My response to Rebecca Gagnon’s campaign statement about my post

Planning Commissioner, and candidate for the Minnesota House of Representatives, Rebecca Gagnon has released a statement in response to the post I published yesterday morning. She makes a couple of interesting points. My response is below.

The bulk of Gagnon’s argument has to do with a distinction between procedure and the merits. She says because she was only making a procedural argument, and not an argument on the merits, it’s no big deal.

The procedural argument was the ordinance’s only hope of making it from the Planning Commission to the City Council. The procedural argument was the whole ballgame. Whatever the Planning Commission recommended, yes or no, the City Council would have been free to ignore it. The worst possible outcome for supporters of the zoning change — and what Gagnon was trying to avoid — was for the issue to be continued to the next meeting, in procedural limbo with no action taken. As I wrote yesterday, that outcome created the very real possibility the zoning change would die for good.

Rebecca Gagnon says if the Planning Commission had actually proceeded to debate the merits of the billboard zoning change “it would have been germane to have noted publicly” that her daughter is a lobbyist for Blue Ox Media.

First, I don’t buy this argument. Gagnon should have disclosed the conflict from the outset and recused herself from the entire process.

It’s also funny to imagine if Gagnon’s colleagues had responded favorably to her procedural pleading last Monday. Now imagine if Gagnon then immediately said, “Oh by the way guys, before we get to the merits, I should let you know my daughter is a lobbyist for this billboard company.”

But if you are someone who believes in Gagnon’s made-up rule that you don’t need to disclose conflicts of interest until you begin making arguments on the merits, well, she did make an argument on the merits. As quoted in my original post, Gagnon said during the meeting, “Right now there’s a monopoly on this industry. You may or may not like that. I don’t like that.” Here’s video.

Gagnon says that while her daugher is a registered lobbyist for Blue Ox Media, neither her daughter nor the lobbying firm that employs her daughter was paid to work on behalf of Blue Ox Media.

I’m skeptical of the significance of this point. Blue Ox Media isn’t a charity and neither is Hylden Advocacy. CEO Tom McCarver was ambitious enough about his new business venture that he donated $5,100 to eight city council incumbents from July 18 to October 3. Prior to this 77 day period, I can’t find evidence that McCarver ever made a donation to Minneapolis city campaigns. That’s a significant investment of money, and the timing indicates it was directly related to the billboard zoning change; I’m sure he was hoping for a nice return on that investment. I don’t believe that while McCarver was spreading all that money around, there was nothing in it for Hylden Advocacy.

In addition to Samantha Gagnon and Nancy Hylden, Jackie Cherryhomes lobbies on behalf of Blue Ox. Is Cherryhomes’ lobbying firm also working for free? Is Hylden Advocacy literally donating their services for zero consideration while others get paid? (Someone please explain to me how lobbying works.)

But I’m gonna give the final word to random bearded Twitter guy, who says it better than I could:

Pro bono doesn’t mean lack of conflict of interest. Especially in the case of lobbying. Free now, reward later. 🙄

— Chris Sullivan (@CRSullivan) December 12, 2017

Lame Duck City Council Faction Pushes Billboard Deregulation Ahead of Super Bowl

Clear Channel touts their existing billboard stock in downtown Minneapolis.

Back in September, the City Planning Commission (CPC) unanimously rejected (6-0) the idea of more and larger billboards in downtown Minneapolis.

“I still fail to see the public benefit of adding billboards in the downtown” said Commissioner Alissa Luepke Pier.

Commissioner Matt Brown expressed concerns about billboard blight in a part of downtown that’s rapidly changing for the better: “If we’re adding a lot of really large, kind of permanently mounted billboards, that can almost be a barrier to new development in an area where all of our policies suggest we’d like to see it.”

A man from an outdoor sign company called Blue Ox Media Group, Tom McCarver, testified in support of a more “robust” (meaning permissive) version of the amendment, saying it was “supported by people in the area and council member.” The council member in the area is Jacob Frey in Ward 3, though it’s possible McCarver was speaking of Abdi Warsame in adjacent Ward 6.

McCarver continued, “During committee of the whole we were looking at an ordinance that was a little more robust than this, talking about Washington Ave and parts of Hennepin. So we would encourage that discussion to continue and moving forward to Z&P as well.” Just as McCarver desired, despite a lack of political support at every step, billboard deregulation would continue to get more robust.

On October 26, the City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee was split 3-3 on whether to approve the billboard district expansion (the same version rejected by CPC in September). Barb Johnson, Abdi Warsame, and Kevin Reich voted to approve; Lisa Bender, Andrew Johnson, and Lisa Goodman voted against. The committee then voted to send the zoning code change back to staff for modifications that might make it more palatable. This meant it would return to the CPC.

Last Monday, the concept of allowing more and larger billboards was back in front of the planning commission — only this time, the idea that was previously unacceptable to both CPC and the Z&P Committee had become even more expansive. The proposal now included allowing wall signs along stretches of Hennepin and Washington Avenues; and an expanded billboard district would go as far west as Portland Avenue, intruding into Commons park outside the new Vikings stadium.

