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:

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Tragic Hand Gun Mass Shooting

Six people were killed on September 27 in a hand gun shooting in a Minneapolis business. Another four people were wounded in a separate shooting on the same day when someone shot into their home.

My thoughts and prayers go out the victims, their families, co-workers and other community members devastated by these terrible crimes.

These are all too common in our country, our state and our City. Each time it reminds me how important it is for us to work harder to prevent future acts of violence and address this epidemic of gun violence head on. I don't understand why it is so hard for us, as a nation, to unite to look at how science, education, regulation and technology can help address this public health crisis. To jump start that effort and secure the funding that it will require we should increase the tax on guns and amunition. There is already a federal excise tax on bullets and sporting arms (11 percent) and handguns (10 percent). The tax goes into the Pittman-Robertson Fund, which was created in 1937 for wild life 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 education and prevention efforts throughout the state.
Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota: Working to End Gun Violence said, "Public policy matters. It is time for our public officials to acknowledge that gun violence is a problem, that they can do something about it, and that they are morally obligated to work to solve the problem. Homicide is not an acceptable price to pay for political expediency, for blind ideology or for gun industry profits -- there is no excuse for failure to act."

According to David Hemenway from the Harvard School of Public Health, the United States has a rate of.homicide 7 times that of other wealthy nations, driven by a 20-times higher rate of gun homicide. A new investigation by Mother Jones has found a national trend of rising mass shootings since 1982. Mother Jones also reported a nationwide rollback in gun regulations since 2009.

It is unfortunate that currently, even if the Minneapolis City Council and a majority of residents in our City wanted to do more to legally regulate hand guns in our city, we couldn't.  Our hands our tied by state law.  It is time to 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.

I believe that we could at least implement Police Chief Dolan's idea for a voluntary registration system for handguns and pass a local law requiring that people who have a gun lost or stolen report that loss or theft to the police.  These would be small steps we could take at the local level, and eventually, if the state legislature would relinquish its strangle hold on Minnesota cities, it could lead us to other reforms.

Please join me in calling for the state government to give Minneapolis, and other cities and counties in the state,  the flexibility granted to so many other cities in other states throughout the nation, to seriously consider and, if they deem it wise, enact constitutional city gun control reforms to help stop the reckless, and often deadly use of handguns in our city.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Driver Sentenced in Death of Bicyclist

This is an update about a tragedy that occured in the Ward several months ago. Wesley Gubbin, the driver who hit and killed a bicyclist named Thomas Malloy on West River Parkway, has been sentenced to 41 months in prison.

According to witnesses, Gubbin was speeding down the oncoming lane of the parkway in order to pass other drivers who had conscientiously stopped for Mr. Malloy to cross the street.  He did not stop after hitting and killing Mr. Malloy.

It's good to see that there have been consequences in this case, and I hope it is a reminder to the rest of us to drive carefully and cede right of way to pedestrians and bicyclists.  Keeping everyone safe is worth taking a little extra time.

Friday, September 21, 2012

No Accountability for DRE

In an ironically well-timed announcement the same morning that the Council was gutting civilian oversight in Minneapolis, we're hearing that there will be no consequences for the officers involved in the Drug Recognition Evaluator (or DRE) controversy.  According to the Hennepin County Attorney, there is insufficient evidence to file criminal charges against the officers involved.  I have not heard anything about the officers involved being disciplined in any other way, and I doubt that they will be.

So, to recap:

Several young people go on record alleging that officers involved in the DRE program provided them with illegal drugs, via a video shared on the internet.  No one takes any action until an unnamed police participant in the DRE program corroborates the allegations, triggering an investigation.  That investigation is complete, and no action will be taken.  Did the young people who made the initial allegations and the police officer who came forward simply made this all up?  If so, why?

Overall, it's a bad day for police accountability in Minneapolis.

Civilian Oversight of Police Dismantled

It's a sad day for Minneapolis.  Our decades-long experiment in civilian oversight of the Minneapolis Police Department has been ended by a 7-6 vote of the Council.

The dismantling of the Civilian Review Authority (CRA) goes far beyond what was necessary to respond to the Legislature’s recent actions to hobble the CRA.  The CRA has been scrapped and replaced with a new "civilian oversight" process completely dominated by the police. A growing reluctance for people to bring complaints forward and a renewed erosion of public trust in the police will likely follow.

There are many problems with the changes that passed the Council today.  If someone was treated badly by a Minneapolis police officer before today's change, they could choose to have their complaint investigated by a civilian and sent to a board of civilians for their recommendation to the Chief.  After today's change, a complainant will no longer have any choice.  Their complaint may be investigated by a police officer, and the complainant will have no say in that matter.  Their complaint will be reviewed by a panel with two civilians and two police officers, and they will have no say in that either.

Does that seem like "civilian oversight"?  Not to those we have heard from at the public meetings (which, by the way, on my motion the Council required the Civil Rights department to hold, essentially against their will).  Not to the existing Civilian Review Authority's members.  Not to the National Association of Civilian Oversight.  Not to the Star Tribune's editorial board.  And not to me.

