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City Council members are biggest critics of new Minneapolis redistricting plan

Members of the Minneapolis City Council don’t like the newly drawn ward boundaries but voted to accept them anyway.

They also moved ahead on a plan to host public hearings about the financing for the Vikings stadium, with the sessions to be organized by four council members who oppose the stadium’s Minneapolis funding plan.

They also voted Friday to keep chickens out of Minneapolis schools.

First, the ward maps.

minneapolis ward mapThe new Minneapolis ward map

No one complained that his or her new ward boundaries would make staying in office more difficult, but several were not pleased that the income of residents was not given more attention. The new ward boundaries, they said, concentrate poor neighborhoods in a few wards, producing economic segregation and robbing wards of diversity.

“I am worried about what happens when people of low income are concentrated in one or two wards,” said Council Member Gary Schiff, who was also critical of the Charter Commission for establishing a Redistricting Group of citizens to be part of the line-drawing process. 

The two groups worked to create two or three wards where racial or ethnic minorities would have a better opportunity to elect one of their own to the City Council.  The two groups did not look closely at incomes.

“It’s a great rich diversity we have in the second ward,” said Council Member Cam Gordon, who said that his ward lost some of its diversity when the neighborhoods along Franklin Avenue were moved to Ward 6.

“I don’t like the fact that my diplomatic skills will atrophy,” said Council Member Don Samuels, adding that one of his “bellyaches” with the new Ward 5 map is the limited economic diversity.  “I don’t like that.  That’s my frustration.” 

Ward 5 lost middle-income population and added the Hawthorne Neighborhood in North Minneapolis but did not pick up much of the affluent North Loop.

“In order to create a minority opportunity, you’re also creating wards where there is no minority voice,” said Council Member Lisa Goodman, who says her Ward 7 is now much more white and affluent than before. “This is a much more divided city than we’ve had in the past.  The city only does well when all boats rise.”

“We will have 10 years to see what this does, but this is an economically segregated map,” said Council President Barb Johnson.

Stadium hearings

A group of four council members, all opposed to the city’s role in the proposed Vikings stadium, will begin working to organize at least one public hearing on the financing package for the plan.

Council Member Schiff proposed referring the stadium issue to several committees for study: Community Development, chaired by Goodman; Ways and Means/Budget, chaired by Council Member Betsy Hodges; and Inter-Government Relations, chaired by Elizabeth Glidden.  All, including Schiff, oppose the stadium financing plan.

“I’m not clear as to what you’re trying to do,” said Council President Barb Johnson when the item was added to the agenda under New Business at the start of the Council meeting.  “Are you just trying to get information?”

“The intention is to have a public hearing on the mayor’s financing package,” said Goodman. “The ultimate intent is to conduct public hearings.”

“The City Council shouldn’t be making decisions with taxpayer money by signing form letters,” said Schiff after the meeting, referring to letters signed by seven council members who support the stadium plan. “I think council members should be publicly able to ask questions of staff, and the public should be allowed to weigh in.”

The chicken debate

Citizens can put up their hoop houses, dig their market gardens, install an arbor in their front yards and build their farm stands, but they’d better not even think about sending their chickens to school. Chickens are allowed to be kept in Minneapolis with a permit, but they’re not allowed in schools.

Early on in the city’s Urban Agriculture debate, a group of students signed a petition seeking permission to raise “urban chickens.”  Always eager to encourage the youth of the city, some council members wanted to make those chicken dreams come true.

“It’s a great way to start our education of urban youth on food sources,” said Council Member Schiff as he proposed a detailed ordinance that would have allowed schools to house three chickens.

“I owned a chicken growing up.  I know how smelly they can be,” said Council Member Meg Tuthill, who was concerned about what would happen to the chickens during school vacations and weekends.  “It’s not the same as sending a bunny in a cage home with a student for a two-week break.”

“I wonder how many teachers in Minneapolis know how to take care of chickens,” said Council President Johnson. “This is not being thoughtful about the chickens.”

“Chickens and fowl don’t like change,” said Council Member Diane Hofstede, who did her research at Chicken Run Rescue, where she saw a rooster fitted with artificial feet after he was abandoned in Richfield and his real feet were frozen.

“What’s wrong with you people?” said Council Member Samuels.  “I’m probably the chicken expert on this board. I took care of the family chickens, so I have a lot of comfort with chickens.”

Samuels, for the record, favors sending chickens into the schools. He said doesn’t see three chickens in a school as a major problem that requires city staff research and hours of council discussion on the merits of the idea.

He also gave his urban colleagues a few insights on the birds:

“Chickens are not terribly smart. “It’s not like they’re going to make decisions to break and run or intimidate staff. Staff is going to be able to handle this. it’s not rocket science.”

“This is something that has to be well thought out,” said Council Member Goodman, who reminded her colleagues of Easter and all of the baby chicks and bunnies in Easter baskets that will later find their way to the Animal Humane Society.

“These are living creatures,” said Goodman, “We’re talking about living, breathing things.”

“I don’t have any big thoughts on this, but it seems like it’s not quite ready to go,” said Glidden. Her colleagues agreed, sending the idea back to committee for more staff research and discussion.

Two Cities blog, which covers Minneapolis and St. Paul City Halls, is made possible in part by grants from The Saint Paul Foundation and the Carolyn Foundation.

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Comments (2)

Ward 9 can be represented now instead of used for political gain

The changes to ward 9 might lower the median income of the district, but it also creates a logical geographic block as well as puts mid town people into one district instead of splitting up and diluting their votes as had previously been done. With these changes, Schiff might have to spend time representing and helping the midtown residents instead of using ward 9 as his personal launch pad for higher political ambitions. Now he will have to care about what Powderhorn and Phillips neighborhoods want instead of what looks good for his ambitious plan to challenge Rybak in a few years. Its like watching Tim Pawlenty when being MN took a back seat to presidential positioning and party politics. No wonder Gary Schiff doesn't like the new ward changes. He now has to represent the people of midtown and answer to their real life concerns which he finds so boring and irrelevant to democratic primaries.

Where Diversity Matters

The CMs want diversity within wards so they can play factions against each other to maintain their power. The new lines might put diversity where the power resides, on the Council itself.

I say government and politics would work better if each community of interest had a representative on the Council. One person cannot fairly represent every interest. The compromises necessary to good government should be made in public debate, not within the secret mind of each CM.