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Minneapolis weighs tougher policies on conflicts of interest

Yeah, that system might need a re-working … Curtis Gilbert of MPR says: “Minneapolis is considering changes to its conflict of interest policy, after citizens raised concerns about the city's planning commission. Many members of the commission work in the real estate development industry and do business with the city. A report released Tuesday shows members of the commission recused themselves more than 30 times last year due to conflicts of interest. Commissioner Dan Cohen said that's a problem. ‘The city attorney has said these conflicts of interest are justifiable, because we would not otherwise obtain the services of qualified professionals,’ Cohen said. ‘In fact the opposite is true. By tolerating these conflicts of interest, we encourage them.' " When it comes to judging the better argument, it isn’t even a close call.

This has to exceed the senator’s fondest dreams … Public Policy Polling reports: “Al Franken's in good shape heading into his reelection cycle. Our newest poll finds 52% of Minnesota voters approving of him to 41% who disapprove. Those solid numbers are pretty consistent with where we've found him for most of the last year. One thing that may help Franken's reelection chances, on top of his own popularity, is the weak Republican bench in the state. The top choice of GOP voters in Minnesota to take on Franken is Michele Bachmann. 45% say they would like her to be their candidate with no one else even coming close — John Kline is at 19%, Chip Cravaack at 13%, Erik Paulsen at 11%, Laura Brod at 4%, and Rich Stanek at 2%. Bachmann fares equally strongly with voters in the party who identify as 'very conservative' (46%), 'somewhat conservative' (45%), and moderate (also 45%). The problem with GOP voters in the state wanting Bachmann as their Senate standard bearer is that she does the worst of anyone we tested against Franken, trailing him 54/40, including a 50/39 deficit with independents. Only 35% of voters in the state have a positive opinion of her, compared to 59% who see her in a negative light.”

As for Gov. Dayton’s tax proposal … Rachel Stassen-Berger of the Strib writes: “High-wage earners would pay $1 billion more in income taxes, all Minnesotans would pay sales tax on pricier clothing and homeowners would see $500 yearly rebates under Gov. Mark Dayton's budget proposal, released Tuesday. The sweeping changes would remake the state's tax system, taking some burden off property taxes and broadening the sales tax to more goods and services. High earners would pay more, the DFL governor said, to bring fairness to a system that favors the wealthy. Dayton said his goals are twofold: to generate needed revenue, but also to make the tax system more fair and better suited to an increasingly service-based economy. The sales tax would broaden its reach, but the statewide rate also would drop to 5.5 percent from the current 6.875 percent.”

At MPR, Martin Moylan says: “[W]ith more things taxed, Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans said the changes would bring in about $1 billion more each year. On top of the sales tax on big-buck clothing, Frans said the tax would also apply to digital goods, such as music downloads, and a wide range of services. ‘Motor vehicle repair, the lawn service,’ Frans said. ‘Most consumer services will now be taxed. What's tax exempt? Medical supplies, prescriptions, prescription eyeglasses, burial services.’ But Frans and the governor argue the vast majority of consumers will not pay more overall in sales taxes, because of the lower tax rate. … If the Dayton's sales tax proposal survives the inevitable efforts to scuttle or transform it, Minnesota would go from the seventh-highest sales tax rate to the 27th highest among U.S. states. It would join most states in applying sales taxes to clothes.”

The Reuters story on Gov. Dayton’s tax plan says: “Minnesota would join other states in overhauling its tax system, including Massachusetts where the governor last week proposed an income tax rate hike and a lower sales tax rate. Nebraska's governor proposed a plan to eliminate personal and corporate income taxes, covering the lost revenue by ending sales tax exemptions. Likewise Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal called for ending the state's income tax and corporate taxes with sales taxes compensating for lost revenue. California voters in November approved temporary hikes in the sales tax and in the income tax rates for the wealthy.”

