Police divestment a focus of Minneapolis budget hearing

At yesterday’s 2019 budget hearing a large contingent of folks showed up to Minneapolis City Hall to ask the City Council to divest 5% from police, and invest in community instead. Among them was Wedge resident Andrew Beeman:

“I’m also a public health worker. I can tell you an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Let’s think about some of that preventative work we can do.”

Mayor Frey’s budget provides $40 million in funding for affordable housing programs. It also includes a 2.8% increase in funding for the police department, for a total of $184.5 million. The Mayor has proposed a total budget for 2019 of $1.55 billion. The City Council will amend and vote on Mayor Frey’s proposed 2019 budget next week. Continue reading “Police divestment a focus of Minneapolis budget hearing”

Lisa Goodman hates your minimum wage study

The Minneapolis City Council hired some economists from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs to produce this study on the impact of raising the local minimum wage. The study showed that raising the wage would not lead to economic apocalypse. The study did show that raising the wage to $15 would help a lot of people who need it–at the cost of an extra 50 cents to $1 for a $25 restaurant meal. Council Member Lisa Goodman was not happy with the results.

Goodman started her comments at yesterday’s hearing by accusing the University of Minnesota researchers of bias, asking whether if she were to “Google your names” she’d find evidence they’d written in support of the concept of raising the minimum wage. She made fun of their findings that a higher wage would alleviate the problem of food insecurity: “I don’t have to have an economics degree to figure that out.” She went off on a riff about expensive ice cream cones. She asked if the authors talked to business owners, as if to say a rigorous economic analysis needs plenty of anecdotes.

At a City Council meeting in 2015, Goodman called the idea of even studying the issue a waste of money because, in her estimation, an actual Minneapolis wage increase had no chance of ever passing with a majority (the City Council voted 10-3 in favor of paying for a study; Yang, Barb Johnson, and Goodman voted no). Her comments indicate she believes most of her colleagues are as impervious to evidence as she is:

If there were seven votes to create a minimum wage in Minneapolis only, we’d be doing it. So I’m just wondering why $175,000 for a study, what is that, like a political out? I’ll vote for a study but I wouldn’t really vote for the change itself?

Lisa Goodman just knows things. She doesn’t need studies or experts to help inform her opinions. Now that the minimum wage study is complete we get to see whether Goodman was correct in assuming her fellow Council Members operate the same way.

Lisa Goodman to economists: you’re all biased, and I could probably use google to prove it.

Your study is crap. Your economics degree is dumb. Here’s something I just made up about expensive ice cream cones.

Numbers are great, but where are your anecdotes? Have you talked to business owners?

Last year: opposes a study, on the grounds that evidence won’t influence the City Council majority.

What’s the matter with Alondra?

Last December, Minneapolis City Council Member Alondra Cano went to the Mall of America to join a Black Lives Matter protest.

Completely peaceful people including my fam but @mallofamerica already blocking entrances. #JamarClark #BlackXmas2 pic.twitter.com/2PQdxOpuWZ

— Alondra Cano (@People4Alondra) December 23, 2015

But the mall protest never really happened; crowds moved instead to the light rail and the airport, “creating a rolling wave of disruption on one of the busiest travel and shopping days of the year.” Cano tweeted a few pictures and words of support for BLM, causing her mentions to fill up with people–probably tweeting from home–more distressed by minor holiday travel delays than the death of Jamar Clark, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by Minneapolis police a month earlier.

Around the same time, Cano was receiving messages to her official Council email address from local people upset by her presence at the protest. She tweeted screenshots and responses to those messages, explaining why she supports BLM.

Because Cano had tweeted screenshots of emails, some of which contained actual phone numbers and addresses, this became an especially delicious outrage (liberal Mexican-American big city councilwoman takes revenge against her anti-Black Lives Matter constituents) for a national network of internet trolls that, in the age of Trump, we’ve all come to know as the “alt-right.” And so Cano was targeted by a gruesome stream of racist, misogynistic messages, some of which described the violent things they’d like to see happen to Cano’s children and parents. Here’s a relatively tame one:

In the immediate aftermath of Screenshot-ghazi, Council President Barb Johnson, after saying she would not comment, brought the TV news into her home–on Christmas Eve!–to comment. Johnson was obviously determined to pour gas on the fire, leading some to speculate that she really does not like Alondra Cano.

