Barb’s Bold Spending

Hypothetical logo for Barb 2017.
I’ve known Barb Johnson was political magic since early last year, when she faced down the new members of the Minneapolis City Council, and cobbled together enough support to re-establish herself as President. But it wasn’t until very recently that I realized there’s a lot more to learn about Barb.

Newer residents of Minneapolis might be surprised to learn (as I was) that Barb Johnson is the daughter of former City Council President Alice Raineville; and that the Ward 4 seat has been in her family for the last 44 years. Meanwhile, our city’s longtime residents might be surprised to learn that Barb is a YouTube sensation (1, 2).

In the midst of looking into City Council fundraising for 2017, I noticed something else. Johnson’s campaign is sending an awful lot of money to Comcast, CenturyLink, Verizon, and Frontier Communications. In the last five years her campaign has spent a total of almost $21,000 on cable TV, internet, landline, fax, and cell phone service; this includes service for her Minneapolis home as well as a second residence. Since 2010, the amount spent on Johnson’s Comcast bill alone ($8,211) would nearly have funded her opponent’s entire 2013 campaign ($9,614).

Barb’s questionable campaign spending since 2010.

It’s not that Johnson spends vastly more than some of her big-spending colleagues, though she did spend the most in 2014: $15,820 (kind of a lot for a non-election year). Jacob Frey spends a bunch on consultants. Lisa Goodman funds a number of causes and events, and gives plenty to other political candidates. Barb Johnson’s spending stands out because of it’s dubious relationship to politics.

I’m not the first to notice Council President Johnson’s unorthodox spending. From a 2009 City Pages article:

“I consider myself to be campaigning continuously—all the time,” Johnson says. “I can’t go to the grocery store or to church without bumping into a constituent and being asked a question, which is the life of a politician.” 

That’s why, Johnson says, she feels okay about charging her campaign supporters for her dry-cleaning, haircuts, cell phone, internet and cable television service for her home, AAA coverage for her car, and a land line for her lake house.

Questions about her campaign-funded $90 haircuts led to Barb’s odd assertion (later debunked) that City Pages had altered her image in a 2004 cover story–to make her look better (raising the question: why pay if they’ll do the photoshop for free?).

2010: Johnson ordered to repay her campaign $2,563 in misused funds.

In the end, Barb was fined $200 by a panel of judges for using campaign funds to pay for hair-styling, dry-cleaning, and a AAA membership. She was forced to repay her campaign $2,563 in misused funds. But that same ruling found that her cable, internet, and phone costs were legitimate campaign expenses. While not found to violate campaign rules, much of this spending is pretty embarrassing. Johnson, undeterred, has continued to pay those bills with campaign money over the last five years.

On expense forms, Johnson’s campaign lists Comcast bill payments as “multimedia communication with constituents” (listing it as “XFINITY Double Play with Blast!” would probably raise red flags). That sort of labeling seems misleading, though I can’t discount the possibility that neighbors periodically crowd into the Johnson household to watch DVR replays of Barb holding court on Minneapolis’ public affairs Channel 79.

CenturyLink and Comcast expenses from 2013.

Johnson told City Pages in 2009 that she would not subscribe to cable television or internet service if she weren’t a politician in constant campaign mode. According to Barb, these expenses are related to keeping up with meetings of the Hennepin County Board and the City of Minneapolis. That’s a lot of money to pay for the likes of Channel 79 (it’s why I pirate the episodes off YouTube).

It’s hard to argue that all of these home entertainment and telecommunications expenses are campaign-related. I don’t buy the idea that your average non-councilperson with the means to afford a second home would go without internet access in the year 2015. Council President Johnson’s campaign pays for a cell phone and two landlines. Would average citizen Barb Q. Public go without any sort of telephone service at all?

Common sense says these expenses, or at least some significant portion of them, are personal, rather than campaign-related. There’s a reason we have rules against campaign donations going straight into a candidate’s pocket. Just because you can get away with it, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be embarrassed enough to stop doing it.

