G.R. Anderson Jr.
City Pages Staff Writer - Musings from Minneapolis City Hall and Beyond



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  Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Changing of the Blog

This is my old weblog; the new one can be found here.

10:34:07 AM    

  Thursday, March 20, 2003

Free Speech and Public Discourse During Wartime, Take One

Driving to work today, heading north on Lyndale Avenue, approaching Lake Street. Big black Hummer H2, brand-spanking new, with its war totally on, pulls out from a parking meter right in front of me. Never even sees me.

I'm quelling my rage when I notice the vanity plate. (Don't they all have vanity plates?) This one reads, quite ominously, "UR NEXT."

Ooh, that's very scary indeed. But what does it mean? Is it perhaps a message to Iran, or Syria, or North Korea? Will this gentleman's Hummer lead America to victory over the Axis of Evil? Or will he continue to buy big black Hummers until the evildoers give up?

Or is it just a friendly warning to our fellow motorists, giving the heads up that soon they too will be cut off by a big, black Hummer?

Either way, I found this absurd and, somehow, profoundly disheartening.

2:34:12 PM    

  Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Want War, You Got It: Plus, Fleischer Finally Makes a Call for Americans To Sacrifice--Uh, Hey, Wait! What?

This just came via e-mail from our editor Steve Perry, with the subject head, "it begins."

This is LONDON

19/03/03 - War on Iraq section

The war has started

By Robert Fox, Defence Correspondent and David Taylor, Evening Standard

British and American troops were involved in fierce fighting near Iraq's main port today as the war to topple Saddam Hussein began.

The firefight broke out near Basra as men of the Special Boat Service targeted the strategically vital city and the oilfields in southern Iraq.

At the same time allied troops were flooding into the demilitarised zone on the Iraqi border with Kuwait 40 miles away to take up positions for an all-out invasion.

Etc, etc. So, now we know. It's probably not such a good mission for me, either logistically or mentally, to keep a minute-by-minute account of the war here. And it's certainly not necessary. In fact, I think my wartime slogan for this blog should be: "Your Very Last Source for What the Hell is Going on Over There." At the very least, the war is well beyond the scope of this blog.

But what's going on over here is quite a different story--and it's hard to ignore. And there's so much info out there, maybe we could stter each other towards this or that or the other thing.

At the very least, I did want to point out one thing from Ari Fleischer's press conference this afternoon, which I watched on Fox News, because I was mesmerized by the now-irrelevant countdown clock (7:07:24 ... 7:07:23 ...) in the corner of the screen.

(And while we're at it, here are the archives of Fleischer's press briefings from the White House. These seem to be as accurate as any other transcripts out there, surprisingly.)

Anyway, at some point Fleischer finally fessed up that for the war to be successful, Americans are going to have to learn to live with sacrifice. A White House reporter pressed Flesicher on that. (Paraphrasing for spin purposes here; the exchange can be found on the link above.)

Really? What sort of sacrifice? the reporter wanted to know.

Americans know what kind of sacrifice, Fleischer responded.

But the president has made no direct mention of sacrifice before, the reporter countered, especially not at the last news conference. Where has this kind of talk been from the President in the weeks leading up to this?

The President has spoken of sacrifice Americans need to make during wartime, Fleischer concluded, and Americans know exactly what's expected of them. Next Question.

Ultimately, this is one of the main reasons I'm against this charade. Never have the consequences been fully explained to the American public by the administration. Never has the real aftermath of war been mentioned by the White House. Never once, beyond "liberation," has the Bush administration explained, in real terms, what it plans to do once the entire region is destabilized by our bombs.

And that's too much to just wade into right here, with my head is hanging low with too many dark thoughts. But suffice to say there's a reason this hasn't been talked about much, if at all: The explanations are messy, expensive, and complex. Bad PR for the war. Duh.

More importantly, I will say that, no, Mr. Fleischer, Americans do not understand the kind of sacrifice this will take. Do you mean "surrendering" certain civil rights and liberties, like having your shoes and car searched at the airport? Or does it mean rationing our use of gas and oil? (Heavens no!) Or does it mean sitting in silence while our goverment bombs its way toward an irrevocable economic crisis?