Here’s Barb not commenting to the TV news she invited to her house on Christmas Eve.https://t.co/9Z1WSPawuI pic.twitter.com/hwpYRKwku8

— John Edwards (@johneapolis) December 29, 2015

Four months later, City Pages published the article “Alondra Cano flunks City Council 101”. The story was based entirely on anonymous quotes from at least two other members of the City Council. They called her “lazy” and lacking “self-awareness.” One described their reaction to Cano’s behavior during a particular Council meeting: “I just wanted to shoot myself.” In the days after the story was published, all 12 members of the City Council not named Alondra Cano publicly denied being the source of the quotes in the article.

Trashing your co-workers by giving anonymous quotes to reporters is a pretty mean and cowardly thing to do. But City Pages let anonymous insults distract from a real, legitimate story: there is widespread frustration with Cano among her Council colleagues that goes beyond policy disagreement.

Here’s an example of what that looks like. In June, Cano sat through an excruciatingly long Zoning and Planning Committee meeting in order to speak about a particular agenda item. Prior to the meeting, the committee’s chairperson, Lisa Bender, informed Cano that the item she wished to address would be postponed to a later meeting. Even though Cano isn’t a member of the committee, and despite the fact that she knew the topic would be postponed, Cano sat through three-and-a-half hours of unrelated presentations and public comment. As the meeting was coming to an end, she expressed shocked outrage that she had sat there for hours, yet wouldn’t get to speak:

Immediately following that Z&P meeting, Cano took to Facebook to call Bender a racist. (editor’s note: Lisa Bender is not a racist.)
Now, in politics it is perfectly legitimate to put people on the spot, in the middle of a meeting, to see if you can force an issue–to use the element of surprise to your advantage. But if it becomes a routine tactic, your coworkers might become legitimately annoyed with you. You have to pick and choose the degree to which you try to bull your way through other people’s agendas. And despite the fact there’s a lot of racism in the world, of which Cano has received more than her share, it’s good to be judicious when calling people racists.
Cano’s Facebook response to the Z&P meeting.

Cano’s tweets defending her support of BLM, along with screenshots of constituent emails, eventually led to an ethics complaint against her, which was taken up by the City Council in August. A few days ago, it was reported that Cano wrote an email to Council President Barb Johnson expressing her concerns about the process. The scanned image of the email printout makes it clear that it was printed from Barb Johnson’s email account, leading astute observers to wonder if Johnson released it to reporters in order to embarrass Cano.

The Star Tribune characterized Cano’s email as a “warning” to her colleagues. City Pages called it a “threat.” Here’s the relevant section of Cano’s email to Johnson:

I disagree with the findings and have kept screenshots of the ways other Council Members including CM Frey, Bender, Glidden, Abdi and others have used city property for “political” purposes. If the Council votes to approve the Ethics findings I will speak out against the vote and circulate a press release to the media about the issue with the screenshots I’ve gathered since January of 2016.

Cano responded to the stories about her email on Facebook, saying: “When a person of color speaks up, it should not be misconstrued as a “threat” to society, it should be respected as their truth.” Whatever Cano’s intent, the reason people interpreted her email as a threat, is because she constructed it that way: if you vote against me, I’ll put out a press release with incriminating screenshots. This is not to say Cano can’t make an argument that she’s being singled out unfairly, or that she can’t produce evidence to support her defense. But if she was trying to make that argument, she obscured it by writing an email that looked like blackmail.

Alondra Cano really has been the target of vicious racist attacks because of her support for BLM. Separate from those vile attacks, Council President Barb Johnson and some of Cano’s other colleagues really have gone out of their way, to a sometimes comical degree, to trash her in the local media. But it’s also true that Cano picks too many unnecessary battles, irritating her colleagues in a way that transcends race and ideology. If Cano is being unfairly targeted for punishment–and that’s difficult to judge unless/until details become public–that dynamic goes a long way towards explaining why.

Best of Minneapolis City Council Vines

Cast your vote for City Council Performer of the Year.

Ballot at the end of this post.