If you want to read the details, you should be warned that the staff report has a number of errors. References to “painted wall signs” are actually meant to refer to “wall signs” of all types. Additionally, the map included in the report does not reflect the full scope of the proposed changes.

This lack of clarity in the staff report was the reason Commissioner Sam Rockwell said he was “profoundly uncomfortable voting for something where I don’t know what it’s supposed to be.” Rockwell’s motion to postpone the issue passed on a 5-2 vote. The billboard zoning change is now scheduled to be taken up again at the next CPC meeting on January 8.

Existing district in purple.
“Robust” billboard expansion discarded after CPC Committee of the Whole
“Modest” expansion rejected by CPC (9/18) & Z&P (10/26).
It’s back! Billboard Xtreme™ is more robust than ever!

Commissioner’s daughter is lobbyist for billboard company

Commissioner Rebecca Gagnon, who is also a member of the Minneapolis school board and candidate for the Minnesota House of Representatives, was not happy to see the process delayed. Gagnon urged action: “This has just come to us so much, I feel like we should be able to make a decision on this.” (The commission had made a decision — a unanimous decision — to reject the zoning change in September. Gagnon was absent.)

Gagnon continued:

And there’s also urgency around, I know it’s not our business, but there is some Super Bowl thing coming here, and I think there was some decisions that people wanted made so work could be done, which was one of the reasons. Right now there’s a monopoly on this industry. You may or may not like that. I don’t like that. I think it also just… there’s no sense and one of the big reasons is because people just want to get some work done. [emphasis mine]

The company that wants to break up what Gagnon refers to as an outdoor signage “monopoly” (in the form of Clear Channel), is called Blue Ox Media Group.

It’s curious that Gagnon would be so outspoken on the obscure issue of billboard regulation. As a frequent viewer, I can tell you it’s unusual for Gagnon to be outspoken on any issue during CPC meetings. (It was so unusual that it prompted me to look into this story.)

During the meeting, Gagnon continued to pour on the urgency: “Is there a way since we’re already here at 7:38. We’re now getting paid $17 an hour. Is there just a way we can just move this forward, please?”

Gagnon is right that she’s only paid a very small amount per meeting. But it’s important to note that Rebecca Gagnon’s daughter, Samantha Gagnon, gets paid as a registered lobbyist for Blue Ox Media Group. Blue Ox Media is interested in easing restrictions on billboards in downtown Minneapolis. When Rebecca Gagnon talks about how she doesn’t like our current billboard “monopoly” downtown, she’s talking about helping one company in particular: Blue Ox Media Group.

(In 2014, the Star Tribune reported that school board member Rebecca Gagnon had taken the unusual step of hiring her college sophomore daughter Samantha as her campaign manager. Gagnon was the only school board candidate to pay a campaign manager.)

Shades of the failed plastic bag ordinance

Samantha Gagnon works for the lobbying firm of Nancy Hylden. When an issue in front of the city council has some inexplicable political force behind it, just dig a little, and you might find the Hylden firm on the winning side.

An example: the recent city council decision to abandon a five cent fee for single-use shopping bags. The ordinance was defeated even though the same council had passed an outright plastic bag ban a year earlier, which had included the same five cent fee for paper bags.

The author of the bag ordinance, Council Member Cam Gordon, was taken by surprise when so many of his colleagues changed their position to vote against his ordinance. And the only explanation offered for that change of heart — they didn’t like the five cent fee — didn’t make sense. As Gordon wrote at the time, “Under both proposals the bags you could get in a store would have cost five cents. Any argument that can be made against a fee applies to both ordinances equally.”

The winner was the plastic bag lobby, represented by Hylden Advocacy.

In the interests of fully disclosing family-lobbyist connections among powerful people in Minneapolis, I should mention that current Council Member and Mayor-elect Jacob Frey is married to Sarah Clarke, a lobbyist at Hylden Advocacy. Clarke has lobbied against material bans in metro area cities on behalf of Holiday gas stations, though she reports that she does not lobby the city of Minneapolis on the subject. UPDATE: I should also mention that Nancy Hylden is married to Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin.

Urgency ahead of new city council and the Super Bowl

At the planning commission last Monday, city staff person Steve Poor was blunt in explaining why it was so urgent that the commission take action on the billboard zoning change:

I prefer not to get into this level of explanation of the mechanics of the city. But if the ordinance is not acted on, and is postponed, it will likely have to be adopted by a new council member moving in, or Warsame picks it up. So there’s a procedural thing here that’s going on, not to mention that we don’t have committee assignments. That is presumptuous to think that it will be on an automatic timetable going forward. I think I’ve spoken to the intent and will of this council before, but I don’t think you can make assumptions about if it doesn’t come out of here that it will just proceed on January 8. I don’t think that’s a realistic expectation to be blunt about it. [emphasis mine]

Commissioner Rebecca Gagnon echoed this, saying, “We’re going to have a lot of turnover on January 1.”