Later in the press conference, Fleischer noted that "an overwhelming majority" of Americans are in favor of liberating Iraq. That may be true, but maybe that's because nobody has really defined the "sacrifice" required. 

Finer Point: Remember Turkey

Just quickly here. A lot of talk about the French, Russian and German motives for not playing along with us on Iraq. Not a whole lot about Turkey's motives for not allowing U. S. troops to hunker in the bunker there. I'm afraid it's because Turkey wants a little piece of the "liberating" action--another potentially very bad glitch in the U.S. plan.

Last night, ABC's World News Tonight reported that many Turkish troops were already stationed at the Iraqi border, ready to perhaps move in as soon as the bombing starts. (And, yes, I believe ABC News can sometimes be a good source in matters such as these, with a nice roster of experienced foreign correspondents and an anchor--a Canadian, for criminy out loud--who has a worldview unobstructed by American jingoism).

Feel free to e-mail me at granderson@citypages.com if you want to better inform me and keep me abreast of the Turkey situation. Wait, did somebody just say "Turkey breast?" Gobble, gobble.

1:36:10 PM    

  Monday, March 17, 2003

Dismantling the Minnesota Miracle, Vol. III: McElroy's "Shifts"

I've written before about the sea change happening now that nice, affable Tim Pawlenty is our governor. Why not make it a regular feature? Here's the latest installment.

Though it was reported last week, no one really gave much pause to reflect on the latest budget woes facing the state. I'm talking about the announcement from the state's budget czar, Dan "The Human Spreadsheet" McElroy, that Governor HockeyPuck's budget has some leaks in it, and McElroy was settin' out to fix 'em.

Nice summary from the Pioneer Press here, but I want to note these two points. The "shifts" (really, why not just call them "cuts"?) will include:

*Changing the rules for an income tax check-off so that taxpayers who
want to contribute $5 to election campaigns would have to pay that much
more in taxes, rather than having it paid by the state.

*Reducing another state-paid election contribution from $50 to $25 for
eligible campaign contributors. 

What this means, apparently, is the end of yet another era under Pawlenty's brief reign of terror. Elections experts and officials around the country have long admired Minnesota's "matching funds" mechanisms, where citizens could check off a little box on their tax returns, and the state would hold that money out of the tax coffers and "shift" it to the election coffers. Additionally, the state would pony up some cash in another state-money mechanism. The collected cash would be distributed among major-party candidates.

Both systems were nonpartisan, cheap and good for fair rules of democracy, allowing some money-strapped candidates (like Jesse Ventura) to float campaigns that might have been still-born otherwise.

More than that, one could argue that it encouraged citizen participation outside of an election season, and generally made people feel that the campaigns in Minnesota were perhaps a little less cynical than in other parts of the country. In short, it was a nifty little system, good for democracy. And now, apparently, it's gone.

12:18:15 PM    

More on Bush: "Scripted" gaffe continues

More on the Bush press conference from the New York Observer. Harping on this may seem precariously close to old news, given what is certain to be said by the end of today, but it's still worth noting that this story at least gets Ari Fleischer admitting he prepared list of congenial reporters for the President to call on.

And here's some nice stuff from the folks at Buzzflash on how certain media outlets "cleaned up" the President's comment.

And Big-Dog Ari meets the press the following day; thanks to this transcript on the White House web site, you can read it and weep.

12:07:45 PM    

  Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Bush Blows It With Ad-Lib Tongue Slip: Stick to the Script Mr. President

Finally, a little coverage of what I considered to be the two most offensive moments of President Bush's "news conference" from last week. I have been babbling to just about anyone who would listen about the "scripted" moment and the "faith" question for about a week, but waited in vain to see it in print.

Well, thanks to this New York Press story sent by friend and colleague Paul Demko, I have to wait no more.

The most disturbing thing about Bush's ramblings on how prayer gets him through the day was that it was the only time during the press conference that he seemed even remotely human--clearly Bush's blind faith stirs his passions far more than foreign policy issues. No surprise, I guess, but just another insight into why he keeps pressing impatiently for a war that even he claims he doesn't want. At least that's what he says.

(Just two weeks ago there was quite a piece in Newsweek about W.'s big committment to some new agey book of sermons that he reads, alone, every morning at five o'clock. Sure, George, be a man of faith, and even place your belief in the highest of Christian values--but just book of sermons? Fer crissakes, pick up the Bible once in a while.