Johnson campaign annual reports: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014

Leaning Tower’s Sidewalk-Obstructing Patio

We’ve got a patio situation. Leaning Tower of Pizza maintains a front sidewalk patio. Patios are great. I enjoy eating in the outdoors. But this patio is too big for this section of sidewalk. It has seemed lately that this patio is just a little more in the way each day. Now I have proof.

Four days growth. It’ll consume the coin laundry across the street by year’s end.
The Leaning Tower’s patio shoves you right into a bus bench. There’s no space for two people to walk side by side, complicating things for those traveling in opposite directions, not to mention the disabled. Now someone (Leaning Tower?) has pushed the bus bench practically into Lyndale Avenue. If you’re waiting for the bus, bring your knees up high–or a car will surely park on your toes.

In an effort to reclaim this real estate for transit riders and pedestrians, we’ve put in a call to 311. You should too.

One set of bus bench footprints prove it’s been moved. No evidence Jesus is responsible.

UPDATE 8/5/2015: The Leaning Tower patio has been reined in; pedestrians and bus riders have more space than ever. Minneapolis 311 works. No phone call required. Email them pictures of whatever you happen to be cranky about.

Developers Still Building Parking; Whittier Alliance Still Terrible

image: flickr

Sixty-four units of affordable “workforce” housing are coming to the Whittier neighborhood. This is good for Whittier, and Minneapolis as a whole, which has a need for affordable housing. The project will have plenty of parking, which is disappointing, but not surprising (I once made a bold prediction that we hadn’t seen the end of off-street parking in Minneapolis).

You might think Whittier–with over half of households cost burdened, a third living in poverty, and a quarter without cars–would be a logical place to make your affordable housing more affordable by building less parking. But in this case, the developer anticipates a building occupied by car owners, which means giving residents a place to store them. So much for the aparkolypse. Rest easy Chicken Littles, the sky isn’t falling nearly fast enough.

More surprising than the persistence of parking are comments directed at the developer from official representatives of the Whittier Alliance:

“I think you’re underestimating the neighborhood in terms of design, character and cost,” [Executive Director] Biehn said. 

[Board Chair] Christ requested larger units. She said families are desperate to find larger apartments in the neighborhood. She also suggested that the neighborhood could handle higher-priced rents.

Neighborhood associations like the Whittier Alliance are city-funded, and ostensibly tasked with advocating on behalf of neighborhood residents. In Whittier, that would mean advocating for the 83 percent of residents who are renters, most of whom already spend too much of their income on housing. But the Whittier Alliance doesn’t even pretend to do that; they come right out and ask for higher rents. Six months after implementing radically restrictive rules that exclude renters, the Whittier Alliance is still doing a terrible job representing neighborhood residents.

“We’re trying to build reasonably-priced housing.” N’hood org: “What about EV charging stations and a rooftop deck?” pic.twitter.com/EKTwOJLmmx

— Anton (@anton612) July 23, 2015 

Analysis of Minneapolis City Council 2014 Fundraising

There’s still 846 days until the 2017 election, but Minneapolis City Council Members are already out there raising money. I have combed through 2014’s campaign finance reports to assess how each of them is doing on the financial road to 2017.


Keith Reich, Ward 1
2014 Money Raised: $250
2014 Cash on Hand: $9,869
2013 Campaign Spending: $12,671.98

Keith Reich doesn’t give flashy quotes like Jacob Frey or have Barb Johnson’s Channel 79 highlight reel. This is a man you think about so infrequently that you probably didn’t even notice his name isn’t Keith, it’s Kevin. And I bet you also didn’t notice that’s not a picture of Minneapolis Council Member Kevin Reich–it’s Indiana rheumatologist Keith Reich. Still, he’s got a respectable $10,000 in the bank which should enable him to remind his constituents who they voted for last time around.

Cam Gordon, Ward 2
2014 Money Raised: $845
2014 Cash on Hand: $1,238.32
2013 Campaign Spending: $4,052.02
Debt: $345.98

Doesn’t raise a lot, doesn’t spend a lot. Gordon spent almost exactly $1 per vote received in 2013 ($4,052 for 4,060 votes). This was the lowest dollar per vote ratio of any candidate.

