LHENA had a board meeting last night. As you may know, I am a board member. During the meeting we learned of two grievances. The individuals attached to these grievances were unnamed (a “grievance” is a new process LHENA uses to resolve complaints lodged against the organization or individual members).
One grievance had to do with a pizza-related social media post (I immediately recognized this as one of my tweets). The other grievance was something else that happened on social media–no content was specified (I also recognize this as one of my tweets).
Hey two mystery grievances just came up at this board meeting. Sounds like they’re against me and my social media.
The pizza grievance was dismissed. The second grievance remains a mystery to be resolved later. While I don’t know who’s behind these grievances, I can guess from whose Facebook posse they might be coming. I think the strategy here is to lodge as many frivolous complaints as possible, establish your crew’s reputation as an incredible cast of goofballs, and then really lay the hammer down when I’m least expecting it (save this sentence for a future grievance).
At the very end of the meeting, during the “new business” portion of the agenda (I’m new here, but I gather that’s where you need to watch out for an ambush), someone handed me this motion: an accusation that I used an account with the name “Wedgelive/Wedgedead” to fool people into thinking I’m the official LHENA Twitter account and a demand that I remove all traces of the Wedge newspaper from my website and Twitter. At least half the board was visibly and vocally irritated to have this pile of unexpected nonsense dumped in their lap after a two-plus hour meeting, right as they thought they’d be able to go home.
Totally urgent, emergency, last-minute motion.
Exhibit A: “Today’s Header.” Distributed at last night’s meeting.
Someone thought this motion was a reasonable thing to write, and print out, and show to a dozen other people. Someone seconded this motion, and a handful of people would’ve voted for it, but it was tabled and sent over to the LHENA grievance committee–where I’ve racked up three tweet-grievances in my young career. And this item will probably linger well into 2016. These people are not right. Here’s what one board member said shortly after the meeting, in a private message:
In April, I ran for the LHENA Board of Directors and delivered a speech at the annual meeting almost entirely premised on the fact that I had digitized the paper: “I gave you an archive of the Wedge paper, vote for me.” I won.
At the May meeting, my blog was made a surprise topic (not listed on the agenda; strange that this keeps happening). I was accused of mistreating a “single mom” (more on that here), and concerns were raised about newspaper copyright. In July, the board settled concerns over the copyright issue by deciding to neither give permission nor demand I remove the archive.
And now we’re talking about it again in October, ostensibly because I changed my Twitter header image to something I found amusing and visually interesting. The Wedge newspaper is one of the most historic/wonderful/hilarious things about this neighborhood. It’s an ongoing source of surprise to me that devoted defenders of the newspaper’s legacy aren’t glad to have it accessible from their phone.
I was elected to the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LHENA) Board of Directors in April. Before that, I had been blogging and tweeting about local politics for roughly a year. Not everyone’s a fan.
At LHENA’s May meeting–my first as a member of the board–my blog was made a topic for discussion (surprising because I wasn’t on the agenda). During the discussion I was accused by a fellow board member of “publishing the home address of a single mom.” This was an intentionally vague and misleading reference to a blog post I had written about HGTV personality Nicole Curtis’ permit violations at some of her Minneapolis properties (also a threat to single moms: this WCCO story).
In July, a second board member accused me of “stalking” and demanded I delete a tweet linking to political commentary in a public Facebook post. The topic was parking reform (not vacation photos), so “stalking” seemed over the top.
Four days after the “stalking” accusation, I received an email from an unknown sender using an apparently fake name. The subject line was my girlfriend’s name. The message began by saying, “someone is playing your game.” The email contained a link to a Craigslist ad seeking sex; the ad was written to appear as if it came from my girlfriend, using her name, location and description. The email ended with a threat: “take down all your creepy posts about LHENA volunteers etc. Or who knows maybe her exact address, picture or phone # might show up tomorrow in a different category.”
We reported this to the police immediately. In September, all but one of my fellow board members voted to request the police seek a subpoena for Craigslist and Gmail to determine the identity of the person who sent the threat. I appreciate that, though I’m skeptical the police will pursue it.
You might imagine my initial reaction based on the content and timing of the email threat. Yet I’ve been told that it’s offensive to ask whether someone within LHENA has any connection to or knowledge of who might be responsible. It was said during September’s board meeting that this is no big deal; that putting my girlfriend’s name, location, and description in a sex ad is just someone being “snarky.” It’s also been said that the more important issue is all the unfair attacks (never specified, but presumably from me) coming at LHENA over the past year.
Not helping matters, Minneapolis’ Neighborhood and Community Relations Department replied to my initial email reporting the threat by sending a list of social media guidelines. I forwarded the email to NCR, and they gave me a lesson in discouraging participation. It was disappointing to have the city department that oversees neighborhood organizations suggest–in an email sent to the entire LHENA board–that my actions are the problem.
That attitude has carried over to the months-long debate regarding LHENA’s new “code of conduct” policy, with the argument being that the organization has been victimized by social media. Some folks were very adamant about including broad rules against “disparaging” language that causes a “barrier to participation,” and generally trying to define the most stringent possible standard for speech infractions.
I wish there was the same urgency to address those few LHENA board members who have disparaged me as a sort of predator–to the degree someone felt putting a Craigslist target on my girlfriend’s back was appropriate payback. As for barriers to participation: I’m pretty sure the only reason the anonymous emailer knows her name, or where she lives, or that she even exists, is because I brought her to neighborhood association meetings. She won’t be coming back.
