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, December 12, 2014

Getting More Data on Arrests and Stops

This morning, the Council approved a staff direction I worked on with Council Member Blong Yang that will give the Council better access to data on low-level arrests and police stops in our city. Here's the direction:

Motion by Gordon and Yang

Directing the Police Department and City Attorney’s Office to provide data on misdemeanor arrests, charging, prosecution and diversion by race, gender, age, geography, and offence for the years 2010-2014, and report back to the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Emergency Management committee in the second quarter of 2015.

Further directing the Attorney’s Office and Police Department to make recommendations concerning the development of a policy and potential protocol for the recording and reporting of demographic information, especially race and location, of police stops that do not necessarily lead to an arrest, and to report back with recommendations regarding this in the second quarter of 2015.

This appears to be a very careful, small step that will do nothing more than compile and share information. It is.  But, it also presents an opportunity to better identify, understand and address the institutional racism, racial profiling and discrimination that may be operating, even unwittingly, in Minneapolis’ criminal justice system.  It could be a critically important step towards understanding the impacts of our criminal justice system in Minneapolis.  

The first part of the direction will give us the information that can allow the Council to have a well-grounded discussion about our policing, prosecution and diversion practices.  The second will start a conversation about how we can collect information about the impacts of "stop and frisk" or "stop and talk" activities of the police department.

My goal is to address the real concerns expressed by Minneapolis communities about the disparate impacts of policing on communities of color, while continuing to provide public safety for all.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

2015 Budget - Reaction The Day After Reaction

Last night, after a boisterous public hearing and some more contentious, 7-6 votes, the Council adopted the 2015 budget.  Here are some key takeaways:

The community came out in force.  In addition to tens of emails and phone calls to Council Members, more than sixty people came to speak to the Council about the importance of investing in clean energy and equity.  Only one person spoke in favor of the levy reduction.

We won back most of the losses from last week.  The Council voted unanimously to restore many of the cuts that were made last week.  Most importantly to me, we restored all of the funding for the Clean Energy Partnership, most of the funding for the One Minneapolis Fund, and a small amount of the funding for homeownership counseling and foreclosure prevention.  I do not think these wins would have been possible without all of the pressure the community brought to bear.

This budget includes a lot of progressive wins.  There is a lot of progressive stuff in this budget that was not in contention last night.  This includes the City's first positions to address racial equity, body cameras for police, a citywide organics collection program, dedicated funding for protected bikeways, our first stable source of funding for improvements to bicycle and pedestrian safety, and more.

We weren't able to craft a real compromise.  As I said above, there were a number of 7-6 votes last night.  The votes were the same as they were last week: Council Members Glidden, Cano, Bender, Quincy, Andrew Johnson and me against Council Members Reich, Frey, Barb Johnson, Yang, Warsame, Goodman and Palmisano.  This slim majority of the Council voted to get rid of two positions in the Communications divison that were intended to help with communicating with communities that do not speak English as a first language, and to put this money into a further - unnecessary and unwise - levy reduction.  A substitute motion offered by Council Member Glidden to put the budget savings in a "rainy day" fund failed 7-6, despite the fact that one of the Council Members who voted against it said - twice - at last week's budget meeting that he would support such a motion.  That same majority rejected multiple attempts to completely restore the cuts to homeownership counseling and foreclosure prevention or the One Minneapolis Fund using the one-time dollars for marketing the convention center (which is, in my view, a much lower priority).  I believed that we could come together with a compromise that could get the support of all thirteen of us, and was disappointed that that didn't happen.  I stand by my quote in the Star Tribune article: It almost feels like it was a power struggle going on here, rather than an effort to make a budget for a better city.  It certainly felt like the cuts to the non-English speaking communications positions were directed at one Council Member in particular, and I have serious concerns about the Council making policy this way.

Due to my disappointment in the Council's failure to come together and compromise, and the damage that this whole process has done to the working relationships we have, I voted against this budget.

I look forward to working with all of my colleagues to rebuild our capacity to work constructively together over the next months and years.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Climate Action Champion

This week, the White House made public that the City of Minneapolis has won designation as a “Climate Action Champion.”  We are one of sixteen cities and counties to be given this designation, along with San Francisco, Seattle, and others.

This is somewhat ironic, given that we’re in the middle of a rather public debate about whether we want to fully fund the commitments we’ve made to climate action.  I’m hoping that this will help remind my colleagues of the importance of the Clean Energy Partnership – which was one of the key arguments we made in our successful application for this honor.  In order to retain our reputation for being a leader on climate policy, we have to continue to actually lead.

It’s also important to note that the work of the Partnership is not the limit of our work on climate change.  The Council has also adopted a set of short-term, two-year priorities for implementing the Climate Action Plan.  This is the existing work of our two-person Sustainability office.

This Climate Action Champion recognition does not come with direct funding attached.  It does come with an opportunity to seek federal grants from multiple agencies.  While there are not funds for City functions like staffing our end of the Clean Energy Partnership, there may be potential future funds that could help the City and utilities implement the programs the Partnership creates.  This makes it even more important that we fully support the work of the Partnership, because we can only seek funding for projects that we can develop.

From the City’s press release:

As part of President Obama’s strategy on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the White House launched the Climate Action Champions competition in October to identify and recognize local climate leaders and to provide targeted federal support to help those communities reach their climate and energy goals.