Jacob Frey, Ward 3
2014 Money Raised: $45,365.32
2014 Cash on Hand: $48,591.33
2013 Campaign Spending: $122,022.07
Debt: $10,000

Frey raised double the amount of the next highest campaign. Frey’s debt is from a loan he gave his campaign prior to the 2013 election.

This is Minneapolis’ most expensive ward. In 2013, incumbent Diane Hofstede spent $107,000 and lost, flushing $72,000 of her own money in the process.

Frey’s opponent in 2013 lost nearly $72,000 in loans to her campaign.

Barb Johnson, Ward 4
2014 Money Raised: $18,400.00
2014 Cash on Hand: $10,908.41
2013 Campaign Spending: $68,777.43

Council President Barb Johnson ($31.94) came in just behind Jacob Frey ($32.74) in spending per vote received in 2013. She was the biggest campaign spender in 2014, and that’s surprising because the campaign doesn’t really start until 2017.

No other campaigns came close to being this bloated. Johnson spent $4,340 in 2014–not an election year–to pay for internet, cable TV, and landline service for both her homes, as well as her Verizon cell phone bill (this deserves a blog post by itself). In total, she spent nearly $16,000 last year. For comparison, Johnson’s top opponent spent $9,600 in 2013, which was an actual election year.

Ward 4 has the lowest turnout in the city at 23 percent. Combine this fact with Johnson’s seeming unwillingness to spend her substantial sums on actual campaign stuff, and, well, you probably still wouldn’t be surprised that Barb will almost certainly win reelection in 2017.

Blong Yang, Ward 5
2014 Money Raised: $9,609.60
2014 Cash on Hand: $0
2013 Campaign Spending: $40,845.13
Debt: 4,933.62

I would imagine 2013 was a hard fought campaign in Ward 5. Three candidates got more than 20 percent of the vote. Yang scrapped his way to 40 percent and came out ahead in the second round of tabulating ranked choice voting. This is another ward with shockingly low turnout (23.53%).

Yang had no cash at the end of 2014, so he may be vulnerable to a well-funded challenger in 2017. All the money raised in 2014 went towards fundraising expenses and to pay down part of a loan he gave his campaign in 2013.

Abdi Warsame, Ward 6
2014 Money Raised: $22,470.75
2014 Cash on Hand: $16,592.97
2013 Campaign Spending: $50,841.47

Second place to Frey for money raised in 2014, but this is a cheaper ward to run in.

Lisa Goodman, Ward 7
2014 Money Raised:  $19,049.66
2014 Cash on Hand: $95,389.74
2013 Campaign Spending: $49,927.87

Lisa Goodman has so much money she could win two campaigns simultaneously with both bank accounts tied behind her back. The thing I noticed about Lisa Goodman’s 2014 expenditures is that she sponsors a lot of events ($5,290), and donates to other campaigns and organizations ($1,270). If you have an event or campaign that needs sponsoring, ask Lisa.

EDIT: I somehow overlooked that Lisa Goodman spent $50,000 in 2013 running unopposed.

Elizabeth Glidden, Ward 8
2014 Money Raised: $4,755.00
2014 Cash on Hand: $7,501.69
2013 Campaign Spending: $20,444.82

Doesn’t need money. Raises it anyway. Won 84 percent of the vote in 2013, the highest of any candidate citywide. Admittedly, her challenger was named “undervote.”

Alondra Cano, Ward 9
2014 Money Raised: $4,380
2014 Cash on Hand: $1,478.01
2013 Campaign Spending: 2013 report not available

Received less than 40 percent of first choice votes in 2013, which may indicate vulnerability.

Cano spent $1,200 on email in 2014, yet only $125 on tortas. I’d prefer to see an operation where those numbers are reversed; she may need a campaign shake-up.


Lisa Bender, Ward 10
2014 Money Raised: $14,277.71
2014 Cash on Hand: $16,645.99
2013 Campaign Spending: $61,099.47

Bender is running a super-lean operation. Her only expense for 2014 was $288 to keep the website running. Her 2013 spending seems like a lot, until you realize her incumbent opponent spent 35 percent more money ($82,559) to get less than half as many votes.