And, the more I think about it, the real reason I can't stomach this "faith" thing from Bush and could take it from just about every other president, including Bubba, is that they were secularists. Even Reagan. Shrubbie is not. And that's the big difference between the two.)

At any rate, glad to see the "scripted" press conference is finally out there, and now we know why--as if there were any question--Bush "performed" so well.

11:55:25 AM    

  Monday, March 10, 2003

And You Can Wave Him Bye-Bye! Goodman Spills Beans About Smilin' Bob at Budget Hearing

The big news out of Minneapolis City Hall last week, as I wrote Thursday, was the proposed cuts to police and fire departments (resulting in at least 220 layoffs between the two departments), and Mayor R.T. Rybak's special hearing to explain how the cuts will help the city's budget woes. 

To no one's surprise, Rybak took a small shot at Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson, saying that Olson had not yet come up with a plan that met the mayor's satisfaction. (The two have had an on-again, off-again rivalry since Rybak tried to oust Olson more than a year ago.) Olson wants to lay off 230 cops, Rybak says 150 is his limit. Fire Chief Rocco Forte, on the other hand, put together a money-saving package that Rybak liked, with 70 proposed firefighter layoffs, and quickly. So, to summarize: Rocco good; Smilin' Bob bad.

But council member Lisa Goodman (Seventh Ward) dished a bigger scoop that day: Olson won't be police chief a year from now. How much say would the mayor have, Goodman wanted to know, in Olson's cost-cutting plans, since the chief likely wouldn't be around to deal with the subsequent fallout.

"You can have the discussion at a policy level," Goodman pressed Rybak. "But it's my understanding that the police chief is leaving in less than a year. Are you going to let him make these decisions on his own?"

(Rybak responded that he would be very involved in the process.)

Perhaps it was not a shocking tidbit, and many have anticipated Olson's departure in a good number of scenarios, but it's the first time I've heard it expressed so plainly by a city leader in a public capacity. Olson's exit, if Goodman was on the mark, will simply come when Olson's contract expires on the first day of next year.

And isn't that sort of anti-climactic? I mean, I could have seen Olson securing a spot with Governor Tim Pawlenty's administration, or perhaps leaping to some position with the U.S. Department of Justice, or just simply moving on to a bigger city with a bigger police department--all the while seeking revenge on Rybak for trying to fire him publicly, in the media, last winter. Then again, there's still time for Olson to wiggle out.

That the city wouldn't renew his contract wasn't such a forgone conclusion--despite animosity between the chief and the mayor, Olson does have some support on the city council. Apparently there's not enough to stick around.

Even so, Olson and Rybak are stuck with each other for now, during these money-grubbing, budget-slashing times when hardly anyone gets along on any major policy decision.

"I need to hear yes, you will have input, given that the chief won't be here January 1, 2004," Goodman concluded. "These are major decisions that he won't be around for."

Rybak acquiesced. "You are very right to articulate this," Rybak agreed. "The short answer is yes. Chief Olson and I will continue to meet to solve these challenges."

The question remains whether the work will be done quietly.

1:14:19 PM    

  Friday, March 07, 2003

Council Prez Ostrow: Bill of Rights Good Idea

One of the least contentious debates in Minneapolis City Hall in quite some time happened Wednesday afternoon at the city council's Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee meeting. First item of business was a resolution introduced by council member Dean Zimmermann (Sixth Ward), who does not sit on the committee, titled "Defending the Bill of Rights."

The resolution grew from various grassroots networks, including a number of neighborhood activists, defense attorneys and the main architect of the draft, an attorney named Peter Thompson. All parties are increasingly concerned about the far reaches of the Patriot and Homeland Security acts, and the newly introduced Patriot Act II, certain to be before congressional leaders in Washington any day now.

Relying heavily on the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and, smartly, the state of Minnesota Constitution (thereby framing any debate as a local issue), the resolution reinforces the liberties of "freedom of speech, association and press" and "privacy against unreasonable searches and seizures" along with freedom of religion and due process and the like. You know, your basic rights as an American.

