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

Posts about Politics and government

City Council draws laughs at improv show with Lisa Bender

Posted by: Maya Rao Updated: April 22, 2014 - 5:38 PM

The rookie City Council’s agenda involving goats, Styrofoam and earplugs in recent months earned Lisa Bender some ribbing Monday night during an interview interspersed with improv comedy at Bryant Lake Bowl.

“Forget everything you know about the City Council,” declared one actor. “This is Crazytown.”

Uptown’s newest council member went on stage with the Theater of Public Policy to tout her support for engaging more constituents, enhancing regional transit and paying attention to how development is built in Minneapolis – but not without some grilling about council priorities.

“I wonder, does that hurt Minneapolis’ image at some point?” asked host Tane Danger. “Do we look like we’re just silly to other people?”

Bender’s response drew laughter.

“This would not be my preference of the issues that we focus on,” she said. “I’ll just leave it at that.”

The mother of two said she represented a more open style of leadership in a ward where most people are renters.

“Honestly, it’s probably easier to represent the homeowners who are going to definitely be there in four years and who always vote … just kind of basically represent them the best I can and hope no one else will notice and sail through,” she said. “But that’s not my plan.”

When Danger joked about how many people see living in the city as a phase until the kids come along, Bender said she sees a lot of families with children in this part of town.

“Someone forgot to tell me that I’m supposed to move now,” she said. But, she added, Minneapolis is not doing enough to make the city “a really, really awesome place to live.”

Bender hit a lot of the right notes for an Uptown crowd when she talked about wanting to make the city more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists and increase affordable housing.

But she didn’t have a good answer when a woman in the audience asked how the council member would convince her husband to move out of U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s district into the neighborhood.

“I’m trying to get Jim Graves to open a hotel,” Bender joked, referring to Bachman’s challenger in 2012.

“What’s the sales pitch?” Danger pressed Bender.

“Why wouldn’t you want to live in Uptown? It’s such a great place,” she said, prompting one audience member to mutter that her response was lame.

In between her conversation with Danger, improv actors performed skits about being kicked out of Uptown after turning 30 and having to buy a home there to be allowed to vote.

Of course, there were plenty of goat noises, in a dig at the movement to legalize hoofed animals within city limits.

As she explained the importance of improving the transportation system, Bender revealed that she and two other council members recently sat for an hour and a half reviewing the wrong Southwest light rail plan sent to the city by the Met Council. (The correct one was supposed to arrive today.)

“Then we’ll all get back on track,” said Bender.

“No pun intended,” added Danger.

Could Minneapolis ban foam containers in restaurants?

Posted by: Maya Rao Updated: April 16, 2014 - 6:12 PM

Minneapolis could soon join dozens of other cities around the country in banning restaurants from offering food in foam containers.

Council Member Andrew Johnson will introduce an ordinance next Friday that would prohibit restaurants from using expanded polystyrene – commonly recognized as Styrofoam – in an effort to protect customers’ health and improve the city’s recycling system.

As Minneapolis considers how to be a “zero waste” city, Johnson said the foam is not economical to recycle.

“And frankly, it only delays the inevitable, which is that society is evolving away from Styrofoam completely,” said the rookie council member from south Minneapolis.

Johnson said the measure builds on an ordinance from the early 1990s that was not enforced.

The Minnesota Restaurant Association says it is unlikely to oppose the move, though some members have concerns about the January 1 effective date.

“Many of my members have reported back that they’ve already moved away from foam packaging,” said Dan McElroy, the association’s president.

The city currently collects recyclable materials from most residential buildings, while businesses contract with private haulers.

City recycling coordinator Kellie Kish said that if Minneapolis were to try to recycle Styrofoam, it would ask customers to clean the containers and put them in plastic bags.

But plastic bags are already the top contaminant in the city’s single-sort recycling program, she said, so doing that “would go against all of the education we’ve been doing.”

Photo: Taken by Flickr user mollyali, used under Creative Commons license.

Urban League Academy wins one-year reprieve

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: April 8, 2014 - 9:32 PM

The worst-performing alternative school under contract to Minneapolis schools for completing the education of students who have failed elsewhere will get only one year to show it can improve despite a show of force for a longer trial period.

Numerous board members and supporters of the Urban League Academy urged the board to give them three years to meet new district-devised accountability standard for alternative schools. Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson originally recommended that the contract be terminated, but changed that to one year.

