City Council actions :: Water fountains

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February 15, 2010 // UPDATED 8:36 am - February 15, 2010
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
Water fountains: Of 10 proposed, four now remain

And then there were four.

The City Council unanimously voted to cut funding for more than half of the city’s artistic drinking fountain project, a divisive issue because of its $500,000 price tag for 10 fountains.

The project, which was unveiled in 2008, was touted by Mayor R.T. Rybak and fellow supporters as a reflection on and celebration of the city’s history with water: its establishment on the Mississippi River, its many lakes, its quality of drinking water. As originally proposed, the fountains would have been built on sites throughout all parts of the city and showcase unique artistic designs.

But critics have called the project a prime example of wasteful spending. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has taken numerous shots at it, criticizing it during budget addresses and occasionally directly chastising Rybak.

“My message to him is reduce,” Pawlenty said last summer.

Rybak has defended the project, noting that it’s being funded by money specifically designated for art and water purposes, not with any general operations dollars. Before their vote, council members were careful not to criticize the project, instead labeling it a victim of bad timing.

“We’re in an entirely different funding place, as everyone knows, than we were when we started this whole project,” Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward) said in committee.

Rybak has acknowledged that, too. Public Art Administrator Mary Altman said it was the mayor who asked last year whether it would be possible to decrease the number of fountains.

Council members originally weighed a proposal to cut from 10 to six. Council Member Meg Tuthill (10th Ward) pitched the two additional cuts, specifically requesting the elimination of a fountain in her ward. Though marked for Uptown, that fountain had yet to find a specific location.

The money saved by the council’s cut, about $268,000, will be sent back to the city’s water fund and Art in Public Places program. A committee considered rerouting the arts allocation to the Public Works Department for street resurfacing, but that proposal failed on a 3–2 vote.

Along with the Uptown one, the five fountains cut from the program would have been built at the Central Library, at the Guthrie Theater, on Marquette Avenue, at the Northeast Library and on Penn Avenue at Lucy Craft Laney School.

The fountains that remain will be built at Downtown’s St. Olaf Catholic Church, on Main Street and at the Midtown YWCA. A fountain on Franklin Avenue already has been completed.

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New law targets hosts of minors drinking alcohol

People who knowingly host underage drinkers can now be held liable for their actions, following a unanimous vote by the City Council to adopt a so-called social host ordinance.

Save for a handful of exceptions, the ordinance makes it a misdemeanor to host underage drinking. The offense comes with as much as a $1,000 fine and 90 days in prison.

Council members called the ordinance an important tool to fight binge drinking.

“I think we have a responsibility as a city to be careful and to be thoughtful about our young people,” Council President Barb Johnson (4th Ward) said at an earlier committee meeting.

Exemptions to the new law include underage drinking for religious purposes. Landlords won’t be held liable, nor will roommates of hosts who happen to be in the same house or apartment at the time the drinking occurs.

“We’re looking at active participants,” Assistant City Attorney Jodi Furness said.

A public hearing on the ordinance drew out more than a dozen college students, many of them concerned that the ordinance wouldn’t do what the council said it would. Several suggested it would drive minors to drink in more closeted settings; others said it would discourage party hosts from calling for help in emergency situations out of fear they’d be held responsible.

Alex Tenenbaum, president of the Sigma Chi fraternity, said the ordinance doesn’t trust the decision-making ability of young college students.

“We’re almost trying to shift the blame to somebody else,” Tenenbaum said. “When these people are 18, 19, 20 years old — I think, as a 15-year-old it’s a little bit different — but an 18-, 19-, 20-year-old, they’re an adult making a bad decision.”

Council Member Meg Tuthill, whose 10th Ward includes student-populated Uptown, noted that college students aren’t the only target of the ordinance.

“We are not picking on you,” she told the hearing’s audience. “This is also about the 35-year-old who thinks it’s cool to get their 15-year-old babysitter drunk.”

Staff was directed to report back next year on the ordinance’s impact.