Barb Johnson in Barb & Order: Special Barb Unit.
Blong Yang is sorry.
Attention-grabbing sneezes fuel speculation of “Cano for Mayor.”

Double-nominee Alondra Cano makes a dramatic exit.
Andrew Johnson in Trash Dance.

Lisa Goodman’s black and white classic: Disingenuous.
Blong’s unfulfilled promise to “camp” in all the Wards.
Barb’s hip hop rendition of “Please, please, please let’s add more parking to the Wells Fargo.”

Jacob Frey’s Sexiest Parcel in the City
Lisa Goodman stars in Your Parcel is Crap.
Andrew Johnson: Social Justice Warrior

City Council “Outraged” Over DNR Downzoning to Benefit Elected Officials

Two members of the Minneapolis City Council have expressed serious concern over what they see as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources pushing special land-use restrictions that would protect the proverbial backyards of certain unnamed elected officials. The comments were made during a June 9 Zoning and Planning Committee discussion about new rules for the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area. The MRCCA is an area along the Mississippi River subject to “special land development regulations that protect and preserve unique natural, recreational, transportation, and cultural features.”

Council President Johnson called the DNR’s proposal “distressing” and joked that she’d like to make a special deal to protect her own backyard: “If I could carve some stuff out too, I might do that.” The area in question—half of Nicollet Island and an adjacent area encompassing Boom Island Park—includes the homes of State Rep. Phyllis Kahn and former Minneapolis City Council member Diane Hofstede.

Council member Lisa Goodman said she was “outraged” and described the DNR’s proposal as “last-minute changes made for political purposes to provide downzoning and protections for elected officials and their families and not anyone else.” She added that the DNR’s map “boundaries make absolutely no sense” other than as a political favor: “There’s no other explanation for why half of Nicollet Island would be in a further-protected area in the middle of our central business district.”

City Council members suggest the DNR is attempting to “downzone” the area in yellow as a favor to the elected officials who live there.

One consequence of the DNR’s proposed map would be a restriction on building height that conflicts with the city’s current code. Nearly 50 properties currently zoned R5 would fall under an MRCCA maximum height of 35 feet, far less than the existing Minneapolis zoning which allows for 56 feet.

Both Johnson and Goodman expressed a strong desire for Minneapolis to maintain “flexibility” and independence on land-use decisions, with Johnson citing the benefits of “billions and billions of dollars worth of investment” along the river in recent years. Goodman worried it would create another layer of zoning confusion for residents: “Our zoning is what should prevail and not some DNR-imposed fake rezoning that would give people some sort of feeling like we’re going to be capping heights and development and distance from the river.”

A draft response to the DNR proposal written by Minneapolis planning staff notes the area in question contains buildings which are already taller than the proposed limits, and points out this is an urban center designated by city policy for future growth. The letter says it would be “short-sighted to designate this area long term as low density residential” and requests the area be reclassified to match adjacent “urban” districts.

In addition to feedback from the city on these new rules, the DNR is accepting comments from the public until July 6, 2016.

2015 Council Fundraising

2015 Minneapolis City Council fundraising

Minneapolis City Council campaign fundraising disclosures were due on February 1st. The Star Tribune ran an article about Council fundraising on February 5th. Council President Barb Johnson filed her report on February 8th. As a result there’s not a single mention of Barb in the story. Pretty clever, Barb, but your tricks don’t work on Wedge LIVE.

(Full disclosure: Andrew Johnson–noted jack-o-lantern and “Friend of the Show”–was also late with his filing, but he was quoted extensively in the Strib story).

In 2015, Barb spent nearly $5,000 on cable TV, internet, and three personal phone lines, as she does every year (total spent by Barb on these personal expenses since 2010 is $26,000). None of her Council colleagues spend money on those kinds of expenses. It’s also notable that the Police Officer’s Federation of Minneapolis gave max donations to both Barb and Blong Yang within 24 hours of the sham Public Safety Committee hearing Yang held on December 2, during the Fourth Precinct shutdown. Here are the five City Council members receiving donations from the Police Officer’s Federation of Minneapolis in 2015:

  • Barb Johnson ($250 on 12/2)
  • Blong Yang ($250 on 12/3)
  • Lisa Goodman ($250 on 12/14)
  • Abdi Warsame ($250 on 9/21)
  • Jacob Frey ($250 on 12/7)

It may shed some light on internal Council politics that Barb’s campaign made donations of $250 to all of her colleagues on the Public Safety Committee (Yang, Reich, Warsame, Palmisano) except for Cam Gordon. Though you have to think Cam might have turned that money down.

