Civic beat :: Not following due process costs the city

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May 24, 2010
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
Failure to follow due process costs the city $500,000

A Hennepin County District Court judge has ordered the city to pay more than $500,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees after finding that a City Council member’s bias led to the denial of his proposal for a Loring Park development.

Judge Stephen Aldrich last year ruled that Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) failed to remain impartial during the review process of developer Brad Hoyt’s Parc Centrale. The project would have been a 21-story mixed-use tower flanked by two-story town homes, but it was denied by a unanimous City Council in 2004. E-mails later surfaced showing Goodman had what Aldrich called “a closed mind” going into the quasi-judicial review process, where council members are supposed to make decisions based entirely on codes, not opinions.

Hoyt’s attorneys said after the ruling that they would seek as much as $23.6 million in damages, because of projected lost revenue. They later decreased that to about $11.7 million, but Aldrich said he found their estimates to still be “highly conjectural” and “too speculative.”

“Plaintiff’s testimony was based solely on its own informal estimates and was wholly unsupported by contemporaneous documentation,” the judge wrote in a memorandum accompanying his order. “Plaintiff conducted no feasibility analysis, had no agreement with a contractor, no lending commitment or other formal plan for financing, no excavation or building permits, no final building plans, no pre-sales, and no marketing plan.”

As a result, Aldrich didn’t order the city to pay for any lost revenue. However, he did find that the city was responsible for covering a number of costs Hoyt paid in the run-up to the council’s decision, including application and architectural fees. Adding in attorneys’ fees, that amounts to about $523,000.

Read the complete order and memorandum at http://bit.ly/dtZd7H.

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Pension funds are ordered to recoup millions

A Hennepin County District judge has ordered two of the city’s closed pension funds to take back tens of millions of dollars from beneficiaries they overpaid over the past decade.

The Minneapolis Police Relief Association and Minneapolis Firefighters Relief Association have until June 4 to decide how they’ll recoup the money, according to a May 17 order from Judge Janet Poston. Ruling in November on a case brought forward by the city against the pension funds, Poston said they overpaid about $53 million between 2003 and 2009 and that their faulty payment calculations date back to 1999.

The recoupments, which Poston ordered to begin by July 1, will be put into a pot of money designated solely for future pension payments. While the order means fund beneficiaries will be losing thousands of dollars, it’s good news from the perspective of the city, which will be relieved of some of its future pension pressures.

In 2009, as the economy shook, Minneapolis projected having to owe as much as an additional $155 million to the funds over five years — an amount city leaders said would have trickled down to major property tax increases. Poston’s November ruling already saved the city about $10 million it would have raised through property taxes this year.

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Judge seeks answers on Dolan, CRA

A Hennepin County District Court judge wants to hear why police Chief Tim Dolan chose not to act on several cases sustained by the Civilian Police Review Authority (CRA).

Judge Susan Burke set a court hearing in response to a February petition from then-CRA member Dave Bicking and Communities United Against Police Brutality, who argue that Dolan has been ignoring the law. From 2008 through the first three quarters of 2009, Dolan disciplined officers in only three of 25 cases brought forward by the CRA, which investigates police misconduct.

The chief, reappointed in March to a second term, has said that it’s his prerogative to decide how much discipline is given in sustained CRA cases. During a public hearing related to his reappointment, he said one big reason there’s no punishment after certain cases is that they simply arrive too late.

“If discipline isn’t timely, it’s not going to be fair,” Dolan said.

The hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. June 4.

Bicking in April lost a bid for reappointment to the CRA on a 12–1 City Council vote.

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Law opens door for street food

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has signed into law a bill that lets food carts stay in one location longer than three weeks, a long-held limit that was one of the last major roadblocks for the city to overcome to expand street vending Downtown.

“It’s a simple change that could be a big part of revitalizing downtown Minneapolis and, potentially, downtown areas of cities across the state,” Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL–60B) said in a news release. He co-sponsored the bill with fellow Minneapolis legislator Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-60).

Combined with rules the City Council adopted in April, the law change should help the city begin to realize its hopes for a street-food culture akin to those found in Portland, Ore., and Milwaukee. Anybody with a licensed kitchen or a license to use a commons kitchen now can apply for a street-vending permit.

City spokesman Matt Laible said about eight potential vendors have sought out licenses since they became available May 1. The first carts should appear Downtown by mid-June, Laible said.