Civic beat: Council president spending questioned

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January 4, 2010 // UPDATED 8:40 am - January 4, 2010
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
Complaint questions campaign spending by council president

A longtime City Council member is set to face a three-judge panel this month over accusations that she misspent campaign funds.

In a complaint filed Nov. 18, 4th Ward resident Warren Kaari said his representative, Council President Barb Johnson, inappropriately used money raised by her campaign for such things as haircuts, dry cleaning and cable television and Internet service at her home. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 26.

Johnson hasn’t denied the spending. In a Nov. 2 City Pages article, she said campaigning is a year-round activity that produces the need for, for example, Internet service at home. Paying for haircuts, she said, makes sense when she has to appear at fundraisers.

Three administrative law judges will decide whether her stance is correct under Minnesota law. According to state statute, permitted political expenditures include paying for campaign staffers’ wages, communications, advertising and office supplies. Also allowed are “other expenses” that “are reasonably related to the conduct of election campaigns.”

Johnson’s hearing will occur a few days after another recently elected city government official faces a hearing of his own. Brad Bourn, to be seated Jan. 4 as the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s District 6 commissioner, has been accused of falsely listing endorsements from two Southwest Minneapolis legislators on campaign materials. Like Johnson, Bourn has admitted the activity, although he said that his campaign was mistaken in its actions.

Bourn’s hearing is scheduled for Jan. 20.


Park Board ballot issue not appealed

Deciding that it wouldn’t help tensions between the City Council and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board during a year when new members will be seated on both sides, the main supporters of a proposal to expand the independence of the Park Board have chosen not to appeal a judge’s ruling that their measure is unconstitutional.

“It didn’t seem a useful use of resources,” said former Mayor Don Fraser, one of five members of a petitioners’ committee representing the effort.

Fraser said the chances of winning on appeal seemed “modest,” while it likely would have led to a drawn-out process attorney Brian Rice said could have taken years. And with the strong defeat in November of a ballot measure that would have eliminated the Board of Estimate and Taxation, it seemed Minneapolis’ governing bodies already were set on a course to become more collaborative, Fraser said.

“I think everybody wants to aim toward good working relationships,” he said. “So appealing didn’t seem to fit into that vision.”

Rice, who said he still disagrees with Judge Cara Lee Neville’s decision to deny the ballot measure despite a 17,086-signature petition, was disappointed that some of the constitutional questions raised by the case now won’t be vetted.

“But you have to take into account practical considerations,” he said.


Erwin likely next president of Park Board

Newly elected at-large Commissioner John Erwin likely will be the next president of the Park Board. Erwin was the only member of the new board who at a Dec. 15 meeting expressed interest in the position, which will be vacated by current Commissioner Tom Nordyke after he lost his reelection bid.

Erwin, who previously sat on the board from 2002–2005, formerly served as Park Board vice president. That seat, currently held by Commissioner Mary Merrill Anderson — who also lost a reelection bid — likely will next be held by either Annie Young or Scott Vreeland, both of whom are returning members of the board and marked themselves as interested in the position.

Officer elections will be held at a Jan. 4 annual meeting.


Jobs available for 2010 census

In anticipation of next year’s census, the U.S. Census Bureau is hiring for positions throughout the metro area. Minneapolis’ office, in particular, wants to hire people from all neighborhoods whose backgrounds are diverse and who may speak multiple languages.

The jobs include recruiting assistants, crew leaders and census takers. All applicants must pass a test that involves critical reading, math and clerical skills.

To help prepare for the test, classes are being held Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon at Redeemer Missionary Baptist Church, 116 E. 32nd St. One class also will be held from 1–3 p.m. Jan. 13 at Eastside Neighborhood Services, 1700 2nd St. NE.

Go to for a practice test.

Those interested in applying should call 866-861-2010. Go to for more information.