Barb’s 2015 expenses.

Other observations:

  • Blong Yang finally has a positive balance, after paying off the loan he made to his campaign for the 2013 election.
  • Lisa Bender runs by far the most efficient campaign, spending the lowest percentage of funds raised among any of her colleagues.
  • If you’re a fan of Alondra Cano, you’d probably like to see her spend less and raise more.
  • Elizabeth Glidden and Cam Gordon are doing their best to keep money out of politics.

Full 2015 campaign finance reports for every Council Member.

Uptown’s Newest Drive-Thru Bank Secures More Parking

Wells Fargo had their appeal granted at the Zoning & Planning Committee yesterday. The vote was unanimous to allow the new Lake & Humboldt Wells Fargo to exceed the parking maximum by eight spaces–for a total of 25. As a condition of the parking variance, the bank will need to commit to sharing their lot with the neighborhood or a local business during non-banking hours.

The parking maximum is lower than it otherwise would be, because the site is located in the Lake and Hennepin Pedestrian Oriented Overlay District. This calls for a more pedestrian friendly environment, which includes smaller parking lots. A drive-thru, similarly prohibited by the district, was allowed by the Planning Commission last month.

One neighbor, concerned about street parking, was there to testify that biking and busing for a bank employee or customer is “unrealistic.” She called out a collection of working-class heroes by name and described how they drive 2-3 miles to work from Linden Hills (camera pans to the brave faces of Adrian, Marsha, and Georgianne, presumably parked next to Michelle Obama). Not very shrewd of these folks to eschew a 13-minute bus ride in favor of enduring the daily Uptown a-park-olypse. (I enjoyed her testimony. Watch the video below.)

I can’t understand the argument that a bank will bring parking disaster to the neighborhood. Banks are open during banking hours. Banking hours coincide with the time of day that many residents, even non-bankers, will have driven their cars off to work and parked them in someone else’s neighborhood. Council Member Lisa Goodman seemed to be thinking along those lines when she asked the Wells Fargo representative what their plans were for the empty lot during off hours. Answer: keep it empty.

@MattyLangMSP @nickmagrino Saw a pedestrian taking out money from the drive-through ATM the other day. Would’ve made a great photo.

— Anders (@imboande) January 4, 2016

Council President Barb Johnson made the social engineering argument, saying we shouldn’t use the parking maximum to “force people to use a particular form of transportation.” I should remind you that Barb had no problem forcing people build more parking when she weakened reforms to parking minimum regulations last year. And then there was her usual anecdote about how hard it is to find parking on her Uptown shopping trips. You may remember last year when Barb griped about that one time she had to walk a block and a half in Ward 10.

Despite approving the extra parking, the committee was largely in agreement that this is a pretty terrible project for this location. “It needs density, it needs more than one story, and there’s way too much surface parking,” said Andrew Johnson. Lisa Bender described the sentiment she hears from the neighborhood association as a question of “how do we get this project to totally change into a different form that’s not a single story building surrounded by surface parking?” It’s too late for that. Uptown is stuck with this over-parked, single-story, drive-thru bank for decades.

They were gonna underpark the drive-thru bank and Barb(!) was like… https://t.co/EXndXG0nrJ

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) January 8, 2016

43rd & Upton Development Inspires Folk Song

Linden Hills has a folk song! Inspired by true events, with references to the small area plan and envelopes full of cash and “compromising” photographs of a councilwoman. It’s everything you’d expect from Linden Hills. I have done my best to transcribe the lyrics below.

City Hall by Bob Frey

Well friends I got some news to tell
Everybody gather round
And lately there’s been funny things been happenin in our town
Well they’re cutting deals, and greasing wheels
Shutting shades and closing doors
It seems the people’s voice don’t mean too much
down in city hall no more
Nah, the people’s voice don’t mean too much
down in city hall no more

See we signed the big petition
And we showed up every time
At the city council meetings
And waited patiently in line
Yeah to state our opposition
To the latest building plan
But in the end we probably shoulda known
That we never stood a chance.
Yeah in the end we probably shoulda known
That we never stood a chance.

