My report from St. Paul’s Highland District Council election

[This local news coverage made possible by readers like you.]

Here’s how the Highland District Council election in St. Paul was pitched to me as the perfect hyperlocal story: 70-year-old former Vikings tight end Stu Voight was going to be there to campaign for one of the board candidates. And I said, “That’s great! Brain damage is exactly what neighborhood politics needs more of.”

But first you’re probably wondering: what is a District Council? In Minneapolis we have 70 neighborhood associations. In St. Paul they have 17 district councils. And the best way to explain the difference: district councils are like if a dozen Minneapolis neighborhood associations got together to form a NATO-style military alliance. If you’re doubting this military alliance analogy, you should know that one of St. Paul’s other district councils calls itself the “Fort Road Federation.”

Funded by the City of St. Paul, district councils serve an engagement and advisory function similar to Minneapolis neighborhood organizations. They have no official policy-making power, other than whatever clout might be ceded to them by individual members of the city council.

On my arrival at Highland Park Middle School I was immediately reminded of a DFL convention, just with better food. There was an all-you-can-eat sandwich buffet provided by Jimmy John’s. Days later, I’m still recovering. I think I had 13 of those little sandwich sections.

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Minneapolis City Council considers response to proliferation of tobacco shops

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Following menthol cigarette restrictions approved by the Minneapolis City Council in August 2017, the number of stores selling menthol cigarettes decreased from 354 to 82. This is according to a staff presentation to the City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee last week.

The city’s updated flavored tobacco ordinance, which took effect in 2018, restricted availability of menthol products to tobacco shops and off-sale liquor stores. According to the city, “These changes are to prevent youth tobacco use, lifelong addiction to nicotine, the negative health effects of tobacco use and the tobacco-related health disparities between white populations and people of color.”

But as a result of these restrictions — with convenience stores looking to recover a lost profit center — the number of tobacco shops in Minneapolis increased from 25 to 52.

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Power Grab Hits Roadblock at Charter Commission

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A plan to alter the composition of the Minneapolis City Council had no support at the Charter Commission on Wednesday. This means the Charter Commission will not take up this issue again. The group behind the proposal will now need to collect and submit the required number of voter signatures if they want to put the charter amendment on the ballot.

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Seward Commons sparks debate about city-financed development in Minneapolis

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The Minneapolis City Council’s most contentious development debate since last year’s comprehensive plan has nothing to do with building height or parking, and everything to do with how it could be financed.

Last Friday, the council agreed to delay a vote to authorize an analysis of whether “tax increment financing (TIF) assistance is appropriate and justifiable” for Bessemer at Seward Commons. The delay was intended to give Ward 6 Council Member Abdi Warsame a chance to be present for an issue affecting his ward.

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“First in the nation” Minneapolis elections face shortage of precincts, turnout disparities

As we learned after last November’s midterm, Minneapolis voters have a lot to be proud of. The city’s top election official, City Clerk Casey Carl, presented a report yesterday touting Minneapolis’ “first in the nation turnout” that “exceeded averages for the state of Minnesota and the entire nation.”

Turnout of voting-age citizens in Minneapolis was 68% in the 2018 general election. The statewide average was 64%.

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It’s time to turn on the video cameras at City Hall

If you’ve ever enjoyed a Wedge LIVE! video you may not realize the debt you owe to workers at Minneapolis City Hall who operate the cameras and make sure those videos make their way to YouTube. It’s been invaluable for me, and the journalism I do, that City Council meeting are recorded and broadcast to the public. Same goes for the Planning Commission.

But not everything that happens in the council chambers is streamed, recorded, and archived to video. This lack of basic transparency is a reasonably big deal at the moment: there’s a group trying to dramatically alter the way our local democracy functions by changing the composition of the City Council. The first step in that process involves presenting the idea to the city’s Charter Commission. But Charter Commission meetings aren’t broadcast or archived to video. The cameras are there, in the room where the meetings happen — but they aren’t turned on.

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