The board defeated on a 5-4 vote a proposal to give the school a two-year contract. Voting for two years were Tracine Asberry, Carla Bates, Kim Ellison and Mohamud Noor, who proposed the longer term. Voting against two years were Jenny Arneson, Rebecca Gagnon, Richard Mammen, Alberto Monserrate and Josh Reimnitz.

The board's debate centered on the reasonableness of expecting improvement in one year and whether the district is providing sufficient assistance in making those improvements.

Johnson stood up for her staff's recommendation. She argued that alternative schools got their contracts because years ago, "They said, 'We can do it better than you can...When I get someone to do a contract for me, I don't expect to do the work with them."

"This is not the first time we've had a performance conversation with the Urban League," she added.

Urban League representatives argued that they get students who have attended multiple schools and have accumulated few credits late in their high school careers.  But other alternative schools that serve similar students show better results.

Publisher and league board member Al McFarlane pressed the board for a three-year contract with reasonable conditions built in.  Any length contract would be subject to cancelation, the board was told by General Counsel Steve Liss.

The decision came as the board has professed a desire to increase accountability throughout the district. But board member Tracine Asberry was critical that the standards of accountability are directed more outwardly at such schools than at the district's own schools.

All but one of the other alternative schools, which is expected to convert to a charter, were recommended for two of three year contract extensions.

Mayor Hodges responds to article about pothole disparities

Posted by: Maya Rao Updated: April 7, 2014 - 3:33 PM

Over the weekend, Mayor Betsy Hodges wrote in a Facebook post that different “service levels between one part of town and another are unacceptable,” in response to a Star Tribune article on disparities in how Minneapolis reports addressing complaints about potholes.

She said even before the story ran, she asked department heads to examine how they could “increase equity” in their departments. The mayor said that Public Works Director Steve Kotke is “committed to gathering the right to data to really know what's happening and where with streetlights, potholes, plowing and any other service we provide.”

Public works officials have said that data showing pothole complaints to 311 are addressed the fastest in the Southwest and Nokomis communities – where citizens make the most complaints – is because of differences in how crews file paperwork, and that the same resources go to all parts of the city. Records show that north and northeast Minneapolis saw slower times and made fewer repair requests with the city.

“This might be a question of how the reports are filed, but we need to know for sure and we need to get it right for North and for the whole city,” Hodges, who campaigned on making the city more racially equitable, wrote on Facebook.

In an interview today, Hodges said that 311 complaints don’t account for all that public works crews do, but that “the first step is to make sure we’re getting good and consistent data.” In looking at it services, she said the city should ask, “How are we measuring this, and how would we measure this if we wanted to look at equity across the city regarding this service?”

Some services are more driven by citizen complaints than pothole repair, such as fixing streetlights, according to Hodges and Kotke.

“It’s not a shock that people in wealthier parts of the city are complaining more than people who are in low-income parts of the city,” said Hodges. “And … to the extent that our work is guided by complaints, that our services are guided by complaints, we need to take a look at that.”

Bad weather strikes Mpls schools again

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: April 4, 2014 - 9:24 AM

It’s going down as the school year when Minneapolis can’t catch a break when it comes to the weather.

The district announced Thursday that it’s cancelling field trips on Friday that were to serve as the capstone for a week of extra work over spring break by students striving to get ready for state tests. Classes will go on at the 13 participating schools.

That’s right, the pending snowstorm is even cancelling part of spring break.

One reason the district gave for holding its Spring Break Academy was bad weather earlier this school year.  That cost students days of preparation for upcoming state tests. All students have lost six days of schooling to cold or snowy weather. Students in schools that aren’t air-conditioned also lost two work days during record heat during the first week of school.

This week, students participated in lessons that were intended to dovetail with trips to such venues as the Minnesota Zoo, Science Museum of Minnesota and the University of  Minnesota’s Raptor Center. Some studied wildlife habitat, for example.

There was no immediate explanation from the district on why it was still transporting students to spring break classes, but not to field trips.

[Update: MPS wants to ensure students are in school for the final day of Spring Break Academy to continue the positive momentum of the past week. Due to the predicted snowfall, MPS canceled field trips on the final day to ensure the safety of our students and staff members. Morning pick up and afternoon drop off routes are short and concentrated to local neighborhoods. Field trip routes, however, would have involved much longer distances and greater amounts of traffic. MPS decided to cancel field trips to minimize travel and reduce the amount of time students and staff members were on the roads.]  

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