City Hall beat: A tale of two cities' different councils

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 23, 2011 - 7:33 PM

Much is made of the divide between the Twin Cities and the differences in the structure of their governments. Yet the cities both have male DFL mayors who are strikingly similar. The cities also have decisive, pragmatic, straight-talking female City Council presidents with political blood from their mothers.

In Minneapolis, Barbara Johnson presides over the 13-member council as her late mother, Alice Rainville, once did. In St. Paul, Kathy Lantry runs the seven-member council. Her mother is former state Sen. Marilyn Lantry, DFL-St. Paul.

The twin no-drama mamas (three daughters for Johnson, two sons for Lantry) represent working-class parts of their cities with modest single-family homes. They share an unimposing but direct style.

The two City Councils don't parallel each other.

The Minneapolis City Council once hotly debated for more than an hour which weeks to meet and which to schedule as vacation the following year. Debates on trash haulers, stadiums and anti-war resolutions could run for two to three hours with numerous attempted amendments. Committee meetings droned on even longer.

One longtime lobbyist used windy council sessions to nap from a prominent seat in the audience. No one made a fuss.

Another Minneapolis tradition: public lashings of department heads. Woe be unto him or her who cannot provide quick -- and favorable -- answers to council inquiries.

In St. Paul, things get worked out not in long public meetings, but in private meetings. Dissatisfaction with department heads is handled more politely or obliquely in public -- if not behind closed doors.

Brevity is the norm in St. Paul, where the council meets weekly and is often done in 10 minutes with the exception of high-interest public hearings.

A Minneapolis council meeting that ended within an hour would be astonishing. Council members must sometimes be reminded that they can speak no more than twice on a topic.

Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson

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