Barb’s hip hop rendition of “Please, please, please let’s add more parking to the Wells Fargo.”
Andrew Johnson: Social Justice Warrior
Two members of the Minneapolis City Council have expressed serious concern over what they see as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources pushing special land-use restrictions that would protect the proverbial backyards of certain unnamed elected officials. The comments were made during a June 9 Zoning and Planning Committee discussion about new rules for the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area. The MRCCA is an area along the Mississippi River subject to “special land development regulations that protect and preserve unique natural, recreational, transportation, and cultural features.”
Council President Johnson called the DNR’s proposal “distressing” and joked that she’d like to make a special deal to protect her own backyard: “If I could carve some stuff out too, I might do that.” The area in question—half of Nicollet Island and an adjacent area encompassing Boom Island Park—includes the homes of State Rep. Phyllis Kahn and former Minneapolis City Council member Diane Hofstede.
Council member Lisa Goodman said she was “outraged” and described the DNR’s proposal as “last-minute changes made for political purposes to provide downzoning and protections for elected officials and their families and not anyone else.” She added that the DNR’s map “boundaries make absolutely no sense” other than as a political favor: “There’s no other explanation for why half of Nicollet Island would be in a further-protected area in the middle of our central business district.”
|City Council members suggest the DNR is attempting to “downzone” the area in yellow as a favor to the elected officials who live there.|
One consequence of the DNR’s proposed map would be a restriction on building height that conflicts with the city’s current code. Nearly 50 properties currently zoned R5 would fall under an MRCCA maximum height of 35 feet, far less than the existing Minneapolis zoning which allows for 56 feet.
Both Johnson and Goodman expressed a strong desire for Minneapolis to maintain “flexibility” and independence on land-use decisions, with Johnson citing the benefits of “billions and billions of dollars worth of investment” along the river in recent years. Goodman worried it would create another layer of zoning confusion for residents: “Our zoning is what should prevail and not some DNR-imposed fake rezoning that would give people some sort of feeling like we’re going to be capping heights and development and distance from the river.”
A draft response to the DNR proposal written by Minneapolis planning staff notes the area in question contains buildings which are already taller than the proposed limits, and points out this is an urban center designated by city policy for future growth. The letter says it would be “short-sighted to designate this area long term as low density residential” and requests the area be reclassified to match adjacent “urban” districts.
In addition to feedback from the city on these new rules, the DNR is accepting comments from the public until July 6, 2016.
|2015 Minneapolis City Council fundraising|
Minneapolis City Council campaign fundraising disclosures were due on February 1st. The Star Tribune ran an article about Council fundraising on February 5th. Council President Barb Johnson filed her report on February 8th. As a result there’s not a single mention of Barb in the story. Pretty clever, Barb, but your tricks don’t work on Wedge LIVE.
(Full disclosure: Andrew Johnson–noted jack-o-lantern and “Friend of the Show”–was also late with his filing, but he was quoted extensively in the Strib story).
In 2015, Barb spent nearly $5,000 on cable TV, internet, and three personal phone lines, as she does every year (total spent by Barb on these personal expenses since 2010 is $26,000). None of her Council colleagues spend money on those kinds of expenses. It’s also notable that the Police Officer’s Federation of Minneapolis gave max donations to both Barb and Blong Yang within 24 hours of the sham Public Safety Committee hearing Yang held on December 2, during the Fourth Precinct shutdown. Here are the five City Council members receiving donations from the Police Officer’s Federation of Minneapolis in 2015:
It may shed some light on internal Council politics that Barb’s campaign made donations of $250 to all of her colleagues on the Public Safety Committee (Yang, Reich, Warsame, Palmisano) except for Cam Gordon. Though you have to think Cam might have turned that money down.
|Barb’s 2015 expenses.|
Wells Fargo had their appeal granted at the Zoning & Planning Committee yesterday. The vote was unanimous to allow the new Lake & Humboldt Wells Fargo to exceed the parking maximum by eight spaces–for a total of 25. As a condition of the parking variance, the bank will need to commit to sharing their lot with the neighborhood or a local business during non-banking hours.
The parking maximum is lower than it otherwise would be, because the site is located in the Lake and Hennepin Pedestrian Oriented Overlay District. This calls for a more pedestrian friendly environment, which includes smaller parking lots. A drive-thru, similarly prohibited by the district, was allowed by the Planning Commission last month.