I guess we won a couple victories
You see we blocked that there [???]
And we listened to the council
And made a smart neighborhood plan
But it didn’t amount to nothing
And now that building’s gonna rise
Only thing it will be good for 
Block the sunshine from our eyes
The only thing it will be good for 
Block the sunshine from our eyes

So if you want to build a building 
And make it higher than the code
And the neighborhood’s against you
And you wonder where to go
Well I’m here to tell you, builder man
that them plans don’t have to stall
Just put some money in an envelope
and head down to city hall
You just stick that money in an envelope
and take it down to city hall

City hall, that aint how it’s supposed to be
Nah city hall, but that’s how it feels to me
And in the corridors of city hall,
I guess that’s how it’s always been
Yeah the common people always lose
And the money always wins
Yeah the common people always lose
And the money always wins

Well some see the times are getting tough in this economy
Well that’s true for some, but not for all
You know it ain’t too hard to see
But in this land of opportunity,
There’s always something to be found
Just start following your councilman
And keep your nose close to the ground
Yeah just start following your councilwoman
And keep your nose close to the ground

And maybe you’ll get pictures
Of the compromising kind
Or certain information 
That you weren’t supposed to find
So turn the tables and play the game
All for one and none for all
Make a fortune in an instant
Just head on down to city hall
Just put that there in an envelope
And take it down to city hall

City hall, that ain’t how it’s supposed to be
Nah city hall, but that’s how it feels to me
And in the corridors of power
I guess that’s how it’s always done
Yeah the common people always lose
And the money always wins
Hey hey, the common people always lose
And the money always wins

But yeah we tried our best to do our best
But in the end we took a fall
Now the money talks and they’re selling blocks
On down at city hall
Yeah the money talks and they’re selling blocks
Right on down at city hall

.@imboande the common folk can’t write a protest song without you fact checking it.

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) December 19, 2015

Blong Yang’s Embarrassing Sham of a Public Hearing

Minneapolis Police cleared out the protesters from street in front of the 4th Precinct this morning. Below is an account of the public hearing that was carefully orchestrated to justify it.

Yesterday, the Minneapolis City Council’s Public Safety Committee took up the seemingly routine procedural matter of amending their meeting agenda. Council Member Palmisano–with a wink and a nod from committee chair Blong Yang who represents the area that includes the 4th Precinct–proposed they allow public testimony regarding the ongoing protests occurring in front of the 4th Precinct over the shooting of an unarmed man named Jamar Clark. This last minute addition to the agenda made it practically impossible to give testimony on the topic unless you were already present for the meeting.

Fortunately for opponents of the 4th Precinct protest, committee chair Blong Yang (and presumably others on the committee) made sure to invite a specially selected group to give testimony painting a uniformly negative picture of the protest (complaints of traffic, parking, crime, smoke, drugs, drinking, etc). The committee’s lone voice of dissent was CM Cam Gordon, who worried “if we take up this topic now, what about people who would have come if they knew they had an opportunity to give public comment and may not actually be here now?”

And surely those folks would have come, because on November 19th a group was turned away by the City Council and prevented from giving testimony on the very same topic. They were denied a chance to speak because it would have meant bending the rules. That’s fair enough and all according to the rules, whether you agree with it or not. But you couldn’t blame Cam Gordon for being “especially surprised” by yesterday’s “last-minute decision to open time up and to be addressed by the Police Federation president and a few, seemingly forewarned or invited residents.”

The man from the Police Federation whom Gordon singles out, is Lt. Bob Kroll. As a union president, Kroll is duty-bound (perhaps understandably so) to push the idea that his fellow officers are innocent of wrongdoing in the shooting death of the unarmed Jamar Clark. But Kroll has been particularly outspoken, using his platform not just to defend cops, but to go after the protests themselves. Speaking of the 4th Precinct protesters on television, he said that “we need to silence that vocal group of activists.” On talk radio he called the 4th Precinct protest a “local version of Benghazi.” That Yang’s committee would elevate the already well-amplified voice of Lt. Kroll, while going to great length to exclude dissenting voices, is disturbing.