This is an important point. With five new members of the city council elected last month, a new council president on the way, and new committee assignments coming, there’s a good chance that a zoning change to allow more and larger billboards wouldn’t even make it out of committee.

At the October 26 city council committee meeting, Abdi Warsame (initiator of the zoning change) and Barb Johnson very strongly urged their colleagues to pass the billboard zoning change out of committee. Both explicitly noted the financial boon to outdoor sign companies during the upcoming Super Bowl.

  • Barb Johnson: “This modest expansion would allow for some revenue to come to the vendor in light of the Super Bowl coming.”
  • Abdi Warsame: “If we push this back there’s no guarantee that either party [Clear Channel and Blue Ox Media] will get any updated billboards for the Super Bowl, which is the intention that they had in the first place.”

On December 4, city staff person Steve Poor highlighted the Super Bowl as a motivating factor for certain members of the city council:

To be frank about it, this came back in short order because staff was told that this council wanted to act on it. […] There was a lot of intense discussion back and forth about that, but I think it’s fair to say the council felt they wanted to have a vote on this, whether it’s because of the large circus coming to town soon, or the super bowl, or what have you. I would just tell you that one of the reasons staff worked with some diligence to get this before you is because the policymakers directed us to do so. [emphasis mine]

Why Does Minneapolis Need More Billboards?

With all the talk about Super Bowl 52 and the financial well-being of Blue Ox Media and Clear Channel, I couldn’t find anyone making the case for why Minneapolis needs larger billboards in more places. A change like this, and any additional billboards it creates, would be with us long after the Super Bowl leaves town.

And why does this idea, that seems not very popular, keep coming back in forms that are less appealing, but more pro-industry? Maybe a friend of the billboard industry thinks they’ve rustled up enough votes to pass it — if only they can get it in front of the full council we currently have, but probably not the council we’ll have next month.

I watched hours and hours and hours of public meetings to bring you this story. Please support that work by becoming a Wedge LIVE patron!

    Unaffordable by Design, and How to Change It

    A duplex at 4257 Vincent Ave South was demolished recently. The land is zoned for single family, just like a lot of the Linden Hills neighborhood that surrounds it, so the duplex will be replaced with a single family home (I suspect this explains why nobody vigiled or tried to give the house a pedigree by researching a famous former resident). Many of the exclusive single-family neighborhoods that we know today, the kind dotted with small apartment buildings and grandfathered triplexes, have become that way because of some long-forgotten downzoning that made new multi-family housing illegal.

    The house on Vincent Ave was grandfathered in as a legally non-conforming property, but now that the duplex is gone, it’s gone for good. Exclusionary single-family zoning means that conversions like this can only go in one direction, towards fewer units. If you think of housing like a game of musical chairs, wealthy Ward 13 just lost another chair. And our zoning code makes it really hard to build new chairs in the places where people most want to sit.

    Stories of conversions from multi-unit to single-family homes were surprisingly common, and celebrated, when I documented the last 45 years of housing politics in the Wedge neighborhood. It’s not the story that usually comes to mind when people think of gentrification or displacement. It’s not the kind of big change people notice and complain about; it’s not six stories of apartments on a parking lot. It’s the slow, silent, unrelenting gentrification of a neighborhood — and we use the zoning code to encourage it.

    Don’t let the apparent building boom in Minneapolis fool you — there has been a citywide, decades-long drift towards more restrictive zoning. Yes, we make room for big developers who build mega-buildings downtown. Yes, we build six-story buildings on certain major corridors, places lucky enough to survive the craze for downzoning over the last 45 years. This means we build the kind of housing (big buildings on pricey lots with dozens of units or more) that costs the most to build, and is therefore the most expensive to live in. This means we are largely a city that is off limits to affordable housing in our most desirable neighborhoods. This means many of our neighborhoods are unaffordable by design, and will remain so for decades into the future.

    In the Wedge neighborhood (my neighborhood), this trend has meant multiple successful rounds of downzoning. At times when downzoning failed, activists pushed for historic districts (while openly admitting that historic districts were a backdoor attempt to accomplish the goals of exclusionary zoning). But it’s important to recognize this point: to the degree the Wedge has any racial or income diversity, it’s largely because of the people living in apartment buildings constructed between 1950 and 1975. These two-and-a-half story walkups were so despised by certain noisy neighbors that the city gave in to activists and made it illegal to build them.

    The city downzoned large swaths of south Minneapolis in 1975. Today we celebrate those old apartment buildings as Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing; we allocate precious public dollars to preserve them. We hope that, in the face of a housing shortage, with rental vacancy rates hovering near two percent, we can keep these affordable apartments out of the hands of investors who would renovate and upscale them. It’s a reminder that Minneapolis has failed to reckon with the ways our zoning practices work against our affordable housing policies.

    That’s not to say there haven’t been small moves to reverse the trend. City Council Member Lisa Bender has legalized accessory dwelling units (or backyard/garage apartments) and eased minimum parking requirements. She also fixed a quirk in the zoning code that had effectively outlawed two-family dwellings in areas zoned in a two-family category (tale of backdoor downzoning: over the previous decades, minimum lot-size requirements had been increased to the point that you couldn’t build a duplex on a typical lot zoned for duplexes). None of this stuff would have happened without Lisa Bender as a champion; Minneapolis has led the way on land-use reforms over the last few years because of one person (which is impressive, but also scary when you imagine a world without her).