One neighbor, concerned about street parking, was there to testify that biking and busing for a bank employee or customer is “unrealistic.” She called out a collection of working-class heroes by name and described how they drive 2-3 miles to work from Linden Hills (camera pans to the brave faces of Adrian, Marsha, and Georgianne, presumably parked next to Michelle Obama). Not very shrewd of these folks to eschew a 13-minute bus ride in favor of enduring the daily Uptown a-park-olypse. (I enjoyed her testimony. Watch the video below.)
I can’t understand the argument that a bank will bring parking disaster to the neighborhood. Banks are open during banking hours. Banking hours coincide with the time of day that many residents, even non-bankers, will have driven their cars off to work and parked them in someone else’s neighborhood. Council Member Lisa Goodman seemed to be thinking along those lines when she asked the Wells Fargo representative what their plans were for the empty lot during off hours. Answer: keep it empty.
@MattyLangMSP @nickmagrino Saw a pedestrian taking out money from the drive-through ATM the other day. Would’ve made a great photo.
— Anders (@imboande) January 4, 2016
Council President Barb Johnson made the social engineering argument, saying we shouldn’t use the parking maximum to “force people to use a particular form of transportation.” I should remind you that Barb had no problem forcing people build more parking when she weakened reforms to parking minimum regulations last year. And then there was her usual anecdote about how hard it is to find parking on her Uptown shopping trips. You may remember last year when Barb griped about that one time she had to walk a block and a half in Ward 10.
Despite approving the extra parking, the committee was largely in agreement that this is a pretty terrible project for this location. “It needs density, it needs more than one story, and there’s way too much surface parking,” said Andrew Johnson. Lisa Bender described the sentiment she hears from the neighborhood association as a question of “how do we get this project to totally change into a different form that’s not a single story building surrounded by surface parking?” It’s too late for that. Uptown is stuck with this over-parked, single-story, drive-thru bank for decades.
Minneapolis Police cleared out the protesters from street in front of the 4th Precinct this morning. Below is an account of the public hearing that was carefully orchestrated to justify it.
Yesterday, the Minneapolis City Council’s Public Safety Committee took up the seemingly routine procedural matter of amending their meeting agenda. Council Member Palmisano–with a wink and a nod from committee chair Blong Yang who represents the area that includes the 4th Precinct–proposed they allow public testimony regarding the ongoing protests occurring in front of the 4th Precinct over the shooting of an unarmed man named Jamar Clark. This last minute addition to the agenda made it practically impossible to give testimony on the topic unless you were already present for the meeting.
Fortunately for opponents of the 4th Precinct protest, committee chair Blong Yang (and presumably others on the committee) made sure to invite a specially selected group to give testimony painting a uniformly negative picture of the protest (complaints of traffic, parking, crime, smoke, drugs, drinking, etc). The committee’s lone voice of dissent was CM Cam Gordon, who worried “if we take up this topic now, what about people who would have come if they knew they had an opportunity to give public comment and may not actually be here now?”
And surely those folks would have come, because on November 19th a group was turned away by the City Council and prevented from giving testimony on the very same topic. They were denied a chance to speak because it would have meant bending the rules. That’s fair enough and all according to the rules, whether you agree with it or not. But you couldn’t blame Cam Gordon for being “especially surprised” by yesterday’s “last-minute decision to open time up and to be addressed by the Police Federation president and a few, seemingly forewarned or invited residents.”
The man from the Police Federation whom Gordon singles out, is Lt. Bob Kroll. As a union president, Kroll is duty-bound (perhaps understandably so) to push the idea that his fellow officers are innocent of wrongdoing in the shooting death of the unarmed Jamar Clark. But Kroll has been particularly outspoken, using his platform not just to defend cops, but to go after the protests themselves. Speaking of the 4th Precinct protesters on television, he said that “we need to silence that vocal group of activists.” On talk radio he called the 4th Precinct protest a “local version of Benghazi.” That Yang’s committee would elevate the already well-amplified voice of Lt. Kroll, while going to great length to exclude dissenting voices, is disturbing.
Kroll, who is infamous for accusations of racism and brutality, called for Yang’s committee to “pull your mayor back and quit mis-micro-managing the police department and let people with experience on how to remove unlawful protesters in.” Before adjourning, Chair Yang indicated he was ready to forcibly end the protest: “I think we’ve taken a really good tact in terms of asking nicely, asking for voluntary removal. At some point it just has to be a little bit different than that because that tactic has not worked.”