Facebook conspiracy theorists might be interested to see the $250 donation from someone listing their name only as the “Boegemann” (guessing it’s Dutch for “developer”).

John Quincy, Ward 11
2014 Money Raised: $.18
2014 Cash on Hand: $1,099.77
2013 Campaign Spending: $10,114.21

Quincy’s fundraising haul for 2014 looks tiny. The real story: it’s interest accrued on funds left over from 2013. The legend: John Quincy wrote himself a check for 18 cents just to mock his future opponents; as a show of confidence, he’s prepared to wait until 2018 before lifting a finger to run for reelection in 2017. Show your support by writing him a check for 18 cents. Put “$.18 for 2018!” in the memo.

Andrew Johnson, Ward 12
2014 Money Raised: $11,461
2014 Cash on Hand: $10,641.05
2013 Campaign Spending: $42,204.23
Debt: $20,500

Johnson’s did well in 2014, but he has the most debt of any candidate, in the form of a loan he gave his campaign prior to the 2013 election. Johnson addresses his debt in this recent Strib article on City Council fundraising.

Johnson’s biggest expense in 2014 was $808 for a 75-person buffet fundraiser at the Gandhi Mahal restaurant. His campaign expense reports do not indicate how much he paid for that bottomless pitcher of water he drinks from during City Council meetings.

Linea Palmisano, Ward 13
2014 Money Raised: $13,392
2014 Cash on Hand: $9,648.32
2013 Campaign Cost: $50,193.04
Debt: $6,000

At 46 percent, Ward 13 had by far the highest turnout of any ward in the city. You’d think such accomplished voters would be beyond the influence of money, yet Palmisano persists in fundraising for 2017.

Progress on Parking: A Channel 79 EXCLUSIVE

image credit: Omar Bárcena

Minneapolis is one City Council vote away from enacting a major, nationally-heralded parking reform authored by Council Member Lisa Bender. I’ve watched with great interest as the debate has unfolded on Channel 79. To summarize the back-and-forth as uncharitably as possible: utopians on bicycles deployed a slew of crowd-pleasing parking analogies* (12), while some of our city’s original inhabitants countered with predictions of the aparkolypse (it’s a “boondoggle” of an “epic fail”).

One misconception coming from opponents of the policy is that it will cause the parking ratio for housing construction in the specified transit corridors to fall to zero. This mistaken assumption is the basis for the primary argument you hear from parking maximalists: this policy will fail because there are still so many cars and drivers out there (Minneapolis isn’t ready for your radical car-free agenda!).
It’s true, cars are still a thing. Which is why developers, and the banks who loan them money, aren’t about to start creating crisis-level parking situations that sink their investments. But I’m just restating Council Member Lisa Goodman’s rebuttal to what she sees as “a lot of misunderstanding” regarding this plan:

We’re not telling developers not to build parking. We’re just simply saying we’re not going to tell you what the minimum or maximum is going to be. I personally think that’s a better role for the city. The people who have their money in the game are the ones who are going to have to determine if they can sell or rent homes.

Goodman went on to explain how the policy will lower the cost of constructing affordable housing, and that “new buildings cannot be required to solve the problems [i.e. lack of parking] of existing buildings” (her full remarks are worth watching).
Then there’s the charge that this policy is corporate welfare, a sop to developers. I hear this a lot, as it’s often delivered Tourette-style, right in my ear (by the way, it’s an honor and a privilege to serve on my neighborhood association’s Board of Directors). At first, I dismissed this as phony left-wing populism, but just today I saw a note from a parking profiteer on the bulletin board downstairs. Now I’m ready to pretend to take this pretend argument seriously.
“This business plan is going to require a manufactured parking crisis. Who do we know at City Hall?”