The concerted effort to hype me as a menace has put someone close to me in danger, making it harder for her to feel safe in her own neighborhood. I sense too much denial and defiance from the people participating in that effort. This all escalated over a period of months during which I made the mistake of saying nothing. So I’m writing this post as a matter of self defense. My hope is that calling this out publicly makes it less likely to happen again.
The author is John Champe, who is an anthropology professor at the University of Minnesota. Instead of lost tribes of the Amazon, he decided to study the far less civilized world of Minneapolis neighborhood associations. I especially appreciated the insanity of Chapter 2. And if you like giant inflatable Godzilla-based protests against affordable housing, give Chapter 1 a look.
1. “Homeowner Revolution” Millions of dollars in NRP money helped drive the 1992 takeover of the Whittier Alliance by property owners hostile to affordable and supportive housing. Keep in mind that the reason Whittier received so many millions of dollars in city money was because of their large population of poor and minority renters.
Two years before the “Homeowner Revolution” many activists against more subsidized housing had already formed The Whittier Homeowners Association. This coalition “was a key force in the campaign”, and after its adherents gained a majority on the 1992 Alliance board, it simply moved itself into the Alliance. The Homeowners Association had made itself defunct because while it had scant money and legitimacy, the organization it took over had reams of cash and was certified by city hall as the official representative of the neighborhood. (Ch 2, p 12)
2. Culture Shift
The big change in 1992 turned the Whittier Alliance away from its long history of supporting low income housing.
Between the Alliance’s birth in 1978 and the 1992 revolution, the Alliance had developed “330 units of low income housing … The Alliance was one of the most productive nonprofit low income housing producers in the city.” (Ch 2, p 11)
3. “Elitist Cabal”
Champe describes how difficult it was for the Whittier Alliance’s new leadership (the “Friends of Whittier”) to get along with its staff:
I find that it was naïve of the FOW [anti-affordable and supportive housing] faction to think that they would find people to work in low paying, non-profit, inner-city, community jobs, in a poor, racially diverse neighborhood, who were not “social justice” oriented, and who did not see the poor, the renters, and the minorities as underdogs deserving of extra help. Even hiring a community organizer and a director who were Republicans did not solve this problem, as both still found the board an elitist cabal that was impossible to get along with. (Ch 2, p 14)
4. Opposition to school for the blind.
In 1993, a school for the blind proposed moving into the Pillsbury mansion. Board Chair Dave Hoban is reported to have said something to the effect, “I don’t even understand why they would want to buy that building, because it is so beautiful, and they wouldn’t be able to see it anyway.”
5.“Rode out of town on a rail, honey.”
A Board Member from 1993 tells her story:
When the Pillsbury mansion was converted from a residence to the school, oh my god people flipped out. And you know, the Dave Hoban’s of the world, which I’m sure you know, went nuts, that’s how I lost my board position because I voted for Blind Inc. Lucy and I got rode out of town on a rail honey. (Ch 2, p 32)
6. Mafia-style street justice.
After the Blind Inc. vote Dave called me and wanted me to come out into the street so we could wrestle in the street. That same night the husband of another board member who voted for it got punched in the jaw outside the Black Forest and we’re convinced that Dave arranged for that. (Ch 2, p 32)
7. Political Parties
The early 1990s sees the advent of political parties in Whittier, called Friends of Whittier (FOW) and Diversity & Democracy (D&D):
Naming themselves “Diversity” was a jab at the FOW, who were seen as hostile to ethnic minorities and the lower classes. And “Democracy” was a way to show how they were opposed to what many considered the decidedly undemocratic methods of the FOW activists – their privileging of homeowner participation, and their “dirty tricks.” (Ch 2, p 40)
8. Bylaws Shenanigans
the FOW appeared to have a three pronged strategy – mobilize the base to come out to vote for your slate at the annual meeting, manipulate the bylaws to get other FOW members on the board after the election, then harass the rivals that did get elected to the board until they quit. (Ch 2, p 41)
9. Rooftop Godzillas for Responsible Development Coalition
Lisa Goodman meets her match during a 2001 battle over low-income housing:
At that time, city council representative Lisa Goodman hosted a monthly “Lunch with Lisa” chat session with local constituents at the Acadia café across the street from Plymouth Congregational. At her lunch immediately following her public statement of support for Lydia, Citizens picketed outside the cafe while their Godzilla held his own twenty four hour protest on the roof above. (Ch 1, p 8)
We’re minutes away from tonight’s Planning Commission (view the trailer). Linden Hills is on the agenda. It’s Nick Magrino’s first meeting as a commissioner. There’s probably at least one Sabri on the agenda. Let’s go to our panel!
Senior Producer: From the strib, “As increasingly upscale businesses have bloomed near it — just up the street is a yoga studio and a bar that specializes in fermented products ranging from local kombucha tea to artisan cheeses.”
[Surly audience member]: It’s as if chains and bros will literally move into old, crummy buildings without new construction to satisfy their $2k/month budget!
J: Fancy people only ruin things when they live in apartments. As soon as a fancy person goes above about three stories, the neighborhood starts to undergo what I like to call “ghettoized gentrification.”
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.
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 $250 donation from someone listing their name only as the “Boegemann” (guessing it’s Dutch for “developer”).
Quincy’s fundraising haul for 2014 looks tiny. The real story: it’s interest accrued on funds left over from 2013. The legend: John Quincy wrote himself a check for 18 cents just to mock his future opponents; as a show of confidence, he’s prepared to wait until 2018 before lifting a finger to run for reelection in 2017. Show your support by writing him a check for 18 cents. Put “$.18 for 2018!” in the memo.
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.
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.