There isn’t a rule against leaving an item off the committee’s published agenda and adding it at the last minute. I’m no parliamentarian, but there’s probably not a rule against stacking the room with your supporters, inviting a controversial police union leader to testify, and using that one-sided feedback to justify heavy-handed tactics against a peaceful protest. While it may not be technically against the rules, it is “embarrassingly undemocratic,” as Cam Gordon put it. Forget democracy, it was just plain embarrassing.
Even worse is this detail from Gordon’s aide Robin Garwood, who recounts how Yang had previously rejected the suggestion of allowing public testimony at their committee:
“I actually asked the committee chair more than a week ago whether it might be fruitful to open up some time on the committee’s agenda for a discussion of the Clark shooting and related protests, and was told in no uncertain terms that that would not happen.”
Council Members Yang, Council President Barb Johnson and their allies are sending the message that protesters stationed in front of the 4th Precinct should not expect to receive a fair and open airing of their grievances in front of the City Council. Bending the rules of the established political process so shamelessly against protesters seems like the wrong way to go about convincing them to give up their civil disobedience.
I took Ward 12 Council Member, and recent jack-o’-lantern, Andrew Johnson on a historic walking tour of our very historic Lowry Hill East Historic District. He agreed that it is a beautiful neighborhood and that it should never change. Afterwards he sat for a series of softball questions in Mueller Park.
I was eager to hear his thoughts on Linden Hills. He described, with awe in his voice, that he’d never seen anything like the recent 43rd and Upton appeal at the Zoning and Planning Committee. He was particularly impressed with the Linden Hillers’ determination to blow through time limits and ignore repeated requests to wrap up. He remembered being surprised by a chant of “this is not what democracy looks like” in response to speakers being told they wouldn’t get a second try at the microphone (sadly, this was not captured in video of the meeting).
We talked about his proposed animal control ordinance, which is strangely controversial. He said his intention is to modernize a wide range of policies relating to animal care and shelters. According to Johnson, the existing policies are “cobbled together” and in need of overhaul. In formulating the proposal, they’ve held two public meetings and consulted with groups that advocate for the humane treatment of animals.
The proposal is full of potentially cumbersome regulations requiring pet owners to provide:
- Adequate food, water, and shelter
- Access to care, treatment, and transportation to veterinary care
- Appropriate space and exercise
- Access to care to prevent pain and suffering
We spoke about his legendary thirst. He claims he only used this giant mug one time on Channel 79 (implying that somehow I’m the weirdo for catching him). He took frequent sips from the comically large mug during our interview. After some examination, I believe he is telling the truth when he says it’s not a water pitcher stolen from a pizzeria. He emphasized over and over that he is still “re-hydrating” weeks after his Linden Hills experience.
|I let Andrew hold my pumpkin, he let me touch his giant mug.|
We talked about his Tweet-battle with home improvement icon Nicole Curtis. He renewed his challenge for her to release the disturbing emails. I got the impression he was prepared to take all the credit for running Curtis out of Minneapolis and back to Detroit, but he didn’t come right out and say it.
In response to a question about the recent setback for the Working Families agenda, he mentioned his hope that something could still be accomplished on sick time and fair scheduling, but in a way that accommodates some of what he sees as legitimate business concerns.
2015 Sexiest CM Alive pic.twitter.com/kOLYWoFQzl
— Wedge LIVE! (@WedgeLIVE) August 21, 2015
Coming up next in our Better Know a Pumpkin series: City Historian and Planner John Smoley(!).
|Smoley for President logo carved into the backside of Pumpkin Andrew.|
We’ll ask him: Why is our historic district so small? What does he have against Queen Annes? Did he really get his PhD in “Missile Silos”? And also, why isn’t our historic district bigger?
|Hypothetical logo for Barb 2017.|
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.
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 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.
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.
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.|
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
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.
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 $250 donation from someone listing their name only as the “Boegemann” (guessing it’s Dutch for “developer”).
Quincy’s fundraising haul for 2014 looks tiny. The real story: it’s interest accrued on funds left over from 2013. The legend: John Quincy wrote himself a check for 18 cents just to mock his future opponents; as a show of confidence, he’s prepared to wait until 2018 before lifting a finger to run for reelection in 2017. Show your support by writing him a check for 18 cents. Put “$.18 for 2018!” in the memo.
Johnson’s 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.
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.