Lowry Hill East is fertile ground for parking entrepreneurs, with many parking lots constructed soon after Minneapolis enshrined residential parking minimums into the 1963 zoning code. One of those lots belongs to my apartment building. I regularly and obsessively count the empty stalls; according to my non-scientific analysis, the effect of our city’s 50-year-old regulations is a parking lot that never exceeds 60 percent full (as a pessimist, I tend to see it as 40 percent empty). Extrapolate this surplus parking goldmine to similar buildings in the neighborhood, and you can imagine the potential for ill-gotten gains.**

This is to say nothing of unintended consequences; squeeze the supply of parking too tight, and some “job creator” will capitalize by building more parking. It’s not a stretch to say this policy assures even more parking will be built. If you’re a knee-jerk liberal urbanist like myself, the last thing you want is another corporate parking lot. Even so, I’m not pretending when I say this is still a plan worth supporting.

Response from the City of Minneapolis to a question about historic parking regulations.

While I’d prefer to live in a city with fewer full-time drivers, I fully acknowledge their existence. Likewise, this proposed policy change accommodates the reality of car ownership. However, what Minneapolis’ existing parking mandate does not do is acknowledge the existence of people who live without a personal automobile. Residential parking regulations are levied against them, like a tax. It’s illegal for developers to cater to them.

A socio-economically diverse city should have parking regulations that actually accommodate diversity. Parking has a cost; it’s as much “for sale” as a hanging hot tub or water stairs. We shouldn’t mandate residential parking in a way that eliminates choice and ignores the needs of so many Minneapolis renters and buyers. On parking, let the market decide.***
More parking minimum analogies: it’s like a TV/VCR combo; it’s like an apartment with bundled cable TV when you just wanna stream it over the internet; it’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife; it’s like meeting the man of my dreams, and then meeting his beautiful wife.
** Bernie should be talking about this.

Constituent Emails

You may remember the agitated gentleman from a few months ago who emailed me a PDF of my own Tweets. Now that I’m an elected public official, I have set up an email filter to clear my inbox of all messages not containing the phrase “you’re a hero” (I will still be accepting your vitriol via Tweet, however).

From: Actual Constituent 

To: John Edwards 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 11:01 PM 

You’re a hero to attend such meetings. Hang in there!

I don’t understand why LHENA board thinks we need cops on bikes? Who can explain? or is it an attempt to get at something else, i.e. more interaction with the public. Sorry, but I just don’t know about crime in LHENA. Or maybe the current board just can’t think of any way to use its money for neighborhood stuff like a youth development program, home maintenance for seniors, community gardens, a database of miscreant landlords. I could go on.

Thank you for your support. The MPD issue is tricky. It’s a delicate balance between my pro-crime and pro-bike agendas. I’m glad you approve of my approach. As for your other concerns: I pledge to get a handle on our neighborhood’s youths, seniors, plants, and miscreants by the end of my first 90 days. And I’m gonna do it without raising taxes. I’ve got a team of volunteer coders working on a “miscreant database” as I write this.

Kristina, via social media, writes: “so what was up with lt edwards?”

You’re right, Kristina, that was a confusing series of Tweets. Let me clarify. Lt. Edwards (no relation) was at last week’s Board meeting to talk about a plan, proposed by LHENA’s Crime Committee, to pay for MPD bike patrols. Lt. Edwards got a glowing introduction from the 5th Precinct’s Inspector, which included repeated use of the phrase, “Lt. Edwards is fantastic.”

Board President Leslie Foreman then introduced him as Sgt. Edwards, prompting the entire room to simultaneously conceive of the same joke: “Don’t demote Lt. Edwards!” It was the most fun LHENA has seen in a while. Lt. Edwards then good-naturedly expressed his concern with our time management (fair point, L.T.).

Lt Edwards is fantastic.

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) June 18, 2015

Don’t demote Lt Edwards.

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) June 18, 2015

Lt Edwards is like damn, guys, it’s 835. This was supposed to be over at 830.

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) June 18, 2015

While Lt. Edwards is fantastic, he wasn’t fantastic enough to convince the Board to vote for the patrols. It appears a decision on any plan for MPD patrols has been put off until next year.

29th Street: Interpreting the Open Streets Experience

View from the LHENA tent at Open Streets on Lyndale Ave.

It’s been an interesting first two months on the job as a LHENA Board Member. Many blog posts have gone unwritten, while others have been drafted only to remain unpublished. Some observers have speculated that I’m saving material for a political autobiography (rumored title: Eyewitness to Power: God, Guns, Grits, Gravy, and Screenshots).

