generally.  In my opnion, this illustrates the need for Minneapolis to keep our energy options open by exploring a municipal utility.