This designation comes with some clear we will benefit from facilitated peer-to-peer learning and mentorship and targeted support from a range of federal programs. Furthermore, a coordinator will be provided to each Climate Action Champion to foster coordination and communication across the federal agencies, national organizations, and foundations in support of the champions. The coordinator will also assist efforts to raise awareness of funding and technical assistance opportunities that are available specifically for Climate Action Champions. Resources come from federal agencies including the Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Minneapolis won the designation because of its commitment to clean energy. The City and its electricity and natural gas utilities, Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy, have committed to a first-of-its-kind in the nation City-utility Clean Energy Partnership. The partnership will result in the City and utility companies collaborating in new ways to help Minneapolis achieve its climate and energy goals. These goals include making energy affordable and reliable for everyone while increasing energy efficiency, increasing renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gases. The City of Minneapolis has also developed the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan, which includes greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets of 15 percent by 2015, 30 percent by 2025, and 80 percent by 2050.

From deep droughts to fierce wildfires, severe storms to rising seas, communities across the United States are already grappling with the impacts of extreme weather and climate change. Faced with these new challenges, many cities, towns, counties, and tribes in every region of the country are stepping up to cut carbon pollution, deploy more clean energy, boost energy efficiency, and build resilience in their communities to climate impacts.

From creating climate-smart building codes to installing green infrastructure to setting targets for reducing energy consumption, the 16 local and tribal communities selected as Climate Action Champions have considered their climate vulnerabilities and taken decisive action to cut carbon pollution and build resilience.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

2015 Budget Cuts - Clean Energy

Yesterday, the Council’s budget committee made what I think was a terrible decision to make cuts in three critically important priority areas in order to make a very minor reduction in the tax levy. These three areas represent longtime priorities for me and, more recently, adopted priorities for the Council: fighting climate change, ending racial inequities and improving community engagement.

This was accomplished on a narrow 7-6 vote for a change to the budget proposed by Council Member Linea Palmisano.  To save the median homeowner about $2.50 in 2015, we gutted our commitments to equity, clean energy and support for neighborhood engagement.

Here are the details.  Council Member Palmisano brought a change to the budget that limited the amount of the levy increase.  This levy reduction on its own is a bad idea.  Why?  Because the City’s budget prospects – given the fact that the Republicans have retaken the Minnesota House, which threatens future Local Government Aid – are likely to be worse in future years.  By reducing the levy increase this year, we are very likely increasing it by even more for future years.  This is just bad budgeting in the first place.

But it’s worse than that, because to achieve these cuts, we did considerable damage to the progressive policy commitments we’ve made over the past year.

In this post I will take a closer look at the cuts to fighting climate change. In subsequent entries I will address the issues of equity and community engagement.

On Clean Energy and Climate:

Two months ago, we made a commitment to form a Clean Energy Partnership with Xcel and CenterPoint, our electric and gas utilities.  The Council passed the Memorandum of Understanding to form that Partnership unanimously.  We made this commitment knowing that the Energy Pathways study recommended, staff had recommended, and the Mayor had proposed as part of her budget, $150,000 for a new staff person to manage all of the new work of the Partnership.

To make these ill-considered budget cuts, the Council majority cut this investment in the Clean Energy Partnership in half, from $150,000 to $75,000.  But we don’t get half as much work for half as much money.  Rather than being able to hire someone to staff the Partnership, we won’t be able to do so.  This sends a clear and terrible signal to the utilities and the community that we do not really mean the commitments we made about making energy a priority.

We made these commitments in response to more than a year of tremendous community pressure for City action on our energy system.  During that year, many of my colleagues – as candidates, at the time – told the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign that they were very supportive of the City taking a leadership role on clean energy.  Tens of people spoke in favor of forming this Partnership at the public hearing on October 6thZero people attended our public hearing on the budget to complain about their property tax burden.

Yesterday’s action was out of line with at least three policy actions taken by this City Council:

  1. The Energy Pathways Study, adopted unanimously on March 7th, recommended that the City “dedicate funding through one percent of franchise fee revenues.”   The expected franchise fee revenues for 2015 are $29 million.  1% of that amount is $290,000.  The mayor’s proposed funding for the partnership was already about half of the amount recommended by the Pathways study – which, again, passed the Council unanimously. 
  2. The City’s Goals and Strategic Directions include this goal: “we sustain resources for future generations by reducing consumption, minimizing waste and using less energy.”  This goal was also adopted in March.
  3. The Memoranda of Understanding between the City and Xcel and CenterPoint both contain the following commitment: “The Parties each commit to provide staff and resources appropriate to complete the Work.”  These MOUs passed the Council unanimously on October 17th.  

As one of my colleagues put it in committee, there’s a difference between “talking progressive versus acting progressive.”  Talking progressive is saying things like “encouraging use of clean energy and ensuring excellent service are not mutually exclusive concepts… I am hopeful the Clean Energy Partnership will achieve both goals,” when the Clean Energy Partnership passes the Council.   Acting progressive would be voting to fully fund the Partnership.

Those of my colleagues who voted to ignore the commitments we’ve made and gut the Partnership:
Linea Palmisano (who made the motion)
Kevin Reich
Jacob Frey
Barb Johnson
Blong Yang
Abdi Warsame
Lisa Goodman

Those of my colleagues who voted with me to preserve the commitments we’ve made to clean energy:
Elizabeth Glidden
Alondra Cano
Lisa Bender
John Quincy
Andrew Johnson

This is not the end of this story.  I will be moving to replace these funds on December 10th, taking funding from another source.  The $400,000 in additional new funding for the Convention Center to market itself is one potential target.

In the meantime, I’m hoping that supporters of clean energy make their voices heard, as they have over the course of the last year.  Because it’s clear that the Council will not do the right thing on energy without a strong show of force from energy activists.