But really, it would be a disservice to my constituents if I stopped doing the communicating that helped me win a landslide tie for sixth place. Of course, I’ll have to modulate my tone. For example, I may start using phrases like “my esteemed colleagues” as a way to soften the blow felt by my esteemed colleagues when I dismiss their ideas. Comity before comedy, I always say.

At last week’s Board meeting, I heard from a colleague that the planned 29th Street makeover was met with an unenthusiastic reception at the LHENA tent at Open Streets on Lyndale. I’ve also heard that the neighborhood has been ignored, and that the process for seeking public input has been inadequate. I felt this was too silly a point to bother bickering over at the time, but just silly enough for a blog post/constituent update.

The Open Streets comment was a surprise to me, as someone who worked the LHENA tent that day. The first thing you should know about the experience at Open Streets is that LHENA’s big, beautiful, professional-looking “Wedge” banner had everyone thinking we were the Wedge Co-op. I spent a lot of time providing customer service to shoppers in search of food items with names I have never heard before (fundraising opportunity for next year: Cub foods at Wedge prices).

We did finally come across a young woman claiming to be a resident. She was so enthusiastic about getting involved with her new neighborhood. In the excitement, I immediately gave her a “Wedge Walk Patrol” hat, without checking ID or making her play a silly game. After she departed, we noticed the address she left on the signup sheet was in the Lyndale neighborhood. She’s probably somewhere right now impersonating a member of the Wedge Walk Patrol, making unlawful arrests.

Seen a Lyndale resident wearing this hat? Report her to the Wedge Walk Patrol.

Then there was the surly mom who seemed to hate everything we were doing. She had a hugely negative reaction to all the options on our Mueller Park survey, one of which was “staffing the pool so babies don’t drown.” If we’re using the feedback we received at Open Streets to draw conclusions, our primary takeaways might be that hardly anybody knows who we are, and Wedge moms have a deep hatred for all things LHENA (not a scientific survey of Wedge moms).

So while feedback may have been sparse, the suggestion that a bunch of Open Streets attendees are skeptical of remaking a pot-holed mess into something attractive, useful, and pedestrian- and bike-friendly is odd. As is the idea that this has been forced on us, under the radar. Though I won’t deny, at multiple LHENA meetings over the last 12 months, I’ve been put to sleep by Lisa Bender’s relentless droning about 29th Street, leaving me unable to remember key details of her secret plan.

There’s been plenty of time to bang the drum if anyone thought the neighborhood’s concerns for 29th weren’t being addressed. There were three public meetings last year (I walked to two of them from my home; other LHENA honchos were there as well). Aside from complaints about process, I’m not sure what the substantive objections/critiques are. If you happen to have any, there’s one last meeting scheduled for June 29th.

Draft of LHE Historic District Study

We have obtained a draft of the Lowry Hill East Residential Historic District designation study. Is your house “contributing” or “non-contributing”? It’s time to start judging your neighbors.

Here’s a neat detail. There are a cluster of houses on Bryant Ave (2415, 2417, 2420, 2424, 2425) possibly built as duplexes, which are now single-family homes. LHENA tried to downzone a few of those addresses from R2 (two-family) to R1 (single-family) in the great rezoning battle of 2004. This must have been upsetting to our neighborhood’s “Healy originalists” who prefer to interpret zoning as the Master Builder intended.

1899: Healy builds duplex. Anon pamphleteer says: “Greedy developer. No respect for our n’hood of single fam homes.” pic.twitter.com/UNn8hh9Mgk

— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) May 9, 2015

I can clarify some uncertainty regarding features of the very interesting house at 2404 Colfax:

It is not clear if the fence dates to the period of significance. Also, the decorative spindle work and bargeboard are very unusual to see in a Colonial Revival house. While there are no specific building permit references to this element of the design, it is not clear if this dates to the period of significance.

As first reported by the Wedge newspaper, Bob and Jeanie McAloon built that fence (and other stuff) in nineteen hundred and ninety-three.

