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Daily Glean: Ramsey’s policy monkeywrenches recount

Some sort rejected absentees, some don’t; what’s a Canvass Board to do? Also: a whiter Minneapolis.

In the U.S. Senate recount, the PiPress’ Jason Hoppin notes only 56 of 87 counties are sorting rejected absentee ballots based on one of four rejection reasons. The state Canvass Board will consider all those doinked without cause, aka the “fifth pile.”  Ramsey County consulted a lawyer and has decided not to sort, which could throw the whole exercise into jeopardy. However, Minneapolis, Dakota County and Anoka County are making piles. MPR’s Tom Scheck says a dozen cities are also sorting. Such ballots are expected to help Al Franken.

As for Minneapolis’ “lost” 133 ballots, the search has stopped, Scheck notes. The Secretary of State cites precedent for using the machine tape when ballots can’t be found; the Canvass Board could decide the matter Friday. However, the Strib’s Mark Brunswick and Bob von Sternberg write that the Coleman folks have racheted up the rhetoric; Hoppin says they claim there are “other plausible explanations…despite growing belief the ballots are, in fact, missing.”

Franken has now withdrawn 1,058 of 3,280 challenges, while Coleman’s down 650 of his 3,375 with more coming, Hoppin notes.

Coleman’s Senate office has stiffed some national reporters asking whether they’ve been contacted about a Nasser Kazeminy DonorGate investigation, but the PiPress’ City Hall Scoop gets absolute denials.

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Late-breaking: Wal-Mart will pay up to $54 million to 100,000 Minnesota workers it screwed out of overtime and break time, AP reports.

AP’s Steve Karnowski says a lawyer emphatically denies a Minneapolis mosque’s links to terrorism, noting the Islamic faith prohibits such acts. Mahir Sharif told reporters families should get help from professionals and religious leaders at Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center. The mosque’s religious leader neither confirmed nor denied the flight of local men to Somalia, the Strib’s Chao Xiong notes. Sheikh Imam Abdirahman Ahmed was recently denied permission to fly to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.

Fox9’s Tom Lyden looks at oft-quoted Somali activist Omar Jamal, asking “advocate or alarmist?” Lyden shades towards advocate, noting Jamal was the first to speak out about missing men; one became a suspected suicide bomber. But he also comes from a tribe supporting the Somalia’s tattered, secular government, which many local Muslims oppose. They argue vehemently Jamal does not speak for the community. Lyden says that political conflict may be playing out here. More in his blog.

Reversing a long trend, Minneapolis has become slightly more white during the decade, the Strib’s David Peterson notes. Frustratingly, no number is offered. Minneapolis is among 17 of the top 100 cities to gain Caucasian share; St. Paul’s white population has slipped from 64 percent to 62 percent. Meanwhile, Brooklyn Center, 96 percent white in the ’80s, is now 49.1 percent people of color.

Local officials are skeptical of new Census data showing a minority surge in small communities, MPR’s Ambar Espinoza says. While absolute numbers have more than doubled in some places, bureaucrats say they haven’t seen a jump in who they serve. One theory is that some of the areas are growing so fast the overall percentages haven’t changed.

Mower and Dodge counties will trim property tax increases because of surging wind-energy revenues, the Rochester Post-Bulletin’s Tim Ruzek and Mike Klein report. Mower County, where Austin is located, expect double the production tax revenues predicted in September. The reason? Lots of new turbines. Some locals worry a deficit-plagued state will try to snatch the, er, windfall in ’09.

The PiPress’ Bob Shaw looks at city tax rankings; Minneapolis has the top rate while a bunch of townships are at the bottom. Minneapolis officials argue, plausibly, that big cities do more stuff; then again, St. Paul ranks 63rd. Interestingly, Minneapolis’ school tax is 51st, behind St. Paul (37th) and many other places with low city taxes. That will rise when the Mill City’s new school referendum kicks in next year. The data comes from the Citizens’ League.

The Twin Cities are flocking to mass transit at higher rates than the nation, the Strib’s Mitch Anderson reports. Ridership rose 6.5 percent nationally in 2008’s third quarter, but local use was up 7.4 percent. Gains continued even as gas prices fell, but buses are getting crowded and the system is (still) cash-strapped.

Denny Hecker’s empire keeps collapsing; his Advantage Rent-A-Car filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the Strib’s Dee DePass writes. She reports 22 sites closing; the PiPress’ Gita Sitaramiah says 21. Either 10 or 26 locations remain open. Sitaramiah lists closed locales including “Chicago O’Hare; Dallas/Fort Worth; Honolulu; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; San Diego; Seattle, Tucson and Albuquerque.” All told, 440 workers received layoff notices and 460 remain employed for now.

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Target shoppers have moved to thrift stores, writes the PiPress’ Andrew Cummins. Local Salvation Army sales are up 7 percent. Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota saw a 14 percent gain in November. But while shoppers’ status is up, the quality of donations is slipping.

The Strib’s Randy Furst checks in with the newly destitute at Hennepin County’s semi-annual Project Homeless Connect, as does the PiPress’ Lori Walter. Finance and Commerce’s Burl Gilyard previews anti-foreclosure legislation at the state Capitol.

Meanwhile, MPR’s Chris Roberts notes local holiday show tickets are selling well despite (or because of?) the economic gloom.

As expected, the Wolves fired Randy Wittman and demoted Kevin McHale from general manager to coach. The Strib’s Pat Reusse thinks McHale is still in charge; Secrets of the City’s Britt Robson disagrees.

Nort spews: As originally noted by the locally based Ballpark Digest, a Burnsville minor-league park is now kaput. But Minneapolis — facing massive local government aid cuts — will spend $2 million helping folks get around the Twins ballpark area. Longtime Strib sportswriter Dick Gordon died at 97; the paper’s Joe Christensen notes Gordon’s first scoop was golfer Bobby Jones’ retirement announcement … in 1930.