City Hall is normally a sleepy place at midnight, but not on one day in August this year.
The city says it will open the building for marriages at 12:01 a.m. on the first day licenses can be issued to same-sex partners.
The law will go into effect on August 1, but the first weddings may not occur for several days because of a license waiting period. The city's statement about the occassion left the date unclear.
Mayor R.T. Rybak will even be there to officiate weddings, the city said in a statement.
The building is run by a joint board of the city and the county, known as the Municipal Building Commission.
NOTE: This post originally said the weddings would occur at 12:01 on August 1. It has been updated to reflect the fact that the exact date remains unclear right now because of license waiting periods.
On the heels of news last week that the city would allow on-street car sharing, one of the country's largest car sharing providers announced it would be dramatically expanding its Minneapolis operations.
Zipcar, which previously only had cars at the University of Minnesota, said Tuesday that it would place 40 vehicles in "convenient locations" throughout the city. The neighborhoods include downtown, Dinkytown, Loring Park, Northeast, North Loop and Seven Corners. See the new locations here.
The company plans to expand the fleet to even more areas of the Twin Cities later this year, and is "working with City of Minneapolis officials to establish on-street parking spots," according to a statement.
Zipcar was one of four companies that expressed an interest in the city's pilot program to park car sharing vehicles at on-street parking spots -- rather than merely parking ramps. A German company, Car2Go, said they would participate with a fleet of 250 cars.
A local car sharing company, Hourcar, will also likely be expanding its fleet when the on-street spots become available.
Zipcar vehicles cost $8.75 an hour to rent, or $72 a day, without a monthly commitment. For $50 a month, subscribers pay reduced hourly and daily rates.
Two men were walking to Mickey’s Liquor in north Minneapolis to buy a pack of cigarettes one evening last week when they saw a police car speed past them down Fremont Avenue.
“Oh, he’s after somebody!” joked one of the men, Jermaine Taris, as his friend Cory James reached into his pocket for some change. “Somebody’s going to jail tonight.”
He just didn’t think it was them.
The squad car quickly turned around and pulled up to Taris and James. The officer pointed a gun at them and ordered them to get on the ground.
Taris later told me that he put his hands up and asked what was happening, but the officer ordered him down again. They put him and James in separate cars in the liquor store parking lot on Plymouth Avenue. Taris saw something on the officer’s computer about a black male in a t-shirt armed with a gun.
By this time, a half dozen people had congregated outside of Mickey’s to watch as Taris and James were put in separate police cars. A third police car arrived. They waited.
I stumbled on the scene while driving down Plymouth Avenue, pulling into the parking lot after seeing the commotion outside. I asked the onlookers what was happening.
“They’re looking for a gun,” somebody said.
In a four-part series this March, the Star Tribune documented the scourge of youth gun violence and revealed that Minneapolis and St. Paul police have seized 8,000 guns off the streets in the last five years. Many of those guns came from north Minneapolis, which has seen children as young as three, five, and 13 shot to death in recent years. Parents and community leaders are pressing for the shootings to stop, and authorities have made it a priority to get illegally-held firearms off the streets
I lingered outside Mickey’s to see what would happen because it’s so rare to get a glimpse of how police tackle the problem – the department months ago rejected a request by my partner on the gun series, reporter Matt McKinney, to allow the Star Tribune to ride along with police officers as they made gun arrests.
This time, police came up empty. They didn’t find a gun on Taris and James. They didn’t even find warrants.
Instead, they let the two men go with an apology.
The officers drove away before I could talk with them, but Taris and James hung around, frustrated and embarrassed.
“They thought we had a gun – we were walking down the street minding our own business,” said Taris.
“Just because you’re walking?” asked a guy outside the liquor store. “Are you serious?”
“He had change and was putting change in his pocket,” said Taris, referring to James, “and the cop pulled us over talking about how he had a gun.”
“Racial profiling,” fumed the guy. “Racial profiling.”
Both men are black. Taris, 32, said he is studying graphic design at Minneapolis Community and Technical College while working as a retail associate at Kohl’s. James, 24, said he is a landscaper.
Sgt. Stephen McCarty later said while he couldn’t speak specifically about the case, “we try to balance public safety with not infringing on innocent people’s rights. But if we get a call with a description we’re compelled to check it out. And I think most people in the community understand that. We trust our officers to act in good faith in any situation.”
Taris acknowledged that the area suffers from gun crime, noting that he’s been robbed at gunpoint on Plymouth Avenue multiple times.
But he doesn’t know what to think anymore.
“I’ve never just seen people get stopped here without reason,” Taris said. “I’m more or less disappointed in the system.”
Car sharing is coming to the streets of Minneapolis.
The City Council on Friday signed off on a two-year pilot program that will allow several car sharing companies to leave vehicles at on-street parking spots.
City leaders hope that boosting the number of vehicles and bringing them out in the open -- shared cars now live in private ramps -- will convince city residents to ditch their own rides.