The Linden Hills Model

(This is a followup to my previous post)

Aside from a few highly restrictive organizations, becoming a candidate for a leadership position in most Minneapolis neighborhoods couldn’t be easier (as my own biggest fan, I recently had the pleasure of nominating myself). Voting, however, is unnecessarily burdensome.

In Lowry Hill East, which has a fairly typical process, the election happens around 8 p.m. Nominations are followed by speeches. Then ballots are filled and submitted over the next few minutes. If you can’t be present during those few minutes on that particular day, for whatever reason, you don’t get to vote. And don’t forget your ID, because you’ll be asked for it.

This is a recipe for low turnout. This process creates barriers for people with limited time or hectic schedules: parents with young children; those who work outside a traditional nine-to-five window; or people who, after a long winter, are desperate to spend a pleasant evening at a baseball game (this last one cost me a whole lotta votes).

Rather than develop my own solution for this problem, I found a template: the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council bylaws (see section 5). Their absentee voting process allows for much more voting (much, much more). Candidates must be nominated at least seven days before the annual meeting. Nominations can be submitted by email, and ballots can be printed at home.

This process provides residents the opportunity for five days of absentee voting. That’s 120 hours of voting in Linden Hills, compared to mere minutes of voting in my (very typical) neighborhood. Linden Hills has also dispensed with a voter-ID requirement, opting instead to require voters to put their name and address on their ballot.

120 hours of voting and no voter-ID requirement for Linden Hills residents.

High-renter and/or high-minority neighborhoods are the most likely to have very restrictive electoral procedures. This is one of the things I found when I looked at the bylaws of 70 Minneapolis neighborhood associations. And in the case of Linden Hills, we have a neighborhood with a large majority of white (85%) homeowners (67%), making voting as easy as possible for their residents. This is not a coincidence.

Getting people to participate in their neighborhood association is hard enough, even when targeting those already highly engaged and interested in local issues. I recently spent quite a bit of time trying to convince friends, friends of friends, and friends with babies, to give up hours of their lives to put me on the Board of an organization they barely knew existed. It’s a lot to ask. I feel guilty/grateful for their help.

There’s no good reason your neighborhood association’s electoral process should be exponentially harder than voting for Mayor or President. At a time when unrepresentative neighborhood groups are making headlines, we should be eager to remove these barriers.

Political Participation Rates in Lowry Hill East

There’s been a lot of recent discussion about who leads Minneapolis’ neighborhood organizations. As in, are they diverse enough? This is an important question. But we should also be asking who and how many are voting for those leaders. We don’t have an answer for the who (I would advocate for a simple demographic survey for annual meeting attendees). But, in a first-of-its-kind analysis of never-before-cared-about numbers, we can finally tell you how many.
Minneapolis election data available here.


To give an idea of the universe of politically engaged residents, I have listed neighborhood turnout for mid-term and off-year elections (famously low turnout). It should be noted that LHENA’s 2015 election was particularly well-contested. There were two distinct, motivated factions and lots of candidates (15). People tell me that in other neighborhoods, great leaders are the ones who grudgingly say, “Fine, I’ll do it.” Not so in the Wedge! Selecting who stands between our neighborhood and annihilation is serious business.

Which is all to say, this might be a comparatively optimistic model of neighborhood association participation, rather than a typical example of what happens citywide. When reached for comment about low participation rates, newly elected (maybe?) LHENA Board Member John Edwards said, “If we want to claim a mandate from our neighborhood’s nearly 7,000 residents, we should look to find ways to make ourselves more relevant, and participation less of a burden.” [full disclosure: John Edwards is the owner of this blogspot and the author of this post]

Methodology: The number of LHENA voters are estimates I’ve seen reported by Board Members; these estimates are consistent with my own experience. In the case of 2015, a look at the actual vote totals indicates that 125 may be an overestimate: 792 votes / 7 votes per person = ~114 ballots cast (I’m sure there were undervotes and a few un-tallied write-ins for Nicole Curtis).

Though voting at LHENA does not require you to be a registered Minnesota voter, it’s a better baseline than “All Residents” for the number of people who might conceivably want to include themselves in the political process. In calculating LHENA turnout, total registered voters are from the previous November’s city/state/federal election.