It sounds like a good way to fall asleep, but Council Member Andrew Johnson says reading the city code late at night has become a hobby.
Johnson scans the city's ordinances, looking for laws that seem outdated or irrelevant to modern life -- or potentially problematic for small businesses trying to start or grow in Minneapolis. He's singled out dozens of ordinances in need of fixing or removal, and has been introducing them, one by one, for action by the council.
In recent weeks, items Johnson has added to the agenda include amendments or repeals of ordinances that ban the wearing of hats in movie theaters, require licenses for juke boxes and govern registration for ice peddlers. He said some of the changes may seem small, but they can be a liability for businesses and for the city, should it try to enforce the rules.
"I look at it as a former programmer and (technology) professional: our city codes are much like computer code," Johnson said. "And the leaner and better optimized the code is and the more efficient it is, the better results you get."
Some of Johnson's proposed changes come out of conversations with business owners. He's working Mayor Betsy Hodges and City Attorney Susan Segal on a broader effort to revamp many of the rules governing business licensing and permitting, which some business owners have said are overly restrictive and burdensome.
Among them: rules that currently restrict signs for businesses, including murals. The city's regulations make it difficult for many businesses with space for and interest in painting a mural to do so, even prohibiting murals that depict scenes related to a specific business.
Johnson is also working to change regulations for secondhand shops, which often have to follow the strict rules for pawn shops. He said earlier changes for those types of businesses have helped spur development in South Minneapolis, including a booming district of antique and vintage shops along Minnehaha Avenue.
"They're creating good jobs and also contributing to our sustainability goals by reusing some really great products," he said.
Johnson said he plans to continue introducing more ordinance changes at future council meetings and said that work is "just the tip of the iceberg" for changing the way the city interacts with businesses.
The city is working on other changes, including more training for city employees who handle permits and inspections and is in the process of implementing a new software system that will help track work and permits done on specific properties. Segal said there's not a specific timeline on that work, but officials are continuing to take feedback on potential improvements.
"There's so much more to making sure we're as friendly as possible and encouraging businesses to be able to start in our city, and succeed and grow," Johnson said.