How about a railroad car for your sweetie on Valentine’s Day? Mary Divine of the PiPress writes: “The Andersen Corp. in Bayport agreed last summer to store six Minnesota Zephyr dinner-train cars for 15 days. Fifteen days turned into five months. Now, Andersen says it is owed $250,000 by Zephyr owner Dave Paradeau and has been forced to turn the cars over to the Washington County Sheriff's office for public auction. The auction is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, at the rail spur area just north of the plant. ‘After five months, the cars have become an impediment to our business and must be removed,’ said Laurie Bauer, a spokeswoman for Andersen. ‘We've been very patient and have tried to help (Paradeau) out, but, unfortunately, it's just been too long.’ ”

Now the money will start rolling in … Jean Hopfensberger at the Strib says: “The Minnesota Gambling Control Board approved its second license for an electronic bingo game manufacturer Tuesday as it moves to ramp up electronic gambling to fund the Minnesota Vikings stadium. St. Paul-based E-tabs Manufacturing received a license to produce electronically linked bingo games that can be played by multiple players in multiple locations. Another manufacturer, Electronic Games Solution based in St. Louis, was approved last month to produce the bingo games.”

One of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s indicted aides has drawn a two-year prison term. Steve Schultze of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says: “Timothy D. Russell, a former aide to Gov. Scott Walker, was sentenced Tuesday to two years in prison and five years on probation for stealing more than $21,000 from a veterans organization Walker named him to lead. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Hansher imposed the sentence, saying he found insincere Russell's apology and acceptance of responsibility for stealing from a nonprofit chosen to administer Walker's annual Operation Freedom veterans picnic at the zoo. ‘There is also no true regret, remorse or repentance,’ Hansher told Russell. ‘I find that you don't even have any shame.’ Russell, 49, served as Walker's deputy chief of staff, housing director and in other administrative posts while Walker was Milwaukee County executive. Prosecutors say he did political work while on county time, although he wasn't charged with that. … Russell stole $5,000 from Operation Freedom on Dec. 31, 2009 — the first day he had control of the organization's bank account — according to Landgraf. Russell used the cash for two cruises, a political trip to Atlanta and to purchase Internet domain names for Walker's campaign for governor. Landgraf and Hansher criticized Russell for complaining in his presentence report that politics played a role in his prosecution through the long-standing John Doe investigation that led to charges against five others.”

So, in case you ever wondered, you can legally ride a Segway … bombed. Emily Gurnon of the PiPress reports: “Hopping on your Segway after you've had a few drinks is not driving drunk under Minnesota law — because a Segway is not a motor vehicle, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled. A Hennepin County man was stopped by police Feb. 4 and charged with driving while impaired after the officer saw his Segway drifting twice across the center line in the road, according to the court ruling made public Tuesday, Jan. 22. His blood alcohol level was 0.19, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08, the ruling said. … It was not the first time Greenman had been pulled over while on his Segway. The district court also dismissed DWI charges in a 2010 case against him.”

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Comments (7)

City planning, city councils everywhere...beware...

Cohen certainly sounds like one valid and valuable watch dog attorney.

Uff Dah Duluth:
Now I wonder about Duluth and do hope finger-on-the-power structure, like any Duluth city attorney has the same spirit of political correctness regarding development, planning, etc.?

Conflict-of-interest...will have to check this out, although am sure such fuzzy politics could never happen here .

Then again,"Seems like never a day goes by, but..." as my long dead Great Aunt Berta would say yes sir.

0.19 blood alcohol level is more than a "few beers."

Mr. Greenman clearly needs a chemical health evaluation due to his frequent arrests for impaired Segway driving. The Lawyers' Professional Respnsibility Review Board should evaluate whether this attorney is capable of practicing law due to frequent alcohol impairment. The city might want to investigate the bar that keeps serving a clearly impaired person. Mr. Greenman needs an intervention by family or friends.

