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:

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Distracted Media

I am surprised and concerned about the recent media flurry (both mass and social media) resulting from a few limited social media actions taken by one first term Council Member in Minneapolis.

I certainly acknowledge that individuals and media outlets of all types have every right to engage in discussions about what should and should not be public and I share concerns about any individual, elected or not, whose family or personal safety is threatened. But I hope we can resist the inclination to let this distract us from the more critical and more complex story about systemic racism in our city, state and county, that we so desperately need to understand and analyze. Our democracy may well depend on it. The future of our society may depend on it. Black lives certainly depend on it.

Let me be clear, I share Council Member Cano’s commitment to justice and combating the implicit and explicit racism that plagues our city and larger society. But this is not about me or about any Council Member.

Black lives matter. The need to speak out against, protest against, and legislate appropriately against white supremacy and white privilege, bias and hatred, has never been greater. I commend and stand in solidarity with all elected officials in Minneapolis, in the state and from around the country who are calling and working for real transformative public policy changes to reverse white privilege, and bring about meaningful criminal justice reform.

So now, can we please get over this sidebar distraction and get serious about the much harder to tell and more complicated story behind the (apparently legal) violence and injustices we see today, and every day, that are disenfranchising, oppressing, imprisoning and killing people of color in our country? Can we please get real about ending the New Jim Crow, transforming our criminal justice system, dismantling institutional racism and preventing future deaths? And while we’re doing it, let’s keep seeking justice for and remembering those who have already been killed - Jamar Clark, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Terrance Franklin, Mya Hall, Michael Brown, Alexia Christian and so many, many more.

That’s what should matter to us.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Priorities for 2016

What Should the Ward 2 Priorities be for 2016?

I believe that 2016 offers enormous potential for the city to show leadership in addressing some of the most pressing and serious issues of our time, including environmental degradation and climate change; racial disparities in health, education and employment; criminal justice and police reform; the widening income gaps and shrinking middle class and much more. 

Below, in alphabetical order, is our working draft of 16 priorities for 2016.  Please take a moment to read through and think about them.  Then, let me know what you think is missing, what’s there that shouldn’t be and which of the ones remaining you think should be top priorities for next year.

  • Affordable, Fair, Decent Housing for All – Support preservation of existing affordable housing and construction of new affordable housing. Explore ways to better support public housing that serves those most in need. Regulate the inclusion of affordable housing into more new development; make our housing occupancy regulations flexible enough to accommodate more people living in intentional communities.
  • Children and Families – improve cooperation within all city departments and between the city, county, parks, schools, and neighborhood organizations as well as the city’s Youth Cabinet, Youth Congress and the multi-jurisdictional Youth Coordinating Board to make Minneapolis a healthier, better place to raise children that welcomes and supports all families, children and youth.
  • Clean Air, Water and Soil and Healthy Homes – Continue and expand efforts to measure and clean air, water and soil. Draft and approve a strong Green Zone Policy to help address past environment injustice. Invest in our tree canopy. Work with the MPCA and local businesses so businesses adopt more clean practices. Work with the parks, schools and private property owners to encourage adoption of pollinator-friendly, pesticide-free practices.
  • Clean Energy – Leverage the Clean Energy Partnership to further implement our Climate Action Plan and see the city conserve more energy. Participate in community solar and invest in our own power plant(s) to get more of our energy from clean, renewable sources.
  • Community Based Economics – Facilitate creation and growth of small independent and cooperatively owned businesses that provide good jobs and serve the needs of neighborhoods, with a special focus on redevelopment in Ward 2 commercial nodes and corridors like Como Ave SE, E Lake St. and in the Prospect North/ University Avenue Innovation District.
  • Complete Streets Approve and begin implementation of a Complete Streets policy that prioritizes pedestrians, bikes and transit users, and begins to correct for past transportation planning decisions where preference for the single use automobile was paramount, while also making sure the overall network accounts for and works well for all modes.
  • Crime Prevention and Public Safety – Support block club organizing, cooperative police-community relations and better policing practices to prevent crime and ensure public safety.
  • Criminal Justice and Police Reform – Repeal unjust laws that do more harm than good. End “broken windows,” over policing - over prosecution practices. Reform and improve community oversight of the police. Establish a Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform steering committee to guide the work and make policy recommendations to the City Council, City Attorney and Minneapolis Police Department to help address and eliminate racism in the city’s criminal justice system.
  • Effective and Equitable Neighborhood & Community Engagement- Approve and implement a strong plan for neighborhood organizing that will help organizations enfranchise more people, while strengthening, empowering and preserving a healthy, open, democratic and effective system of grassroots neighborhood-level planning, prioritizing and investing into the future.
  • Local Foods and urban agriculture – support urban farms, community gardens and small food producers.
  • Preserve and Invest in our Public Assets –Ensure that we are making wise investments now to sustain and protect our land, river, lakes, public park system, public schools, trails, roads, bridges and other public buildings and infrastructure to ensure that they serve the present and future needs of our city.
  • Racial Equity work to close the racial disparities in poverty, income, employment, educational attainment  and health by implementing a Minneapolis Racial Equity Tool Kit where all city decisions are evaluated using a racial equity framework, progress is tracked carefully through our Results Minneapolis community indicators and support the work of the Everybody In regional collaboration.
  • Thoughtful Growth and Development Both locally (on a project by project basis) and through the redrafting of the Comprehensive Plan, work to ensure that development is done in ways that preserve what we value most about our communities and serve the present and future needs of residents. Improve our livable, walkable neighborhoods and make every neighborhood a “complete neighborhood” while focusing smart density near existing and planned transit corridors.
  • Working Families and Economic Justice – Pass meaningful local reforms that will fight wage theft. Pass a strong paid sick time ordinance and continue efforts to regulate fair scheduling and set a higher minimum wage that is also a living wage.
  • Youth Violence Prevention – Implement the Blueprint to Prevent Youth Violence; bring to scale promising efforts, like the BUILD program, to provide resources for children and families at highest risk for violence. Work to reduce gun violence, homicides and injuries for 0 to 24 year-olds. Support youth re-entry services; tailor employment opportunities for high risk youth; provide chemical dependency treatment, mental health support, community healing and trauma informed care and promote alternatives, like restorative justice, to detention.
  • Zero Waste Adopt a comprehensive Zero Waste plan; fully implement the citywide organic waste collection system eliminate packaging (like the single use plastic carry-out bags), that cannot be effectively composted or recycled; and find ways to better organize and regulate waste from commercial properties and large apartment buildings to keep it out of landfills and the downtown garbage burner.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Surprise "Hearing" on 4th Precinct