The authors believe "these constitutionally guaranteed rights and liberties that are treasured by us are now threatened by" the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act. The two acts, among other things, grant the FBI access to the medical and financial records of individuals, allows searches without a warrant, and prevents the release of some records by the government that normally would be public under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Minneapolis resolution decrees "all city law enforcement agencies and personnel promptly report to the Minneapolis City Council and Human Rights Commission, to the extent legally possible, all instances in the city of Minneapolis, where activities, investigations, or proceedings have violated the fundamental rights and liberties enumerated above."

So, in other words, the resolution purports to let city employees know that they don't have to follow the lead of the Feds if they feel doing so would violate any part of the U.S. or state constitution. Well-intentioned, perhaps, but a pretty nebulous order. 

Seven Minneapolis council members signed on as authors of the resolution, including two, Scott Benson (11th Ward) and Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) who refused to vote for an anti-war resolution a few weeks ago. That this defense of the bill of rights had wider spread support on the council was, at first blush, surprising.

Even council president Paul Ostrow, who invoked his privilege as chair of the body to toss out the anti-war resolution (saying it was "not germane to the business of the body") without so much as a debate, was sold by attorney Thompson's presentation--and the testimony of nearly ten citizens in favor--in this case.

(The anti-war resolution had five authors: Zimmermann, Paul Zerby, Natalie Johnson Lee, Robert Lilligren and Gary Schiff, all of whom signed the "defense" resolution.)

"It's no secret that I've been the topic of conversation on what is or is not germane to this body," Ostrow admitted, referring to his anti-anti-war stance. "I do see the value in this. I continue to believe there are matters of foreign policy that the council should not weigh in on, but this is different. This directly affects city employees."

After some quibbling over grammar, and some half-hearted remarks about possible conflicts the resolution could create for cops by Deputy Police Chief Greg Hestness, the committee passed the resolution unanimously, to the applause of the 50 or so gathered in the gallery. The resolution goes before the full council next Friday, March 21.


In the hallway after the vote, Dean Zimmermann told me he was hardly surprised by the favorable response for the resolution. "This one had six other authors on it, so it would have been pretty hard to ignore," Zimmermann said, noting that even the police seem amenable to the resolution. "This is more specific, and carries weight as an actual directive to city employees."

Still, Zimermann admitted that the purpose of the resolution remains largely symbolic: "If every city in the country stands up to this and says, 'Hey, we're talking about our civil liberites,' then we've got something."

Shout-Out: That letter writer "Eskit"

One of the more befuddling complaints lodged against me came from a one-named Minneapolis missive-artist that ran in the 2/26/03 issue. Don't know much about Eskit, though I understand he's a good character and such. But that doesn't matter. The point is the premise of his letter strikes as defensive at best, perhaps even faulty.

The issue is that in a recent story I referred to Zimmermann as "far left." Eskit takes issue with this characterization, saying it implies "inflexibility." Well, no, Eskit, it doesn't. At least not to me.

From what I can see, Zimmermann is very much like the guy portrayed in the letter; he also is fighting from the left for issues he cares deeply about that others on the council won't touch. I don't believe that makes him an extremist, and it certainly doesn't imply that he doesn't work well with others.

When did "far left" become an insult? It's depressing to me that a supporter of someone who is "a Green, or a dissenter, or a truth-teller" would buy into the myth of "centrist politics" spewed by nearly everyone from the two status-quo parties these days. 


12:56:43 PM    

  Thursday, March 06, 2003

Hizzoner: Those Are Not My Hands on the Cover of CP

Okay, well, as Jim Anchower sez, it's been a long time since I rapped at ya. And I'm sorry about that, and there's a million reasons for it, but I've been warned by my archnemesis Brad Zellar that any excuses would be "unseemly," so I'll just skip that for now. On to bigger and better things.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak convened a special meeting in the council chambers today to address inevitable cuts to the police and fire departments and to explain to the city council how this would affect the 2003 budget. It was standing-room only in a way not often seen at city hall, since a number of cops and firefighters were there to witness, as one of them called it, "the funeral."

To my surprise, Rybak began his address by referencing City Pages, specifially the cover story from this week, which I happened to write. Mostly, Rybak seemed concerned about explaining to the city's employees that while he thought the cover was "funny," he did not pose for it.