    The politics of appeasing single-family voters can be compelling. Though I believe Lisa Bender is one of the most exceptional and principled elected officials in the country, both downzoning and historic districts have still come to my backyard in Ward 10 over the last four years (albeit in more limited forms than desired by some). It’s not because these are great ideas, but because energetic people got noisy to demand it.

    The noise extends beyond my own backyard. A group of residents in downtown Minneapolis (who, in fairness, would tell you, “we don’t live in downtown!”), organized under the name Neighbors for East Bank Livability, sued to stop a 40-story condo tower. The punchline is that many of them live in 20 to 30 story condo towers. A judge ordered the group to post a $100,000 bond to offset developer costs in the event NEBL loses their legal fight (they will definitely lose their legal fight and all of this money). This money is in addition to legal fees they will incur. They had a surprisingly easy time raising (and flushing) all that money.

    A group of residents in St Paul is fighting for low density zoning under the name Livable St Paul. Their cause involves the former site of an automobile manufacturing facility. Like their “Livable” counterparts in Minneapolis, they are well-funded and highly motivated. They disagree with the St. Paul City Council’s recent decision to allow medium- and high-density zoning at the Ford Site, including 20 percent affordable housing. They have reportedly collected enough petition signatures to put the Ford Site rezoning on next year’s ballot in St. Paul.

    And then there are the smaller scale skirmishes. A few of my favorite examples, in case you missed them:

    This is where I insert all the reasons large scale upzoning is a thorougly researched common-sense approach to ameliorating so many of our problems. Of course, this needs to be in tandem with the less controversial idea of funding more affordable housing (less controversial until you get to deciding whether it should be located in a person’s backyard, or how we should pay for it).

    A lot of the political energy propping up exclusionary zoning is less outrageous, less visible, and harder to ridicule than the stories above. Worse, the conventional notion that apartments are a threat to families, Livability, and the American way, is pretty widely shared among policymakers and mainstream opinion-havers. Just last month the Star Tribune knee-capped a city council candidate in low-density Ward 11 because she promoted the idea of triplexes without mandated off-street parking minimums!

    Cases of outrageous NIMBYism are wacky (and fun, I admit), but by no means typical. As much as I’d like to report that needed zoning reforms are opposed exclusively by an army of fancy clowns, it’s just not the case. Many people are capable of writing reasonable-sounding anti-apartment emails to their city council member — emails that often do not imply renters are subhuman and sometimes do not compare city planners to Hitler. Chances are pretty good that when an elected official reads that low-key complaint about parking, they already agree with a lot of it. And even for more enlightened politicians, bad policy can feel essential to political survival when it’s backed up by a stream of highly charged resistance to even the smallest neighborhood change.

    So it’s time to get noisy. Talk to your friends about zoning. Start the conversation with your city council member — let them know you exist and that you are engaged. The Minneapolis city council will adopt a new Comprehensive Plan in 2018. This is a key document that will guide future zoning reforms in Minneapolis. Ask your council member how they plan to lead in the fight against exclusionary zoning.

    As reported by Nick Magrino, this neat-o tool lets you offer feedback on the Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan:

    extremely neat-o: new comp plan feedback tool lets you identify specific areas where you’d like to expand housing and commercial choices, and opportunities to improve access for walking, biking, and transit @Mpls2040

    — Nick Magrino (@nickmagrino) November 27, 2017

    Meg Tuthill: What About Her Emails?

    Misleading graphic note: emails not leaked, they were data requested.

    (Read Part I)

    When last we heard from Meg Tuthill on the bike lane issue, she was flanked by signs that said “Nazi Lane” while participating in a protest of the new safety features on 26th and 28th Streets. But she’s more than just an outspoken opponent of bike lanes.

    After being defeated in 2013, Council Member Tuthill transitioned directly from working as an elected official into an administrative position with the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) department. This allowed her to keep her old City Council email address, and become Meg Tuthill: Shadow Council Member.

    One thing you learn when you request Meg Tuthill’s government emails is that she’s close with former colleague and current City Council Member Lisa Goodman (gives you a leg up when you’re looking for a job at CPED).

    Here’s a conversation from January 2016, when Goodman wanted Tuthill to help her use the Healy Project to stop new multifamily housing in Goodman’s ward. Goodman wanted to “keep this out of the email” (a thing she said in an email) in order to avoid “litigation.”

    Email related to multifamily housing proposal for 1900 Colfax.
    The reason Goodman is seeking help from Tuthill’s friends at the Healy Project is because it’s the same tactic Tuthill used to fight apartments at 2320 Colfax during the latter part of her term on the council. There’s a reason Goodman is afraid of getting sued for organizing neighborhood opposition to a project she might have to vote on — she was sued for doing that very thing 10 years ago: 

    That pushed Hoyt over the edge. He filed his lawsuit on March 27, 2007. 

