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

Mpls. Council approves smaller tax levy increase

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: December 1, 2014 - 4:20 PM

The Minneapolis City Council has tentatively approved a smaller tax levy increase than the one Mayor Betsy Hodges proposed in her 2015 budget.

The council's Ways and Means Committee's budget subcommittee -- which is comprised of the entire council -- voted 7-6 to reduce the proposed levy increase to 2.2 percent. That's down from the 2.4 percent increase the mayor had suggested. 

Council Member Linea Palmisano had initially proposed to drop the levy increase to 2 percent, which would have amounted to just over $1 million. But Palmisano dropped her proposal to reduce ongoing funding for pedestrian safety work by $250,000, and the council voted to preserve the full amount of funding the mayor has proposed for a new Office of Equitable Outcomes. Palmisano had suggested dropping that amount by half. 

Cuts to the mayor's budget that were approved by the council include reducing the budget for a disparity study by $150,000, reducing funding for the city's Clean Energy Initiative by $75,000 and reducing Convention Center funding by $100,000.

The council spent Monday afternoon voting on a series of other proposed tweaks to the mayor's budget. The council will hold a final public hearing on the budget on Dec.10, before taking a final vote. 

Monitor finds particle violation on upper riverfront

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 26, 2014 - 8:55 PM

A state air monitor near the upper Minneapolis riverfront twice recently measured airborne particles at a level that violates the state standard.

The monitor is located is located on a rooftop just south of Lowry Avenue, and is sited across the street from a scrap recycling yard and its controversial metal shredder owned by Northern Metal Recycling at 2800 N. Pacific St.

Company President Stephen Ettinger said in an e-mail that he's been told that the state will need to evaluate about 17 companies.

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the wind was blowing from the direction of the yard on both Oct. 26 and Nov. 1, when the violations were recorded. It said no violations have been recorded since.  

However, the agency said it is still analyzing the type of particles that were captured by the monitor, which has been operating since the beginning of 2013. It said the source of the particles is likely to be within one-quarter mile of the monitor. It said that multiple sources may contribute to the violation.

The agency said that the violation involves total particles, rather than the more worrisome fine particles that can be inhaled into lungs more deeply.  

The monitor was installed in response to community concerns about potential air emissions expressed when the agency decided in 2012 to modify the Northern Metal emissions permit, which a 2009 test showed that the company was violating.  There was no immediate response from the company.

Council member will push for lower tax levy increase

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: November 26, 2014 - 3:20 PM



The council member who represents Minneapolis' southwest corner says she'll propose a plan that would lower the total tax levy increase in Mayor Betsy Hodges' proposed 2015 budget.

In a newsletter to her ward, Council Member Linea Palmisano said the increase in property values in the 13th Ward --where there's been a considerable uptick in building permits -- means residents are facing a significant burden from a levy increase. The mayor's $1.2 billion budget calls for a 2.4 percent overall increase. 

"While I do think it's important to accept the inflationary and debt-payback portions of the increase, I am proposing specific strategies to my colleagues to lower the total levy increase," Palmisano wrote.

The council member said her plan focuses on retaining spending for basic services, including adding police officers. She backs the mayor's plan not to add funding for the arts, and did not commit to supporting additional funding for affordable housing, which has been urged by some advocates.

"I will work with my colleagues to employ any and all tools the City has available that will help those in need of affordable housing, while trying to decrease the total dollar amount of the levy at the same time," she wrote.

Council members will discuss the budget at meetings next week before holding a final public hearing and voting on Dec. 10. 

Yonis guilty of stealing Minneapolis park rental fees, jury finds

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 25, 2014 - 11:53 AM

Hashim Yonis, once a rising star in Minneapolis, is guilty of felony theft for pocketing soccer field rental money due the public, a Hennepin County District Court jury found Monday.

But the jury found that Yonis took less than $1,000, far less than the more than $5,000 the prosecution claimed. Jury Foreman Greg Auston called the prosecution's proof for the higher amount "woefully inadquate."

Yonis was accused of not turning over money collected from the organizer of a soccer league for weekend rental of Currie Park in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood last year. The presumptive sentence for his offense is probation and a stayed sentence of one year and one day. Prosecutor Susan Crumb said the ocnty will seek restitution of the money.

The 27-year-old North Side resident was running for a city-wide seat on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board when the allegations broke just before he filed for office.  He subsequently lost jobs  with both the park and school districts.

The conviction was a stunning reversal for a man that park Commissioner Scott Vreeland praised as a rising star even as he testified against Yonis.  Yonis had been cited for his accomplishments by both employers. Mayor R.T. Rybak took Yonis with him to the White House to tout a city youth jobs program, and President Obama embraced him as “my East African brother.” Yonis is a refugee from Somalia’s civil war.

Crumb argued that Yonis came to regard Currie as his turf which he could run as he sought, free from oversight. “That’s what happened to Mr. Yonis – too big for his britches,” she said.

Yonis, his voice burning with emotion, last week in his testimony accused Vreeland, a commissioner for the district including Currie, and another incumbent, John Erwin, who was also seeking one of the three city-wide seats in a 10-person field, of a political conspiracy against him. He denounced a 77-name petition filed against him with Vreeland over lack of Currie soccer field time for local East African youth teams as a put-up job. The petition included names and e-mails for Somali mothers who have a low literacy rate, he said.

Testimony did not mention the $3,000 that Yonis lent his campaign in mid-August.  Attorney Ira Whitlock, representing Yonis, sought to whittle away at the amount that the charge alleged, and poked at the credibility of key witness, Moises Hernandez, the organizer of a mostly Latino league, who said he paid Yonis in cash but got no receipts.

Susan Crumb said Yonis lied about when the payments started, and initially got Hernandez to lie. But Hernandez later said he or others paid Yonis weekly inside a small park building at Currie for the rentals. Worried that he’d be discovered not turning over cash, Yonis at last created a permit and turned in some money, and eventually told an investigator that more was in his office.

Whitlock argued that the Park Board forgave Hernandez more than $13,000 after he accused Yonis, but a Park Board supervisor said the alleged debt was an error. Hernandez testified that he has paid the park system some $16,000 in fees.


Bird activists call for new stadium leader

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: November 21, 2014 - 5:12 PM

A group of activists concerned about birds flying into the new Vikings stadium is protesting the stadium authority's purchase of glass that hasn't been deemed "bird safe."

The Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds met with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority this week, calling for the agency to recycle the millions of dollars' worth of glass it has ordered for the stadium and instead purchase glass designed to prevent bird collisions.

Michele Kelm-Helgen, the authority's chairwoman, said officials intend to work with the Audobon Society on a bird-friendly lighting design and other operational issues. But she told the citizens' group that the decision about the glass has already been made, and said there's not room in the budget for a second order.

"To suggest that we recycle that glass, which is specifically what they asked, just doesn't make any sense," she said.

The activists responded by calling for Gov. Mark Dayton to replace Kelm-Helgen. The governor issued a short statement Friday: "I believe that Michele Kelm-Helgen is doing an outsidenting job as Chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority."


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