In fact, it's a question that I've encountered more than once over the last 24 hours, and apprently even some of the mayor's staffers thought for a New York minute that the Mayor had actually bundled up in the latest homeless-wear, put on his begging face and shook an empty cup at a CP photog. This is not the case; the cover is a photo illustration.

The mayor later told me that he really liked the cover, and I actually believe him; he didn't seem to be acting tough for my sake. But we both remarked how funny it was that people thought he might have posed for such a picture. But in a way, I think now, it does say a lot about public perception of Rybak. What it says exactly I'll leave up to you--I'm not sure myself.

Anyway, I want to write more about this tomorrow, but Rybak concluded his opening remarks by left-handedly praising the story, but made it clear that he disagreed with its premise. "We are not broke," Rybak told the council and those assembled. I disagree, now more than ever after the meeting, but let's get into that another time.

Finer Point: City Leaders v. Local Media

Rybak took his little swing at CP. He also doubted the veracity of the number of police layoffs cited in the Star Tribune's story from Wednesday. Council Member Dean Zimmermann lamented that police, fire and public works get labeled "basic services in the media, as if everything else in the city's budget is just a frill." Another city staffer wondered aloud in the hallway why camera crews for the local news stations have to be so pushy.

What gives? Why all the anti-media sentiment all of a sudden? Aren't we all in this together? I know I've reached new lows in my popularity at City Hall when the biggest compliment I get about City Pages all day is from a Minneapolis homicide cop. And, no, he didn't get permission from the communications department before we talked. But he did tell me that Rybak showed some police officers the cover this morning and laughed. "But," he said to the cops, "I did not pose for the photo. Those aren't my hands."

Shout-Out: City Hall Stribber

Scoop of the week has to go, unfortunately, to Rochelle Olson, who covers city hall for the daily Star Tribune. She finally put two and two together and got zero as far as funding for the city's new library, a story so damn obvious that I feel stupid for not having seen it myself. Though I'm not above envy, I'm also not beneath offering praise for other folks who cover the same turf as I do. Props to Rochelle.

2:49:21 PM    

  Monday, February 17, 2003

To Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances: A Phone Call from the New York March

My good friend Jacob calls me Staurday, about 1:30 p.m. CDT. He's on a cell phone.

"The cops rerouted us around 50th Street, and sent up back up to 70th Street, and then broke us up," he says, exasperated. "They won't even tell us why. They just mumble something about 'threat to security' and turn us away.'"

I am concerned as he tells me this, huffing a little, short of breath from some righteous walking. Was I naive to not expect this sort of call, one that I consider disturbing enough so as to ruin a perfectly good Saturday afternoon?

We chat a bit about how, court injunction against organizers gaining a permit to march past the U. N. notwithstanding, the police are probably in violation of the First Amendment. I believe they are anyway, and since I'm halfway through a Bloody Mary, I tell Jacob that somebody should sue the goddamn mayor for allowing this to happen on his watch. Jacob's ensuing silence lets me know I should get a grip.

"Look, at the very least, we've got to stop this bullshit about public safety neutering our constitutional rights," I say. Jacob agrees, so I grab my pocket edition of The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. It came into my possession from a source recently, and I've taken to carrying it around with me. I think everyone should do this. Very handy.

(I have, as of this weekend, also taken to wearing a "God Bless America" button, adorned with an image of the flag, on my winter scarf. I do this without irony or jingoism or religion. I do this to stake my claim and save my ass.)

"Amendment I," I say over the cell phone connection, hoping Ashcroft's minions are tapped in, surprised Jacob is even listening. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free excercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

I repeat this last part: To petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

"Shit," Jacob says. Or maybe I do. One of us does, anyway. We marvel at how powerful that rambling little sentence is. We wonder how many people lately have thought about what that damn amendment--the First one, mind you--really says. We wish that there was debate over kids having to say this in classrooms across the country, rather than whether the little brats should say "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Oh, the irony of that one.

"I dunno," I say. "Maybe it's the cops, maybe it's the courts, maybe it's Bloomberg, but somebody's violating your First Amendment rights today. That's what I think.

"Now, go around the corner, find a Staples or something, and go buy one of these pocket sizes. You need one."

