Tevlin: New council members take Minneapolis on quite a ‘joy ride’

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 28, 2014 - 8:30 PM

The new kids on the Minneapolis City Council are off to quite a start. Let’s recap:

They mandated ear plugs at music venues, banned Styrofoam and put a beating on the old image of Christopher Columbus.

They enthusiastically embraced “density,” except when they didn’t. They passed a moratorium on the building of McMansions. Then they voted to let it lapse.

The council gave a group hug to history by refusing to knock down some tippy-down pizza joint (“overarching Bohemian character”) for a hotel in Dinkytown. Then in a nod to “progress,” they promptly voted to tear down a marginally historic home that nonetheless gives poor people an affordable place to live, in favor of a cookie-cutter apartment building.

I don’t necessarily disagree, at face value, with some of their choices, except maybe the Dinkytown debacle. I was pleased to see some fresh faces and a diversity that better represents the changing city this last election.

But this is what you get in a one-party city, a kind of free-form street dance where everybody is moving to their own loopy tune. Can an amendment against a war in Ukraine be far behind?

It’s about enough to make a good Catholic boy don a hijab in public to make a point. Oops, I’m too late, Mayor Betsy Hodges already did that.

I just had to know what Cam Winton thought about the whole deal. Winton, a Republican, ran for mayor on bread-and-butter city issues like fixing potholes and better bus service in place of new streetcars. I guess ear plugs weren’t on his agenda.

“The new City Council members are acting like they just got the keys to their parents’ car and are taking their new governing powers for a joy ride,” said Winton.

“I like these people, we’re all about the same age,” said Winton, who met most of them on the campaign trail. “But it’s like they are just getting the crazy out of their systems.”

In e-mails, Winton challenged the council on its attempt to nullify Christopher Columbus Day. It’s not that he’s a big defender of Columbus, though.

Who is?

“I don’t care whether we celebrate Columbus Day or not. I care about governing within your powers,” said Winton. “We did not give the City Council the power to create and destroy holidays on a whim.”

Both federal and state law declare the day a holiday, so the city’s resolution to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day is “a feel good message for politicians and photo ops.”

Winton called his letter of objection to the city “the last straw,” after the other efforts that seem to be just a tad off the rails for a city council.

“I was just looking at it as a citizen,” said Winton.

As for the ear plug mandate, offered by newcomer Jacob Frey, many bars already offer them for a small fee. Anyone bothered by loud music can also buy them at the local drugstore.

At least the council didn’t try to pay for the ear plugs with taxes. Instead, a group of businesses will donate them to bars.

“But what’s next,” Winton asked, “requiring patio restaurants to provide sunscreen?”

Paul Ostrow used to sit on the council, another no-frills, pick-up-the-garbage kind of guy. I asked for his take.

“Because we are the largest city in the state and elected officials tend to be expansive in their views as to the role of government, the council often becomes the chosen ‘target’ for usually very well intended causes,” Ostrow said. “Sometimes it is a good thing — when we lead on issues of social justice for example. But it can be a bad thing as it distracts the council from more critical issues and costs the council credibility.”

“Also, there is a troubling trend not to publicly discuss the issues of greatest importance and potential controversy (the stadium, streetcars and the Ryan Development),” said Ostrow. “That same reticence to publicly debate critical issues is now transpiring as to the Southwest LRT. Openly debating these big issues is frowned upon and there is pressure to present a united front.”

Solid points.

But there was one potential issue I’d forgotten to mention to Winton: goats.

The council voted against hoofed animals inside city limits in 2011, but new members seem open to allowing goats to graze in the city, perhaps on natural grass roof tops, like in some cities.

Winton sounded excited.

“One of the main reasons I ran for mayor last year was to try to get more goats on our roofs,” he deadpanned.

 

jtevlin@startribune.com • 612-673-1702 Twitter: @jontevlin

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