Civic beat :: 'New normal' for city

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March 15, 2010
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
City’s state: Recovering in a ‘new normal’

Though only a small portion of the city was damaged by last summer’s tornado, the recovery effort speaks as a metaphor for Minneapolis as a whole. Repairs have begun; neighborhoods are forging ahead. But the area will never be exactly as it was before.

That’s how Mayor R.T. Rybak began his annual State of the City Address, delivered March 10 in front of an audience of just over 100 at Downtown’s Capella Tower. During the 45-minute speech, Rybak wove together images of recovery from an “economic tornado” with those of the arrival of a new playing field.

“Our job is to get people back to normal,” he said. “But it is a new normal.”

That world is defined by job losses and foreclosures. Though both issues are slowing down, they’ve left a different Minneapolis in their wake. The average home value in 2008 was $220,000, Rybak said. Now it’s $193,500.

“That’s $26,500 less in wealth that the average Minneapolis homeowner can count on,” he said.

Yet Rybak also urged a need to stay the course. The city has been successful, he said, in producing job-placement programs that have led it to a lower unemployment rate than the metro area. The federal stimulus program has provided the city with about $60 million, $7 million of which went directly to helping low-income and dislocated workers. Hundreds of foreclosures were prevented in 2009. Crime is down.

Key to the future, Rybak said, will be partnerships — with corporations, with educational institutions, with other municipalities, with the federal government. He noted a need to invest in community development, whose budget has suffered to make room for public works financing. The city should be aggressive in pursuing clean-energy job creation and opportunities to expand Homegrown Minneapolis, the city’s local-food initiative that Rybak has championed.

“Government should always be looking for ways to foster innovation,” he said. “At no time should we be working harder at it than when the ground is shifting underneath us.”

This could have been the last of Rybak’s State of the City addresses, as he’s a frontrunner for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s endorsement for governor.

State politics briefly appeared in his speech, when he called out Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposal to cut another $29 million of Minneapolis’ local-government aid. Rybak said he and the City Council are being forced to revisit the city’s 2010 budget next month — a task that “won’t be pretty,” he said.

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Johnson fined for some, not most accusations

City Council President Barb Johnson’s use of campaign funds for phone and Internet service wasn’t inappropriate, but her family’s campaign-funded AAA membership is a different story, a three-judge panel ruled this month.

Johnson had been accused by one of her 4th Ward residents of misspending the money she raised for her reelection bid last year. Basing his complaint on a November City Pages article, Warren Kaari said Johnson had been wrong in claiming that haircuts, dry cleaning and cable television service reasonably related to campaigning.

Johnson, who never denied the spending, argued that being a candidate is a year-round activity that produces the need for, for example, Internet service at home.

The judges panel agreed with Johnson, to an extent. While it made sense for campaign funds to pay for a landline at her cabin, where Johnson said cell phone service is questionable, it made less sense for car-service coverage, which offered benefits beyond those necessary for a campaign.

The judges also ruled that the haircut and dry cleaning argument from Johnson — that she always has to look good because of her public status — only partially worked. For example, while she could reasonably claim campaign funds for dry cleaning a blouse dirtied at a campaign stop, “the need to restore one garment does not … authorize reimbursement of a candidate’s dry cleaning expenses more generally,” according to the panel.

Johnson was ordered to pay $200, a “modest sanction” because the impact of her violations on voters was small, the judges said.

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Red Cross taking aid for Minneapolis’ Chilean sister city

Minneapolitans are being urged by city leaders to make donations to the Red Cross International Response Fund and earmark them for Santiago, Chile. Santiago, one of Minneapolis’ sister cities since 1961, was heavily damaged in February’s 8.8-magnitude earthquake.

To help, call 460-3700 or go to redcrosstc.org.

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Two appointed to library board

The Hennepin County Library Board has two new members, including a familiar face for Minneapolis library-goers.

The county Board of Commissioners on March 2 appointed Gary Thaden and Caitlin Cahill for terms to last through Dec. 31, 2012.

Thaden, of Minneapolis, is an attorney with Pettersen & Associates and government affairs director for a pair of construction trade organizations. He used to serve on the now-defunct Minneapolis Library Board.

Cahill, of Orono, is a technology integration specialist with the Orono School District.

Commissioners also reappointed library board member Claudia Kelly for a new term. Kelly, a Medina resident, is a playwright.