Jacob agrees, and hangs up. I'm agitated, so I go to the stereo and play "Police on My Back," by the Clash. Take your position on Iraq, or the U.N., or even Hans Blix. I'm all for it. But somehow, suddenly, I'm more worried about New York City cops dispersing the peaceably assembled. Paranoid? Oh yeah. But that doesn't mean they're not out to get us.

I flip through the rest of the Constitution. Fascinating read, even repeatedly. Highly recommended. It ain't much, but it's all I got on a lazy Saturday afternoon, when I was decidedly not marching through Uptown.

Yeah, it ain't much, I think. But it is something.

2:25:56 PM    

  Friday, February 07, 2003

Blackie Redux: Lawless Explains His Pete Fetish in Cyberchat

Seems like only yesterday I posted a blog about Blackie Lawless defending Pete Townshend just a little to much. Oh, I know, the Pete/Kiddie Porn saga is sooooo old news by now, but just hang with me here.

The missive, as you may remember, came through a PR guy whom I've since been told has an incredible tenacity when it comes to offering C and D-list celebrities to media outlets, usually pestering on a weekly basis.

Well, the good folks who run the web site for USA Today aren't too cynical to turn down old Mark Morton, Director of New Media at Chipster Entertainment, Inc. No, sir. The Nation's Friendliest Newspaper bit on Blackie's bait, and offered a chance for online readers to "Interact With People in The News." 

Mr. Lawless does have some points, I must say, so shove it, "Tony" from "Montreal."

Here's the Spinal Tap moment:


Comment from USATODAY.com Host: Sorry, we've lost Blackie. We'll get going again in a minute.


You're welcome.

5:14:42 PM    

  Thursday, February 06, 2003

Rybak Flack: MPLS Not Communist Russia

It's so satisfyingly rare when front page news in the Strib is universally derided, but that's what happened today with the story about Mayor R. T. Rybak's memo to Chief Robert Olson that all Minneapolis Police Officers must receive approval from the city before they can talk to reporters.

The Strib quoted Lt. Mike Sauro saying the policy was "censorship." Tim Dolan, commander of the city's Fourth Precinct, similarly fretted. Former police spokeswoman Penny Parrish cited a case of blaming the messenger for recent "bad news" about the department, and concluded the policy wouldn't work. Mark Anfinson, attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association, said such a policy could lead to "propaganda."

So I called Laura Sether, Rybak's press secretary, and asked her how the city planned to make such bureaucratic tap-dancing feasible.

"The idea was not for every conversation to be approved," Sether claimed. "If there's a shooting or a melee, cops will talk to the press. This is not a clamping-down, communist-Russia sort of thing."

Sether said the "coordinating of communications" has been floating around city hall for a year, and that Gail Plewacki, herself a former cop and television reporter, had been hired specifically to oversee such streamlining. Under the newstructure, the communications directors for the Minneapolis Community and Development Agency--which is more or less morphing into the new Community Planning and Economic Development department--Fire Department and Police Department will now have to report to Plewacki.

Apparently this last bit rankled police spokeswoman Cyndi Barrington, who resigned after Rybak's directive went out.

Ah, yes, Cyndi Barrington (nee Montgomery). Her departure causes me just a little bit of glee, she whom I've come to believe legally added "Did Not Return Phone Calls" to the end of her name. Just this week I was thinking of posting an open letter to her, and to Chief Olson, right here in this very blog to beg them to return a lousy call from City Pages (well, okay, me) once in a while.

They are public servants, after all, and I am a member of the free press, and even though CP and the MPD ain't really on the best of terms, the least Barrington and Olson could do was try to fulfill their public duties. Until then, I would have reasoned, I'm going to have to keep writing stories that are riddled with accusations against Olson, with no chance for him to plead his case.

Then I wondered if Olson simply wasn't getting the messages, and maybe it wasn't even his fault he looked like he had something to hide. Am I being naive on every level here? Probably. But perhaps the rumors--that Barrington was often overwhelmed and sometimes disorganized or just plain disinterested in her job--were true.

(I often skipped right over Barrington and called the cops themselves, as any self-respecting reporter would do. Obviously I wasn't the only one. This was surprisingly successful sometimes, and I've got one or two good cops who don't necessarily feel the need to cling to the Blue Wall of Silence and its underpinnings. We'll see if that changes.)