I was surprised today when the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Emergency Management Committee voted to take public comment on what is happening at the 4th precinct.

While I appreciate that members of the public were able to address a Council Committee on the situation at the 4th precinct today and voted to allow it, I was very concerned and confused about the timing and the motivation. The comment period was added at the last minute (during the Committee meeting) to an agenda that had been set days before. There was no general notice to the general public about the opportunity, although it appeared that a few people knew about it before hand. So, we allowed some members of our community, and the Police Federation president, to address the committee and have their views broadcast, without giving other members of our community any notice that this opportunity would be occurring. I am certain that many people throughout the city would have made time to come and speak on this topic. Indeed, it is the fact that this is such a critically important, complex and controversial issue that I am even more concerned about this action today.

Clearly, the police shooting of Jamar Clark and the protests that have followed are of deep concern to residents throughout the city. Many residents are anxious for a chance to share their concerns, views and ideas with their elected city leaders. A thoughtful, well planned and well facilitated listening session certainly seems appropriate. In fact, it might offer a chance for the Council to help people listen to each other, better understand their differences, and in doing so, move closer to finding common ground to help us move forward towards finding solutions, resolving conflicts and setting a course to reach the values and goals we all share.

Even if we just wanted to have a conversation about the situation at the 4th Precinct - and, as or more importantly, the REASONS that people are protesting - that's something that would be very much worth our committee's time. In fact, my staff, with my support, raised just such an idea at the Public Safety committee's last agenda setting meeting, but it was decided that the committee would not do that. So, I was especially surprised by the last-minute decision to open time up and to be addressed by the Police Federation president and a few, seemingly forewarned or invited residents.

I believe that most or all of my colleagues have had the opportunity to meet and talk with protesters and with organizers of Black Lives Matter, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, the Minneapolis NAACP and others who are part of the protests since the shooting of Jamar Clark. Perhaps too few of us have taken that opportunity. And now, today, it seems like the Council went a step further, declaring that not only won't some of us go on our own to engage in a discussion with the protesters, but we will actively hide an opportunity for them to address us openly, and only make that opportunity available to a few people.

After the meeting I was struck at how untransparent and even embarrassingly antidemocratic this decision was. When I got back to my office I had to check on the goals and values we voted unanimously to support last year that were intended to guide our work over the next 5 years. Among the 6 related to How We Work I found these:

Engaging the community - All have a voice and are heard.

Building public trust - We work in an open, ethical and transparent manner.

Collaborating - We work better together as one team. We are a valued partner in the community.

I know these are aspirational and we will not always hit the mark, especially when working in stressful situations. Today was likely one of those times. Today we heard a few voices. Tomorrow, and in the days and weeks ahead, I hope we can do better.

I also had to pull out my handy pocket sized copy of the constitution I keep on my desk and reread that first amendment.

If our goal is to protect "the right of the people to peacefully assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," we clearly missed the mark today. I am concerned that we actually may have had a chilling effect on free speech. As we complain and worry about the current location, are we providing and offering any alternatives? As we welcome in those with grievances about the protesters themselves, are we as welcoming of those with grievances who are protesting or who are supporting those protesters?

If our goal is to peacefully end the occupation of the 4th Precinct (a goal that I believe many of my colleagues and even some inside of the protest movement itself may share), I am concerned that today's actions by the Council may have made that outcome significantly less likely. The only way today's committee meeting made any sense was as an attempt to provide cover for, or put pressure on us for, clearing the 4th Precinct by force.

I hope we avoid that, and I was glad to hear the Mayor this evening on the radio assuring us all that she has not ordered any kind of action to end the protest and that she is not planning on doing that. I appreciate her patience, and I appreciate the community's patience in this.

I believe that we all benefit from an active and engaged electorate. Free speech and the rights of the people to organize and work for change have led to some of the greatest accomplishments and social reforms in this country's history. Democracy is not always easy. It is not always convenient, efficient, clean or tidy. But I believe that there is no better alternative.

A standard line at protests is "this is what democracy looks like!" I'm not sure that today's meeting of the Public Safety committee was.