The City Council unanimously approved Mayor R.T. Rybak’s nomination of Velma Korbel as the city’s new civil rights director.
A seven-year veteran at the state level and involved in civil rights before that at the Metropolitan Council, Korbel replaces one-term director Michael Jordan and is the sixth person in the position during Rybak’s tenure. The department, which handles such issues as civil rights complaints, has seen its share of tumult and criticism. Korbel is considered someone who could bring with her some much-needed stability.
“Until we have a well-functioning department, it’ll be difficult to move forward,” Council Member Robert Lilligren (6th Ward) said.
In a brief statement to the council’s Committee of the Whole, Korbel said she intends to dampen the controversies that hover over the department.
“I believe the work should be the focus,” she said. “And I would like to put the focus back on the work.”
Korbel received high praise in the run-up to the vote, both from council members and colleagues. Supporters at a public hearing included U.S. Marshal Sharon Lubinski and Donald Bellfield, chairman of the Civilian Police Review Authority. Pam Harris, a City Council member in Falcon Heights and an attorney who frequently deals with employment law, said the state is the best civil rights agency she deals with, largely because of Korbel’s work.
“She has a ‘let’s fix it’ attitude,” Harris said.
Rybak said Korbel’s hiring should mark not only the beginning of new leadership in the department but also a start for the council to seriously retool its civil rights focus. Expectations have to be raised, he said.
“It is not OK for this department to just be OK,” he said.
The continuing cost of RCV: $244,000
Barring a change in available technologies, Minneapolis municipal elections could cost almost $250,000 extra every year that ranked-choice voting is in place.
Last year, the first time the city used RCV, there were about $365,000 in expenses specific to the new voting system, according to an Elections Department study received and filed by the City Council’s Committee of the Whole. That included one-time costs such as vast voter education and a post-election wrap-up survey commissioned to St. Cloud State University researchers.
But some of those voter education costs are projected to stick around — at least for the near future — since a refresher could be necessary when RCV returns in almost four years. Combined with other on-going costs, such as paying for ballots to be counted by hand, the projected ongoing costs of RCV total about $242,000.
Technology could be the savior here. There are machines that can count RCV ballots; however, none are certified yet by the state, and that certification isn’t expected unless more cities switch to RCV. And even then, while the city would save a projected $140,000 in RCV costs by being able to eliminate the hand count, the cost of technology is unknown.
At least one council member, President Barb Johnson (4th Ward), was miffed by the study. She noted that RCV’s supporters had promoted the system by saying it would draw out more voters and cost less than a traditional primary-plus-general election system. Considering the study’s results and last year’s very low voter turnout, she said, “all of these things did not happen in our city.”
“It is disturbing to me that we’re talking about an extra quarter of a million dollars for a system that was supposed to decrease our costs,” Johnson said.
Find the report at http://bit.ly/d5q2Y1.
Revised budget gets easy OK
Mayor R.T. Rybak’s proposal for a revised 2010 city budget was clearly liked by his City Council colleagues, as it traveled mostly untouched through short discussions at both the committee and full council levels, receiving 13-0 approval along the way.
Accounting for a $9.2 million gap caused by cuts to local-government aid, the revision makes use of one-time revenue and a contingency fund created last year. It also makes a $1 million cut in spending by eliminating vacant positions, trimming supplies and improving efficiency.
Nobody will lose his or her job as a result of the cut. Instead, Rybak has proposed a retirement incentive intended to get emerging young professionals into the city’s ranks.
Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward), chairwoman of the Budget Committee, brought forward an amendment that directed excess funds from the installation of wireless Internet network poles to pension relief. That plan also was approved unanimously.
Rybak now turns his attention to the 2011 budget, although on-going actions at the state level could again bring focus back to 2010. A Supreme Court ruling earlier this month that Pawlenty’s unilateral unallotment was unlawful could put in flux about $2.7 billion of the state’s budget, which could in turn impact local governments.