At any rate, those days are gone with the Cynd, and now I look forward to having unfettered, constant access to the Chief. Just contact the city, and I'm good, right?

Well, no. See, I don't suppose things will be any better with the new "coordinated" communications, despite Sether's insistence that "this is what they do in just about every other major city we could think of," and, "St. Paul police have been doing this for 30 years."

Well, yeah, that's the thing. The St. Paul police spokesman, Michael Jordan, is probably about the best guy to have on the job. He's smart. He's almost pleasant. He appears to be interested in trying to be candid. And two years ago, he almost put me in touch with some St. Paul cops for a roundtable Paul Demko and I wanted to do. I faxed. I called. I followed-up. I pleaded. This went on for, oh, about nine months. And then, guess what? It didn't pan out. Never talked to any cops. Spokesman 1, lowly alt-weekly reporters 0.

There are bigger implications here than just dicking with a whiny little journalist. The Minneapolis Police Department has had a PR problem for 20 years. Increasingly, there is a lack of trust from the public, and, frankly, a lack of good cops on display. Police work is tough, and very rarely are we, as journalists or citizens, allowed to see this. Instead, we see the missteps and the brutality cases and the like.

This is too bad. But more to the point: Like it or not, these folks are here to serve and protect the public, not conduct their work in private. It could be argued that by creating and maintaining a distance from the public, whether by thumping suspects or not speaking to the media, police officers are failing to do what they are paid to do. Even if they're told differently by the mayor.

And these are rightfully paranoid times. Post-9/11, we've seen an erosion of civil liberties, but also the creation of what might as well be called a nationwide police state. Rybak's order only fuels this feeling.

Surely the mayor, himself a former reporter, understands this. Surely tonight he's thinking he made a bad political move. If he isn't, he should. Rybak may indeed be trying to cut fat and save the city money, but his role in all of this just looks dictatorial.

Sether told me the intention was to increase communication, not decrease it. And she told me to let her know if I had any problems with the new system--like, if a spokesperson didn't return phone calls--and she'd take care of it. Oh, and Barrington's job is open and has been officially posted. Any takers?  

Finer Point: Pawlenty Plays Tragedy Card

Governor HockeyPuck's State of the State address this afternoon was so full of banal inspiration, pious posturing and bizarre pop-culture references, I very truly, very nearly puked. Oh, and "Our state is awesome!" is your opening remark? Like, sweet, dude. 

Nevertheless, after counting his use of the word "courage" for what was at least the fifth time, I decided our good-natured guv could probably fare pretty well in a Dan Rather impersonation contest.

But the real reason I bring any of this up is because it went sort of unnoticed that the speech came two days later than it was supposed to. HockeyPuck reportedly moved it from Tuesday to Thursday out of respect to those who died in the Columbia incident.

How compassionate! How conservative! But couldn't one speculate that the real reason for the delay was to see if the U.S. ran off to war after Colin Powell's sideshow to the U.N. security council on Wednesday? That would have made for one hell of a speech.

Or maybe Governor HockeyPuck wanted more time to rattle the saber at the legislature on budget cuts, all the while moving the address closer to Friday, when he most certainly will start "unallotting" funding to programs and agencies all around the state. Oh, but that would be just too, too cynical from such a nice guy.

Shout-Out: Me, Me, Me!

The previous point was essentially made on Confederacy of Dunces, a new show on Radio K I appeared on last night. The University of Minnesota station is about to get a new overnight FM frequency, and Joel Stitzel has cooked up a decidedly not-right-leaning political roundtable concept. For now, you can listen every Wednesday night at 10 online.

Also: On Monday I promised to expound a bit on some Minneapolis City Council actions (or inactions) from last week. I said I'd dish 'em out piecemeal this week. I lied. I've been writing all week, but wrangling over what bits to put here and what bits to save for next week's print edition of City Pages. So, I'm a big fat liar, but it will all get out one way or another.  

5:57:36 PM    

  Monday, February 03, 2003

The Blog Is Back: Keeping a Promise I Never Should Have Made

Last week was especially consuming in the day-job, meaning I had to crank out some amazing, revealing, insightful prose to grace the print edition of City Pages. Sorry it was at the expense of this web log.

