What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to baird.helgeson@startribune.com.

Posts about Politics and government

911 wait times in Mpls. expected to drop

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: October 24, 2014 - 3:43 PM

Wait times for 911 calls in Minneapolis should drop next year with the addition of four new dispatchers and new call processing software, the city’s director of emergency communications said Friday.

Heather Hunt, who earlier this year defended her department’s performance following reports of understaffing and significant delays in answering calls, said the city’s 911 system is “in a mode of continuous improvement and we still have much work to do.” In a meeting with a City Council budget subcommittee, Hunt said the additional spending proposed in Mayor Betsy Hodges budget will allow the department to make a few critical upgrades.

The proposal calls for the 911 budget to grow by more than 10 percent, to $9.6 million. In addition to four new dispatchers, the budget bump includes $150,000 of general fund money for a new call processing system and another $135,000 for phone upgrades. 

Hunt said those changes should help the city get closer to meeting a national standard: that calls be answered by 911 operators in 10 seconds or less, at least 90 percent of the time. Right now, the department meets that time standard about 85 percent of the time, though the current system the city uses to track calls doesn’t provide exact statistics. 

A staffing study this year suggested that 911 should add at least six more employees to meet national standards, but Hunt said the improvements to the software and phones should make the operation more efficient — which could mean that four additional employees will be enough.

The new phone system will link Minneapolis’ 911 operations with other emergency call centers in the area, while the new software will help dispatchers filter calls more quickly by guiding them through sets of questions.

“The benefit of this software is all callers will receive a standard level of care and questions won’t fall through the cracks,” Hunt said. 

The software upgrade should be in place sometime in the second half of 2015. By late next year, Hunt said, the city should be able to get a more precise idea of how close it is to meeting the national standard.

Meanwhile, a disagreement between 911 workers and the city over a new push to cross-train employees for multiple duties is headed toward arbitration. Hunt told the council she couldn’t comment further on the issue.

Parents at Hmong International seek principal, more stability

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: October 23, 2014 - 4:33 PM

By ALEJANDRA MATOS, Star Tribune

Parents at Hmong International Academy are demanding that the Minneapolis school district appoint a permanent principal that will stay for more than a year.

About a dozen parents marched a mile from the school to confront school leaders at the district headquarters.

They say they have had a new principal every year for several years now and want permanent leadership.

The lack of leadership represents a lack of interest by district officials to truly address the needs of the Hmong Community, parents said.

"Parents feel if there is always a change, it means the goals change, so they don't feel they are receiving the right support from teachers and the district," Mailor Vang said.

Once at the district headquarters, the district's top administrators, including chief executive officer Michael Goar, met with the group of parents for nearly two hours.

They demanded the district give the school a permanent principal and assistant principal who both speak Hmong and understand the culture. 

But one parent, who is African American, walked out, saying the school needs a strong leader, not just a culturally competent leader.

Goar said he wants to hear from more parents at the school. He committed to personally attending the next community engagement meeting in early November.

The demand to speak to Goar came after associate superintendent Laura Cavender left a school meeting 20 minutes after it started Thursday night.

The community was outraged, saying she disrespected the families, and questioned her commitment to the school.

One parent said he took unpaid leave from work to speak to Cavender, according to notes from the meeting.

"I sacrificed $700 worth of pay. She insulted me personally," the parent said.

Cavender and other district leaders apologized, saying it the early departure was a misunderstanding. Cavender said she did not know the meeting was called to engage with her.

"My heart is here and I'm here to do the work," she said.

DFLers press GOP for more evidence in Hayden inquiry

Posted by: Updated: October 22, 2014 - 4:43 PM

By Alejandra Matos

Staff Writer

Senate Republicans were pressed to present more evidence to support their claims that DFL Sen. Jeff Hayden threatened the Minneapolis School District to award a $375,000 to a community group with ties to his father.

A state Senate ethics committee deliberated for more than two hours Wednesday without coming to a consensus on how to proceed on an ethics complaint filed by the GOP. The committee, made up of two Republicans and two DFLers, could not pass a motion to dismiss the case because there was no probable cause.

The ethics inquiry stems from Star Tribune reporting that Hayden threatened to withhold state education money if Minneapolis school officials did not award a $375,000 contract to Community Standards Initiative, a group aimed at curbing the achievement gap.

Hayden's father, Peter, has represented himself as being a member of CSI, but insists he has never been paid by the group. 

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, says Hayden violated Senate ethics.

The committee heard testimony from both sides to determine if Hayden used his influence to steer a contract to CSI.

State Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, questioned Hann's reliance on the press accounts without doing his own investigation. 

"We are public officials. People can, and do, say all kinds of things about us," Lourey said.

He said Hann's complaint relied on an unnamed source quoted in the Star Tribune saying Hayden and Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, threatened to withhold funding if it did not award the contract to CSI.

"I did not call the school board because no one would say that on the record without a subpoena," Hann said. "I think they will have to be compelled to come, and say if that happened." 

City won't sue over Washington NFL mascot

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: October 22, 2014 - 3:31 PM

The City of Minneapolis lacks the legal standing to keep Washington’s NFL team from using its nickname when it plays the Vikings here next month, the city’s attorney said Wednesday.

City Council members had expressed interested in taking action against the team, which has been criticized by Native American groups and other organizations for its use of the Redskins nickname. The game will take place at the University of Minnesota, which has publicized its own objection to the use of the word.

City Attorney Susan Segal said that while her she and some members of her office “would like nothing better” than to take legal action to help force the team to change its name, the city has limited options. She told a council committee that a ban on the name could be seen as a violation of the First Amendment, and noted that the city’s civil rights ordinance does not apply to the University of Minnesota. 

Segal said it’s possible someone could launch a lawsuit on the basis that the use of the name violated rules about public accommodations, but that would have to be done by an individual who could claim that the use of the word created a hostile environment. 

“Unfortunately,” she said, “I think we’ve come to the conclusion that the city itself does not have a cause of action against the team that is likely to be successful. In some ways, we are about the worst plaintiff you can try to (use) for an expansion of law in this area.”

New uses for the city's upper river

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: October 13, 2014 - 9:58 AM

The Park Board in August took public comment on its plans for a Marshall St. NE property it bought on the Mississippi riverside, which includes a warehouse.

MPLS couldn't help but wonder if the Park Board was contemplating a new revenue source for its cash-strapped parks when the following summary of a citizen comment appeared in the board's minutes, presumably as a typographical error: 

"Shannon Weed, 60 Logan Parkway, asked how a storage whorehouse in the proposed location would support the above the falls plan."

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