A take on the R.T. Rybak years from Mark Oyaas, a gentle critic

As R.T. Rybak’s 12-year term as Minneapolis mayor comes to an end, Mark Oyaas — a public affairs consultant and lobbyist, and life-long Minneapolis resident — looks at the mayor’s legacy through the lens of  baseball ratings.

The mayor, he believes, belongs in the City’s Hall of Fame, but maybe not on the first ballot.

Oyaas, who’s been a friend of mine for more than 30 years, wrote this at the request of the Journal, which ran an edited version as part of a longer piece on report cards from civic leaders grading Rybak’s tenure.

Some excerpts:

Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on Mayor Rybak’s three terms in office. While I understand that you would like to format the piece around letter grades I am hesitant to do so. History will have the final grading responsibility, as it always does in these matters. An easier analogy for me is percentage rankings like those one finds in baseball.

As a mayor, RT will end up in the hall of fame. He leaves office batting over .700 in terms of popular support, the statistic he covets the most. The citizenry wants to feel good about Minneapolis. No mayor, including Humphrey, enjoyed this level of popularity at the end of their term. Mayor Rybak’s Hall of Fame seat is a fait accompli. 

The achievement is even more incredible given his percentages in the various statistics that comprise the art of mayor-ing: Civic Accomplishment, City Services and Intergovernmental Relations. Overall RT is a slap hitter, will take a swing at anything that catches fancy. He has governed by sound byte and press conference which often gets him on base (at least .333). The problem is most of his efforts have been left on base. Too often the Mayor has been picked off, distracted by illusions like Washington Boulevard. By any measure his North Minneapolis Initiative deflated when RT’s hot air ran out. It takes a lot more than a cruise on a Nice Ride to address the public safety fears in the core and our neighborhoods, but there is no photo op during the long hours and tough struggles to get our cops properly supported and deployed.

For purpose of illustration here are some clips from RT’s highlight reel in the various categories:

Civic Accomplishment (instilling pride in place):

RT will long be remembered as the “show time Mayor” and this should be his strong category. Clearly he deserves all the credit for “The City of Lakes Loppet,” a spectacular celebration of our city’s natural resources and zest for activity. It is a grand week of fun enjoyed thoroughly by the upwardly-mobile Patagonians he so aims to please. Mission accomplished. The lakes crowd won’t shed any tears that he also presided over the last Holidazzle and that unless there is a miracle the Aquatennial will be sinking like a bad milk carton boat entry before it sees its 75th birthday in 2015 …

Civic Accomplished career average, .250

City Services:

Candidate Rybak came into office on the promise of throwing open the doors and windows of city hall so that the people could better understand city finances and ultimately shed light on the funny money, like the city’s parking fund. RT wisely kept city CFO, Pat Born, a Sayles Belton appointment, in place and brought Lee Sheehy and Mike Christiansen, both also closely identified with the outgoing mayor, into the fold to lead restructuring of planning and development functions. Rybak ignored many voices — internally and those with experience in the community — and made unpopular choices for Police and Fire Chiefs. It seemed their unique qualification was sharing the same barber/stylist as the mayor, this proved out with short and unsuccessful tenures. 

As the years went by the Mayor stuck with his promise for financial reform relying heavily on Born’s leadership and Council allies Barbara Johnson, Paul Ostrow and Betsy Hodges. The efforts included both pension reform and a hiring freeze. …

During his last term RT boldly took a City budget roadshow into many neighborhood and civic group meetings. He suffered the slings and arrows of those outraged by soaring property taxes and deftly shielded himself by deflecting much responsibility onto the state. In this subcategory of services called financial responsibility RT had managed .900 until the great football stadium caper of 2012.Without major revision of the public’s share of the stadium financing there will be serious shortfalls on the City’s ledger trying to juggle payments for the stadium, Target Center renovation and maintain the existing Convention Center on one small sales tax meant for the convention complex alone.

The bulk of city service delivery has muddled with little or no improvement under the Rybak watch. Snow plowing is still an art better delivered in every surrounding community.

City Services, .310

Andan even shorter excerpt:

Intergovernmental Relations:

The role of big city mayor has changed. Resources for municipal services are shrinking. Mayor Rybak has responsibly handled nasty cuts in local government aid, relying largely on property tax increases. Many observers of the legislative process feel Minneapolis took more of a burden than warranted due to the City’s poor image among legislators. This mayor did not create this condition but clearly there has been little improvement.

Intergovernmental Relations: .100 …

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