    Goodman hounded the Loring Park neighborhood group staff and board members to provide the group’s email list, so that she could send them the complaint. When they refused, she even threatened to cut off the group’s funding. 

    The court battle dragged on for two and a half years. Skolnick, Hoyt’s attorney, pursued a three-pronged legal strategy, essentially arguing that Goodman—and the city of Minneapolis—had deprived his client of fair and equal treatment. 

    The key question was whether Goodman had made up her mind before she voted on Parc Centrale. Unfortunately for Goodman, a flurry of email evidence showed she had taken a position, lobbied other council members, and even helped neighbors organize their opposition. She did all this weeks before she cast an official vote.

    In another message, Tuthill consulted with Lisa Goodman via their government email accounts about Goodman’s rumored 2017 opponent, Will Bornstein. Bornstein is a former president of the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association, a group Tuthill has been involved with for five decades after helping found the organization in the early 1970s. (As it turns out, Will Bornstein did not run against Lisa Goodman in 2017.)

    The Healy Project features prominently in Tuthill’s work life. In May 2015, Tuthill asks another city employee to help her edit a Healy Project tour invitation: “Would you please proof and make changes for me?”

    Another thing you notice in these emails is that former Council Member Tuthill’s grudge against the current council member is keeping Tuthill from performing her job at the city. When Tuthill was asked in March 2016 to set up meetings with a number of city council members, Tuthill refuses to communicate with Lisa Bender’s office by responding: “Happy to do this. All but Bender. I’m sorry.” In another email Tuthill says, “Left messages for all the other [council members] except Bender.”

    Other emails show a continued concern with Lisa Bender. In October 2015, Tuthill sent a message to the President and CEO of the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, praising his performance in a radio debate with Lisa Bender.

    The subject of the MPR discussion was Mayor Hodges’ proposed Working Families Agenda. Tuthill writes, “I want to thank you for your calm, reasonable approach to this disastrous idea from Glidden, Bender and Hodges.”

    Referring to paid sick time, Tuthill tells him, “I find this frightening. Acting as a union for the private sector is not the job of government.”

    One last thing to note: Meg Tuthill lives up to my stereotype of extremely concerned residents, wielding her influence at CPED to demand access to the Star Tribune comment section.

    This has been your update on the once and future leader of the Ward 10 government-in-exile. The post-election period could be a wild ride (just like four years ago) as the Wedge neighborhood’s Tuthill faction grapples with the idea of another four years in the wilderness. Just keep in mind that our bike lane battles aren’t always about bike lanes.

    Wedge Bike Lane Skirmish About More Than Bike Lanes

    (Part I of II)

    A meeting of the Whittier Alliance neighborhood organization was overrun on Monday by a group of Wedge residents eager to voice concerns over a proposed bikeway on 24th Street.

    Staff from the city’s Public Works Department found it hard to even begin their presentation, as former Council Member Meg Tuthill — notorious “Nazi Lane” protester, accompanied by about a dozen energized loyalists from the Wedge — interrupted the introduction by snapping “first of all, who are you?”

    Tuthill at left, participating in “Nazi Lane” protest.

    Tuthill, who was defeated by Lisa Bender 64 percent to 30 percent in 2013, tag-teamed the meeting with another former Minneapolis elected official, Audrey Johnson. Johnson, a former school board member, is known for hurling insults (“Bendrification”) at Lisa Bender while giving public testimony at the City Planning Commission.

    The Wedge contingent interrupted, sidetracked, and generally monopolized the discussion, in a way that reminded me of every poorly conducted Wedge neighborhood (LHENA) meeting I’ve been to over the years. Also in attendance was the Tuthill-endorsed city council candidate who lost to Lisa Bender 64 percent to 20 percent in last week’s city election. Yes, the meeting felt like an extension of election season.

    Prior to the start of the Public Works presentation, State Rep Karen Clark conducted a (non-bike) Q&A that went on longer than expected. Audrey Johnson, seeming like she couldn’t wait to lay the hammer down on Lisa Bender, peppered Clark with questions about the city’s rental vacancy rate. Johnson told Clark, “we’re being lied to” by the city council, in order to justify the construction of more housing.

    The primary concern expressed about a potential bikeway was parking. One person said the parking study was not valid because it happened in July when people are out of town. Another said the study wasn’t done at the right times of day. Another wanted the bikeway on 25th Street (an option that would remove more parking). Other attendees said they were unhappy that this would be the only public meeting (in reality, there was a meeting two months ago, and more meetings will happen next month).

    Other concerns included, but nobody bikes, and sure, we all bike, but what about winter?

    The Q&A, which turned into an unproductive bike-gripe session, was cut off so that the meeting could move to the next agenda item. As Public Works staff exited the room, they were pursued and pinned down for more questions in the lobby by Tuthill and company.

    Meg and co have cornered public works staff in the lobby as they were leaving, as Whittier Alliance meeting continues in the other room.

    — Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) November 14, 2017

    Left unheard were many other bike lane supporters and skeptics in the room, both groups deprived of a meaningful opportunity for feedback or understanding of the project.

    It should be mentioned that the 24th Street bikeway has been a part of the city’s Bicycle Master Plan since 2011. Meg Tuthill served on the city council that adopted the bike plan seven years ago, and according to meeting minutes it was passed on a voice vote without her objection.

    Read part II: Meg Tuthill: What About Her Emails?

    If you’d like to comment on the 24th St bikeway project, contact Virginie Nadimi,

    Wedge to the MAX!

    We’ve come to the end of a long, weird, grueling election season. I’ve had some days off. The team is newly invigorated.

    We’re pleased that Tom Hoch wasted an unprecedented amount of his own money not becoming the next mayor of Minneapolis. My pumpkin, Mayor Betsy Hodges, is off to the compost bin. And the actual Betsy Hodges is probably planning a Hawaiian vacation. No more Barb, no more Blong — a striking change in leadership for north Minneapolis. John Quincy lost his seat in Ward 11, and on the bright side, I imagine he probably never had strong feelings either way about that.

    As we contemplate the transition from one city council to another in 2018, we’re declaring this “Wedge to the MAX Week.” Our work is not sustainable without your support. Getting to 200 total subscribers is the next step. If you value what Wedge LIVE! adds to the local conversation, please subscribe on Patreon.

    You can send a message that you’re serious about us doing serious coverage in 2018. Seriously!

    Did you know 32% of the Wedge LIVE! audience is millionaires? That’s what Twitter says. Twitter don’t lie. So pony up, cheapskates. It’s time to Wedge to the MAX. Subscribe today!

    Finally, a sincere thanks to all our existing subscribers! You’re amazing. Anyone who says people won’t support hyperlocal news with real dollars is a liar. (And if Carol Becker is reading this, I want to make it clear that not a dollar of subscriber money was spent on my vanity write-in campaign for Board of Estimate and Taxation. Call off the lawyers, Carol.)

    Next Step for New Minneapolis City Council: New President

    Minneapolis City Council c/o 2017 with Mayor-elect Frey (in crown)

    Our municipal elections are over and the biggest story nobody can see happening is the race to become president of the Minneapolis City Council in 2018. Newly elected members won’t be sworn in for two months, but the behind the scenes discussions, jockeying and waffling is happening right now. Four years ago, in 2013/2014, we didn’t get the full story until late January, weeks after it was officially settled.

    The process for electing the new council president is by majority vote of the 13 members of the new city council in January following an election. Once elected, the president has the authority to assign council members to the various committees, and appoint committee chairs. This fact alone makes it an extremely powerful position.

    It’s the first big way our new council, with five new members, could change how City Hall operates over the next four years. In conversations with City Hall observers and insiders, two committees are often mentioned as particularly important centers of money and power: Community Development & Regulatory Services, chaired currently by Lisa Goodman; and Transportation and Public Works, chaired currently by Kevin Reich.

    Another thing to watch for in January: committees can be newly created, combined, or split apart. A combining of committees happened at the beginning of the last council term in 2014.

    Council Member Lisa Goodman won more power under the new structure. Goodman’s community development committee, which oversees the use of housing funds and steers economic development initiatives, now includes regulatory services.

    To give a hypothetical example of the kind of thing that could happen in January, “Community Development” could again be split apart from “Regulatory Services” with new chairs for one or both committees.

    For the sake of discussing how this could all end up, let’s begin by characterizing the existing council factions as “Team Barb” and “Team Not Barb” (both teams receiving their names courtesy of soon-to-be-former Council President Barb Johnson). Team Barb is the more conservative side of the council, with Team Not Barb on the more progressive side.

    Team Barb (8)

    • Kevin Reich
    • Jacob Frey (Mayor-elect)
    • Barb Johnson (President, defeated)
    • Blong Yang (defeated)
    • Abdi Warsame
    • Lisa Goodman
    • John Quincy (defeated)
    • Linea Palmisano

    Team Not Barb (5)

    • Cam Gordon
    • Elizabeth Glidden (retired)
    • Alondra Cano
    • Lisa Bender
    • Andrew Johnson

    After last week’s election, the council’s more progressive “Team Not Barb” will become newly empowered in 2018, adding the five new members listed below (which makes for a nine member majority on the council of 13):

    • Steve Fletcher
    • Phillipe Cunningham
    • Jeremiah Ellison
    • Andrea Jenkins
    • Jeremy Schroeder

    There’s no guarantee that this group holds together as a bloc exactly as listed above, but it’s likely that the new council president will emerge from among the incumbents in the new progressive majority. Of course there’s always the possibility for unconventional alliances, as when Alondra Cano disappointed many of her most ardent supporters by backing Jacob Frey for mayor.

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    Wedge LIVE 2017 Voter Guide: Minneapolis City Council

    This post comes a little late! But I’ve been busy volunteering for a candidate (you should be too!) Election day is Tuesday. This is your abbreviated Wedge LIVE! Voter Guide for competitive city council races in Minneapolis. (For a non-partisan voter guide please see our sister publication, MSP Votes.)