Kroll, who is infamous for accusations of racism and brutality, called for Yang’s committee to “pull your mayor back and quit mis-micro-managing the police department and let people with experience on how to remove unlawful protesters in.” Before adjourning, Chair Yang indicated he was ready to forcibly end the protest: “I think we’ve taken a really good tact in terms of asking nicely, asking for voluntary removal. At some point it just has to be a little bit different than that because that tactic has not worked.”

There isn’t a rule against leaving an item off the committee’s published agenda and adding it at the last minute. I’m no parliamentarian, but there’s probably not a rule against stacking the room with your supporters, inviting a controversial police union leader to testify, and using that one-sided feedback to justify heavy-handed tactics against a peaceful protest. While it may not be technically against the rules, it is “embarrassingly undemocratic,” as Cam Gordon put it. Forget democracy, it was just plain embarrassing.

Even worse is this detail from Gordon’s aide Robin Garwood, who recounts how Yang had previously rejected the suggestion of allowing public testimony at their committee:

“I actually asked the committee chair more than a week ago whether it might be fruitful to open up some time on the committee’s agenda for a discussion of the Clark shooting and related protests, and was told in no uncertain terms that that would not happen.”

Council Members Yang, Council President Barb Johnson and their allies are sending the message that protesters stationed in front of the 4th Precinct should not expect to receive a fair and open airing of their grievances in front of the City Council. Bending the rules of the established political process so shamelessly against protesters seems like the wrong way to go about convincing them to give up their civil disobedience.

Better Know a Pumpkin: Andrew Johnson

I took Ward 12 Council Member, and recent jack-o’-lantern, Andrew Johnson on a historic walking tour of our very historic Lowry Hill East Historic District. He agreed that it is a beautiful neighborhood and that it should never change. Afterwards he sat for a series of softball questions in Mueller Park.

I was eager to hear his thoughts on Linden Hills. He described, with awe in his voice, that he’d never seen anything like the recent 43rd and Upton appeal at the Zoning and Planning Committee. He was particularly impressed with the Linden Hillers’ determination to blow through time limits and ignore repeated requests to wrap up. He remembered being surprised by a chant of “this is not what democracy looks like” in response to speakers being told they wouldn’t get a second try at the microphone (sadly, this was not captured in video of the meeting).

We talked about his proposed animal control ordinance, which is strangely controversial. He said his intention is to modernize a wide range of policies relating to animal care and shelters. According to Johnson, the existing policies are “cobbled together” and in need of overhaul. In formulating the proposal, they’ve held two public meetings and consulted with groups that advocate for the humane treatment of animals.

The proposal is full of potentially cumbersome regulations requiring pet owners to provide:

  • Adequate food, water, and shelter
  • Access to care, treatment, and transportation to veterinary care
  • Appropriate space and exercise
  • Access to care to prevent pain and suffering

We spoke about his legendary thirst. He claims he only used this giant mug one time on Channel 79 (implying that somehow I’m the weirdo for catching him). He took frequent sips from the comically large mug during our interview. After some examination, I believe he is telling the truth when he says it’s not a water pitcher stolen from a pizzeria. He emphasized over and over that he is still “re-hydrating” weeks after his Linden Hills experience.

I let Andrew hold my pumpkin, he let me touch his giant mug.

We talked about his Tweet-battle with home improvement icon Nicole Curtis. He renewed his challenge for her to release the disturbing emails. I got the impression he was prepared to take all the credit for running Curtis out of Minneapolis and back to Detroit, but he didn’t come right out and say it.

In response to a question about the recent setback for the Working Families agenda, he mentioned his hope that something could still be accomplished on sick time and fair scheduling, but in a way that accommodates some of what he sees as legitimate business concerns.

2015 Sexiest CM Alive pic.twitter.com/kOLYWoFQzl

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) August 21, 2015

Coming up next in our Better Know a Pumpkin series: City Historian and Planner John Smoley(!).

Smoley for President logo carved into the backside of Pumpkin Andrew.

We’ll ask him: Why is our historic district so small? What does he have against Queen Annes? Did he really get his PhD in “Missile Silos”? And also, why isn’t our historic district bigger?