The Minneapolis City Council marked its last meeting of the year Friday with a flurry of actions that imposed a hiring freeze, regulated news boxes, approved a green roof for the Target Center and created a zone aimed at a cleaner, safer downtown.
Among the decisions:
• The hiring freeze, a response to expected cuts in state aid, starts with outside hires. It will be expanded within 60 days to internal promotions and transfers. But some jobs may be filled if they are deemed crucial. The freeze is intended to hold some jobs open so people who might be laid off because of the aid loss can apply for other city jobs. The city took a similar step in 2003 anticipating a major cut in aid, and didn't repeal that freeze until 2005.
• The council also took the unusual step of pulling a proposal out of committee over the chairman's objection, on a 7-6 vote. It then passed the news rack regulation measure on a 9-4 vote. The measure regulates the size, placement and appearance of the boxes that dispense publications.
Sponsor Ralph Remington said that people who are disabled, old or with young children find the boxes a hindrance, and some of the boxes are poorly maintained. There's broad council support for the measure, which takes effect late next year, but Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ostrow wanted to wait until his committee voted on fees in January.
The Star Tribune has raised objections to the details and cost of the proposal, particularly how the city plans to handle situations where companies want more racks to remain on a corner than the new limits allow. Mayor R.T. Rybak said the city will work with industry concerns; part of Remington's action directs city staff to develop a fair system with the industry by March 11.
• A $5.3 million reroofing of the Target Center that includes a vegetative main roof was approved as part of the city's environmental sustainability agenda. The new roof will absorb most of the precipitation that falls on it, keeping it from storm sewers and saving the city an estimated $10,000 annually in stormwater charges. It also will help diminish a "heat island" effect caused by conventional flat roofs, supporters said.
• Downtown is getting a special service district that the council authorized at the initiative of the Downtown Council. Businesses will be assessed $30 million over the next five years for added initiatives aimed at making downtown cleaner, greener and safer. The council granted approval after a majority of businesses petitioned for the 120-block zone and assessment; the district will expire after five years unless a new petition reauthorizes it.
• The council also approved a statement requesting a presidential order mandating changes in use of torture by the federal government. The proposal by Council Member Elizabeth Glidden makes Minneapolis the third U.S. city to approve such a stance. The Center for Victims of Torture is in Minneapolis.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438