I attempted to make some minor tweaks that could have taken some of the hard edges off of this terrible proposal.  The most important would have added a single civilian "tiebreaker" to the proposed two-civilian, two-officer review panels that will make recommendations about complaints.  I would prefer to have no police on these panels, but my motion didn't go that far, just to go to a 3-2 majority of civilians.  This minor change even had the support of staff, but still did not pass.

Voting with me to help preserve this small vestige of civilian oversight: Council Members Lilligren, Glidden, Schiff, Quincy and Hodges.

Voting to end meaningful civilian oversight: Council Members Reich, Hofstede, Johnson, Samuels, Goodman, Tuthill, and Colvin Roy.

One last thing on process.  I fear that the Civil Rights Department has severely damaged its credibility with the community.  Not just because the outcome is terrible, but because the process has been so insular and non-transparent.

In past Business Process Improvement efforts that my office has seen firsthand, all of the impacted stakeholders have been at the table to help craft a solution that will work for everyone.  Council Members and their offices, for instance, have been at the table.  Rank and file staff members doing the work have been brought in early and often to e4xplore potential improvements. The citizen advisory groups have been engaged several times along the way. When we did a BPI process for the way that we appoint boards and commissions, that group reached out to everyone who touches the process - those who appoint people, members of boards and commissions, the Clerk's office, everyone.

That's not the way this process worked.  It appears that the top leadership Civil Rights, the Police Department, and the Attorney's Office crafted this proposal behind closed doors.  They didn't talk to the current folks on the CRA.  They didn't talk to community members who have concerns about police accountability.  As far as I can tell, they didn't talk to the National Association of Civilian Oversight.  They didn't even talk to Council offices!

No wonder we ended up with a bad outcome that lacks community support, lacks the support of the current CRA, drew criticism from national leaders on civilian oversight, drew the outright opposition of the Star Tribune, and could only muster eight votes on the Council (the votes are the same as the above, with CM Quincy jumping to the 'yes' side).

It's a sad, sad day.

Inspections Enforcing Laws That Don't Exist

One of the pieces of literature I handed out during Welcome Week activities last week along with City staff and folks from the U of M was this "Grade Your Living Space" piece, prepared by the Minneapolis Inspections Department.

The last point of this otherwise good piece asserts that open porches can NOT have "couches, lazy-boys (sic), or any type of indoor furniture."

The problem with this is that it's not, well, true.

Such a prohibition was definitely proposed by Council Member Hofstede in 2009.  But as you can see here (scroll to page 328) or here, or here, or here, this ordinance did not pass.  In fact, it failed by a wide margin, with nine Council Members voting against it and only four voting for it.

This isn't the first time I've heard about Inspections using this non-law for enforcement activities.  Earlier this year, a constituent of Council Member Schiff was given a violation order from the City that attempted to require her to remove (and throw away) the sofa on her porch.  My office pointed to the same evidence I've provided here that this ordinance was never passed.

I've sent Inspections staff an email asking them to stop enforcing this nonexistent ordinance, and I understand the flyer has already been changed so it is ready for more accurate future printings, but I figured that since we've been putting this misinformation out into the public I should also correct the record here.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Utility Franchise Work Group

After a very good discussion at the Council's Committee of the Whole this morning, the committee voted to create a new Utility Franchise Work Group to assist the City in preparing for negotiations regarding our electric and natural gas franchise agreements with public utility companies.  I am one of the four Council Members who have been appointed to this Work Group.  

Among its tasks, the work group will develop a set of policy principles that will guide the city in its franchise discussions; review and consider potential legislative and/or other regulatory changes and consider formal support for these changes on the City’s state legislative agenda; and develop a community engagement program.  I am very supportive of having this conversation, and exploring all of our options: renewing the franchise agreements, renegotiating them to include more green energy and energy efficiency, or starting the process to become a municipal power utility.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Boulder Mayor Susan Osborne Coming to Mpls

This month, Environment Minnesota is bringing former Boulder, Colorado Mayor Susan Osborne to Minneapolis for a Green Ideas and Ham discussion on municipal power.  This should be a fascinating and timely conversation, given that Minneapolis’ franchise agreements with Xcel Energy and Centerpoint Energy expire in 2014.  Susan was on the Boulder City Council from 2007-2009, and served as Mayor from 2009-2011.  She also served as a planner in Boulder for decades.

The event is on TuesdaySeptember 18th, 8:00am, at the Red Stag Supper Club, 509 1st Avenue NE.

Last year, the people of Boulder took a major step towards democratic control of their energy options.  They voted to authorize their city government to form a municipal power utility, provided that it could keep rates as low or lower than the incumbent utility, reliability as good or better, and make significant progress on clean energy and energy efficiency.  Their incumbent utility was Xcel Energy, the same provider that has a monopoly on electricity in Minneapolis.  Prior to this successful municipalization campaign, Xcel had taken some actions in Colorado similar to its recent attempt to do away with the Solar Rewards program.

I will be interested to hear the reasons Boulder took this step, how the ballot initiative succeeded, and how Boulder's negotiations with Xcel are progressing.