    Ward 1 Endorsement: Jillia Pessenda

    Pessenda is the credible challenger from the left. Got lots of endorsements, to the point I assumed at one point months ago that Kevin Reich was toast. Pessenda had more delegates than incumbent Reich at the Ward 1 convention. Pessenda believes Minneapolis needs more housing, and has said things that make me think she’s a real ally on zoning reform. Thinks that actually implementing the city’s Complete Streets policy will serve to reconnect Ward 1 to the rest of the city. Pessenda looks to be dependable ally for the Bender/Gordon wing of the city council when it comes to transportation, housing, police reform, and many other issues.

    Kevin Reich is a strongly pro-Barb Johnson (Ward 4) incumbent. Will vote with Team Barb on close votes. Has weird habit of using words like “grievable.” Reich doesn’t like it when you point out he voted for Vikings stadium subsidy. Barb sends him campaign donations from her own campaign account.

    John Hayden is the fiscally conservative, anti-Vikings stadium crusader in Ward 1. I’d rank him ahead of Reich but that’s because I sometimes enjoy him on Twitter.

    Ward 3 Endorsement: Steve Fletcher

    Fletcher is good. If you want an ideological model, he roughly fits with Lisa Bender. That means police reform, workplace protections, more housing, good on the environment and transportation (if you’re a fan of walking, biking, bussing). I was very impressed with his Q&A session at the Ward 3 DFL Convention and his performance at candidate forums. Read my longer endorsement of Fletcher here.

    You may be wondering why not Socialist Ginger Jentzen? I’ll just say I think her housing platform is unworkable and hugely counterproductive.

    Samantha Pree-Stinson is the Green Party candidate in Ward 3.

    Definitely do not rank Tim Bildsoe, who is an actual Republican.

    Ward 4 Endorsement: Philippe Cunningham

    I like Philippe Cunningham’s policy experience in the mayor’s office. Go with him. But certainly rank Stephanie Gasca too.

    Incumbent Barb Johnson is just relentlessly terrible. She thinks garage apartments cause prostitution. She spends campaign money on her cable TV, internet, and phone bills. She’s by far the most law-and-order, police-can-do-no-wrong politician in Minneapolis. Which I believe to be a bad thing. We all need to be done with Barb. We need Ward 4 to get it done.

    Ward 5 Endorsement: Jeremiah Ellison

    Ellison is DFL-endorsed which is an impressive thing to have done against an incumbent (nobody else did it this year). Ellison is an artist, which could be a red flag. But many people tell me he is incredibly smart. I saw him in person at a candidate forum, and that checks out. Politically gifted, which makes sense considering his dad is Keith Ellison. From a distance, I say he’s running an impressive campaign (which is a definite skill to be measured, considering all the candidates out there phoning it in).

    Ideologically speaking, Ellison lines up as an ally of the Bender/Gordon wing of the council, so if you like the sound of that, you should love Ellison. I’m optimistic and prepared to love him.

    Blong Yang is a close Barb ally, who looks feeble to me, politically speaking. He doesn’t show up to forums. Doesn’t answer candidate questionnaires. He lost the DFL endorsement. Yet still some people tell me he’s on track to win. This makes me less confident in my prediction that Blong is toast. Still, I don’t buy it. Blong Yang gives the appearance of a candidate who is running scared.

    One essential Blong Yang story: as chair of the Public Safety committee during the Jamar Clark protests, Yang engaged in a weird procedural move to allow racist police union president Bob Kroll to speak, while excluding dissenting views from the hearing.

    Raeisha Williams is also running in Ward 5. I’d rank her ahead of Yang.

    Ward 6 Endorsement: Mohamud Noor

    I have no reason to believe Mohamud Noor is a great candidate. I didn’t look very hard. Maybe he’s great. I do know he’s become the chosen candidate of Minneapolis progressives (Ilhan Omar, Ray Dehn, other state senators and representatives,  Mayor Hodges, and others) who think Abdi Warsame is a dick. And Abdi Warsame legitimately seems like a dick, so that’s good enough for me. Vote Noor.

    Ward 7 Endorsement: Janne Flisrand

    Janne is a friend of mine. But you should still believe me when I tell you, Janne is amazing. She has run a truly impressive campaign. One of the smartest, hardest working people I’ve ever met. Has a genuine talent for bringing people together to accomplish big things. She has all the skills you’d want in a leader. Read my full endorsement of Janne here.

    Lisa Goodman has a well-earned reputation for favoring her wealthiest constituents and big business. She was hostile to action on the minimum wage and workplace protections in the last council term. Goodman is a Barb Johnson ally, and is an opponent of police reform. Lots of people are afraid of Lisa Goodman, feel bullied by Lisa Goodman, and are ready to see Lisa Goodman go away.

    Ward 9 Endorsement: Wedge LIVE is not getting involved in Ward 9.

    Your choice is between incumbent Alondra Cano and “guy who was the Ward 9 incumbent four years ago” Gary Schiff. I refuse to help you decide! Just don’t vote for Mohamed Farah, the GOP-funded. Minneapolis Works! candidate.