Transportation committee chair Sandy Colvin Roy said the expanded car sharing could begin this summer.
The original plan granted the on-street spots exclusively to German company Car2Go, which specializes in two-seat Smart Cars. Customers of local car sharing company HourCar, which has been seeking the same privilege for years, hammered city leaders on social media for shutting out the company from the on-street parking.
The grassroots campaign paid off. On Friday, Council Members Robert Lilligren and Betsy Hodges amended the pilot program to include multiple vendors. The other companies that had expressed interest were Hertz on Demand and Zipcar.
The companies have different models. Customers of Car2Go, for example, will likely be able to leave the cars in whichever on-street spot they wish -- allowing for more one-way usage. HourCar, on the other hand, will likely have specific spots designated around the city.
Colvin Roy said the companies will reimburse the city for use of the right of way, which will offset lost parking revenue. The details of that must be determined in the final contracts.
HourCar, which uses primarily Priuses, may expand to 70 cars. Car2Go, which does not currently have a Minneapolis operation, is proposing a fleet of 250 cars.
"This is a really huge innovation," said Mayor R.T. Rybak, who noted several cities that are outpacing Minneapolis on car sharing. "They're doing it at a scale that will work for this city. They're doing it at a scale that you know with a relative amount of certainly that another car will be there."
Car2Go charges a one-time sign up fee of $35 and $.38 per minute for the car rental. HourCar has several plans. Their "Freedom plan" costs $5 a month and $8 an hour for the car rental.
Mayoral candidate Cam Winton took his campaign to the streets -- literally -- on Monday, highlighting a pothole in southwest Minneapolis as an illustration of the city's poor street conditions.
The pothole press conference, which occurred in the middle of an intersection, fell within Winton's campaign theme of improving core services and reducing city spending on what he dubs "bells and whistles." Winton, an independent, is currently the only non-DFLer waging a substantial campaign for mayor.
After a social media push to find the city's "worst pothole," it was Winton's wife who spotted the doozy on West 38th Street and Zenith Avenue South (see picture below). Winton stood in it at the outset of his press conference.
“The quality of our city’s roads cannot be justified by just saying 'Oh it’s pothole season,'" Winton said. "We have a broader problem in that we have not spent enough money in maintaining the quality of our city’s roads.”
The city boosted spending on road repairs several years ago, but for years the Pavement Condition Index continued to fall (see May 2012 graphic below). It was 70 in 2010, down from 82 in 1995.
Things appear to be stabilizing, however. The PCI has stopped falling and a city official said recently that this is the second consecutive spring of better-than-normal pothole numbers.
Winton maintains that the figure should be closer to 80. He said city funding is too sporadic, noting that budget documents project that bonding for street repairs will fall from $22 million in 2013 to $8 million in 2017 (see page 19 here). He thinks it should be about $20-25 million annually.
Total street repair spending, which includes state and federal dollars, is expected to fluctuate up and down during the same period (see page 15 here).
“Currently the quality of our city streets is well below where it should be," Winton said. "It has been on a constant downward trend, except in the past couple of years when it has stabilized at a very low level.”
But how would he pay for it all? Winton listed a couple of targets for spending cuts, some of which could pose logistical hurdles before they get translated into cost savings. He wants to cut bike trail, public art and energy conservation spending, as well as merge a variety of back-office services with Hennepin County.
Most of the plan relies on the city-county mergers, which could include the city renting 911 services, Winton said. Just what services would be merged (Winton mentioned IT, human resources and procurement) and whether the savings would materialize remains unclear. Winton said he would challenge department heads to find $15 million in savings.
Cutting public art, meanwhile, would only free up between $400,000 and $600,000 annually in the city's budget. Winton conceded that public art spending is small-bore, but "it would not be intellectually honest to look at the way we're spending our capital funds and not note that we are spending that money on public art."
UPDATE: For the curious, here is Winton's own breakdown (via e-mail) of some of the potential cost savings from city-county shared services.
- Currently, city spends $99 million year on the basic structure of its service-delivery platform. http://www.minneapolismn.gov/www/groups/public/@finance/documents/webcontent/wcms1p-103502.pdf, page E4.
- Spending on City Coordinator's office -- which "[i]ncludes Human Resources, Finance, 311, Intergovernmental Relations, Communications, Neighborhood and Community Relations, IT, 911 and Emergency Preparedness" -- constitutes 8.3% of the $1.2 billion budget. 8.3% of $1.2 billion = $99.6 million.
- City could save money by paying Hennepin County to provide some of those services -- similarly to how Minneapolis and Hennepin County now collaborate on libraries, and the way St. Paul and Ramsey County collaborate on some services.
- For a sense of scale: city has approx. 4,500 employees. County has approx. 8,500 employees. Finding way to eliminate even just 100 positions (by not filling positions as people retire -- NOT by lay-offs) x $100,000/position/year (rough estimate of salary + benefits) = $10 million/year.
- I would challenge dept. heads to find $15 million in savings/year.
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