Anyway, it wasn’t long ago that I foolishly proclaimed my love for Minneapolis City Council meetings, and promised to run an update every other Monday, following the full council meetings that happen every other Friday. 

Well, easier said than done, but I’m a man of my word (and loose lips), so consider this the first of a bi-weekly column, much like the ones written at CP by Britt Robson on the T-Wolves or Brad Zellar on the Twinkies. I’m even thinking about giving it some kind of name, though nothing quite catchy and pithy enough has yet to strike my fancy.

The point is that the city council, rather than being a faceless institution, is made of real people who have personality quirks and belief-systems that are usually pretty interesting. When 12, or soon to be 13 again, of these folks, along with the mayor and various department heads and city staffers, have to work in concert, in public, the result is not unlike watching a live band, or an orchestra, or a sports team. So, my aim is to cover the city council like Zellar and Robson cover the local baseball and basketball franchises.

Having said that, last week was a high-intensity affair at city hall, and there’s too much to get into here. I’ll dish it out piecemeal this week.

Two issues are worth noting right off the bat, though. The council approved a five-year financial plan, which is supposed to address the city’s dire finances. And the council did nothing with an anti-war resolution, something floated, to no avail, by Paul Zerby (Second Ward). The council wouldn’t even hear the resolution at the full council meeting, as council President Paul Ostrow (First Ward) ruled it out of order, and the council backed him on an appeal 7-5.

But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t debate. The real action on the anti-war resolution came on Thursday, during a meeting of the council’s Committee of the Whole. These are ostensibly dress rehearsals, so council members can iron out wrinkles before Friday’s meeting. Tough talk often surfaces on Thursdays.

Last week was no exception. Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward), while saying she was against the city weighing in on foreign policy matters, spoke from the heart about her feelings about the war in Iraq. “I met my husband 10 days before he left for Vietnam,” she told her colleagues, literally choking back tears. “So don’t tell me how war can affect people on a personal level.”

Barret Lane, usually reserved to the point of being forlorn, also ratcheted up the rhetoric as council members argued about where the city can—and should—trim costs. Gary Schiff (Ninth Ward) and Dean Zimmermann (Sixth Ward) wondered aloud why the city was looking to keep putting more cops on the streets, when that money could be better used for development. “I don’t see why we need to keep throwing more and more money into police,” Zimmermann argued.

“My neighborhood, the Corcoran neighborhood, on Lake Street, from Cedar to Hiawatha, has the highest rate of prostitution in the city,” Schiff claimed. “We have a plan for that in our neighborhood. We don’t want more police to deal with it. We want development in the neighborhood.”

This spun Lane into exasperation, saying the five-year plan, and discussion surrounding these very issues, had been circulating for some time. “Where is this class-warfare argument coming from?” Lane asked incredulously, saying it was a little late to bring such issues to the table—the council had to act on the plan now. “Do we have no plan or a plan? The legislature is listening.”

The Lane launched into his own class-warfare counterattack, visibly trembling as he spoke, claiming that without some serious budget solutions, "the richest people will leave" Minneapolis. “We cannot serve poor people unless the rich people are willing to pay taxes,” Lane argued. “The people in the 13th ward are willing to do that, but they need to see a plan.”

There are greater implications and nuances with all the players in both of these debates, but that will become more apparent as the week progresses and I write more. Stay tuned.

Finer Point: NJL Flips Her Wig

Just last weekend, I was chatting with the husband of Fifth Ward rep Natalie Johnson Lee about the council member's upcoming trek to Washington, D.C., to give the official Green Party response to the State of The Union address.

“We’re gonna go with the braids on that one,” he said to me.

I understood this to mean that Johnson Lee, who has been known to catch a few eyes around city hall with her impressive collection of wigs, was going to our nation’s Capitol au naturel.

Apparently I was right, and apparently the mood stuck, as Johnson Lee wrapped her Health and Human Services report last week by, um, speaking baldly. “I just want to say, this is my real hair,” Johnson Lee said, shaking her short-braided locks. “Everybody’s been asking me if this is a wig, and no, this is it. This is the real thing.”

1:58:15 PM    

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