    Ward 10 Endorsement: Lisa Bender

    Obviously, we’re bringing Lisa Bender back for another four years. She’s smart, she’s committed to doing the right thing for the most people, regardless of power dynamics or the political cost to herself. I really admire Lisa Bender. Read my full endorsement of Lisa Bender here.

    The other candidates in Ward 10 turned out much weirder than I could have imagined in 2017. Saralyn Romanishan, the person who runs the zany NIMBY Facebook page decided to run. She compares city government to Hitler and genocide, among other atrocities. She once called an equity plan put forward by the city a “pogrom.” Though in her defense, I’ve often questioned whether Saralyn knows what words mean. (Read a selection of Saralyn’s horrific commentary over the years.)

    I served with Saralyn on the Lowry Hill East neighborhood board. She didn’t even get along with people who agreed with her. She took on a lot of responsibility and was incompetent at most of it.

    Here’s the really beyond the pale disqualifying stuff: a friend of Saralyn’s once threatened my girlfriend with an anonymous email; this person put my girlfriend’s name, description, and location in a Craigslist ad, inviting strangers to come visit her. How have I determined the source of this anonymous threat? Because Saralyn’s friend was stupid enough to reference, within the anonymous email, the particular private disagreement I’d had with Saralyn just days before.

    My message to you: don’t support terrible people with stupid, malicious friends. Don’t rank Saralyn on your ballot.

    David Schorn is another candidate of questionable quality. He shares Saralyn’s anti-everything ideology without the maliciousness. Though he did show up to a protest where people held signs comparing bikers to Nazis. If you want to rank your ballot defensively to avoid Saralyn, I’d put Schorn second.

    There’s a third challenger in Ward 10 who is a Republican who has said many jaw-droppingly racist things at candidate forums, and I’d rank him ahead of Saralyn too. Which I feel like I could defend morally, if I took the time to write four or five more paragraphs.

    Ward 11 Endorsement: Erica Mauter

    I really like Erica Mauter for a few reasons and you can read that full endorsement here.

    Jeremy Schroeder is also great. With enthusiasm I say rank him second.

    Ward 11 Endorsement: Erica Mauter

    Conventional wisdom says incumbent John Quincy is a goner in Ward 11. The Star Tribune would not have endorsed against him if they thought he had a chance of surviving this election. Which means Ward 11 will likely have a new city council member come 2018.

    I’ve been observing Quincy’s challengers all year long, and I believe both would immediately become excellent council members, and clear upgrades over the incumbent.

    What separates Erica Mauter from most other candidates is her willingness to say true things that are hard for people to hear. That’s a big reason why Ward 11 voters should make Mauter their number one choice on November 7.

    Mauter has been the most bluntly honest about the need for reforms that chip away at the exclusionary zoning practices that keep small and midscale multi-family housing out of single-family neighborhoods (her support for triplexes and easing parking minimums earned her the rebuke of the Star Tribune editorial board). You also see this political courage when Mauter very directly makes the case for equity to the largely white residents of Ward 11.

    One thing that all the council candidates I’m endorsing this year have in common: they are courageous and impressively wonky. Erica Mauter checks both boxes. I’ve seen it myself and I hear it from others. People I respect who work side by side with Mauter on policy issues tell me she knows her stuff and works hard, standing out from her colleagues. She has lived up to this praise when I’ve seen her in person at candidate forums.

    Jeremy Schroeder is the other challenger in Ward 11. You should rank Schroeder second on your ballot. He is an excellent candidate and has run an impressive campaign.

    Ward 7 Endorsement: Janne Flisrand

    This one goes without saying. I’ve been a Janne supporter from the beginning. But it’s important to make it clear one last time before election day: Ward 7 would be very lucky to have Janne Flisrand working for them.

    You should go read Janne’s website for her policy positions. I won’t bother telling you how I’m on board for all of it. I’d rather focus on Janne’s personal qualities and her tremendous capacity to make those positions a reality: whether it’s on affordable housing; police reform; protecting the environment; and creating a transportation system that works for people, not just cars.

    I know Janne pretty well. She’s someone I rely on to help me understand the way our city works, and all the ways it could work better. I’ve watched her campaign up close for the last year. I believed in Janne last November when she started; after watching her campaign for all this time, I am in awe of what she’s built and the people she surrounds herself with. She works freakishly hard every day; she lifts people up, supporting and inspiring them to do big things; and there’s no issue she can’t figure out or help you understand better.

    Janne has no special affinity for politics for the sake of politics. She doesn’t want to be council member, she wants very much to do the job of council member.

    As I say, Janne works incredibly hard. She pays attention to details. She’s prepared for everything. She has a stubborn, persistent refusal to leave anything to chance. This has a downside: the Janne campaign team is exhausted right now (though exhilarated). The upside: Janne is ready to get some stuff done as a council member. And she’s proven herself uniquely qualified to build the coalitions that make progress happen. Ward 7 shouldn’t pass up the chance to vote Janne as their first choice for city council.