You're reading a great deal

into a few sentences. Greenman was stopped twice while operating a device that is controlled by shifting one's balance, something obviously impaired by alcohol comsumption. There's no indication that his practice has been affected or that he was "obviously intoxicated" (the relevant legal standard) when the bar(s) in question served him.

Frequent?

Twice in two years is not "frequent." I hardly think an ethics investigation is warranted.

Two things come to mind

…regarding the Planning Commission and conflicts-of-interest.

First, most planning commissions are not.

Typically, they have little or nothing to do with any actual planning – as in, “What do we want the city to look like or function like in 20 years, and how can we make that happen?” For the most part, planning commissions are, in fact, development review committees. Most of their time is spent on the minutiae of development proposals, whether those proposals meet city goals, etc. It’s not completely divorced from actual planning, but the relationship between genuine planning and the activities of a planning commission is often tenuous, at best. Long-range plans for how the city ought to work, look, or feel are typically drawn up by planning professionals. Planning commissioners are generally not planning professionals, though I know one very capable woman in Colorado who was a planning commissioner in one community while working as a professional planner in another community. She is very much the exception.

In too many instances, planning commissioners are people whose livelihoods come either from something construction-related or from real estate development. The possibilities for conflicts of interest are virtually endless, and it’s a major flaw in the civic process of most cities/entities that have planning commissions.

Second, the value of “professional expertise” on a planning commission is highly overrated. My experience was that having non-professionals – that is, people whose livelihoods came from something not construction or development-related – on a planning commission was generally a positive factor.

The cities I served as a planning commissioner in Colorado had very strict policies regarding conflicts of interest – policies that sometimes went a little over-the-top, but that ensured that the public could see the commission was not “in the pocket” of development interests. That perception, it seems to me, is crucial in establishing and maintaining public trust in the whole development and approval process. To that end, in the cities where I served as a planning commissioner, developers were generally NOT chosen to be members of the planning commission. Developers were sometimes members of the city council, which usually has the final say on development proposals (it depends on state law, and I don't know Minnesota statutes in this regard), but the potential for allowing something ethically sleazy to get through the planning commission was far too obvious when commissioners were themselves developers.

While it’s helpful, even necessary, to have some understanding and familiarity with construction terms and processes, it’s not required that a commissioner be “in” the construction industry, or “in” real estate development, to make reasoned judgments about whether or not a particular project meets the relevant standards. Cities have, or ought to have, professional planners employed to make sure that development proposals follow the rules and meet the standards set by the city. Every development project has to jump through some hoops, so part of the task of a planning commissioner is to make sure those hoops are, in fact, jumped through, and to balance those restrictions against the knowledge that too many restrictions will often cause the developer to abandon, or not even make a proposal, regarding a particular project. That balance is part of the professional planner’s job, as well.

To those whose response to a failure to develop is “So what?”, I’ll just mention that stagnation is not usually a desirable trait, either in standing water or in human societies. Technological innovation, which Americans, in particular, are inclined to worship, often demands change in the physical environment, and those changes – if they’re to be beneficial to the people affected – ought to be planned, rather than simply dumped haphazardly in the public’s lap.

Finally, the sentiment or belief that planning commissioners need to be from the industries they’re supposed to be overseeing has an obvious negative effect on the diversity of planning commission members. Whether along ethnic or gender lines, planning commissions are often bastions of middle-aged white guys, with few, if any, minority or female members. Where that is the case, the affected jurisdictions often see negative effects as a result.

My personal bias is that conflict-of-interest rules in Minneapolis are far too lenient, and the planning commission not nearly diverse enough in viewpoint.

city comissioners , city attorneys; old snow balls or new?

Get it straight this time...Com. Cohen sounds like an attorney and the city attorney sounds like just another attorney and excusing recusing too often seems like a bad habit that possibly could be categorized as the highest and best use demonstrating poor planning?

Please, Rep. Bachmann,

run against Sen. Franken, so that the entire state has the opportunity to weigh in on your credentials and creed.