City council actions :: Fire inspection oversight

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June 7, 2010 // UPDATED 8:40 am - June 7, 2010
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
May 28 meeting

Fire inspections to transfer to new oversight

Less than two months after a deadly fire ripped through a South Minneapolis bar and its top-floor apartments, the City Council unanimously voted to reorganize oversight of fire inspections.

Citing a need to achieve “consistency in program and outcomes,” non-sworn employees of the city’s Fire Inspections Bureau will be transferred to the Regulatory Services Department from the Minneapolis Fire Department effective Jan. 1. The bureau will serve in an advisory role to the fire department, while the fire marshal will act as a liaison between the department and Regulatory Services. In addition, an annual inspections training program must be offered, with the first to be conducted by Oct. 1.

The changes came in direct response to an April 2 fire in the two-story building that housed McMahon’s Irish Pub and several apartments. Six people — including three children — were killed, and it later was reported that inspections of the building had been lacking for some time.

Before voting on the changes, council members were careful to not blame the fire department. Council Member Cam Gordon (2nd Ward) said the council’s actions shouldn’t be seen as the city giving up on a department but rather as a chance to try something different.

“This gives us an opportunity to see if it will really work,” Gordon said about the restructuring.

The changes aren’t necessarily permanent. Under an amendment from Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward), the vote also set up a two-year timetable during which an independent audit will be conducted. It should determine what works and what doesn’t, and other changes could be made afterward.

Hodges said it’s pivotal to the inspections process that there’s no vagueness to who should be doing what. The city must make sure “to reconstruct the integrity of responsibilities,” she said.

Mayor R.T. Rybak briefly appeared at the meeting to express his approval of the changes. Rather than merely spouting rhetoric after the fire, council members locked in and made good, quick decisions, he said.

“I think this is the body at its best,” Rybak said.


City moves on with TIF but questions county

The City Council voted to move ahead with an agreement necessary for a tax-increment financing (TIF) district to start producing money in 2011. But council members also made a point to disagree with the body it’s making the deal with.

A memorandum of understanding between the city and Hennepin County is needed by June 30 for TIF funds to begin being collected Jan. 1. The agreement is required by the state legislation that sets up the district, which will siphon tax money from properties within the district directly toward a specific purpose — in this case, neighborhood revitalization and Target Center.

For its part, the county board voted in early May to adopt such a memorandum. However, to the chagrin of the city, commissioners added a requirement that if the city were to grow the district — which it is allowed to do under the legislation — it can’t do so by more than 10 percent.

That would cap the decades’ projected TIF funds at about $180 million, according to the city.

The county is trying to prevent too large an amount of property taxes to be diverted to city-specific purposes. The city, on the other hand, isn’t sure the county has the right to place a limit. So while the council voted to approve the county’s version of the memorandum of understanding, it also voted to add a statement that it reserves the right to challenge any county limits.

“It’s an unusual thing,” said Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward), who chairs the city’s Budget Committee. “It’s an unusual condition.”

The council voted 13–0 to move ahead.


Outdoor seating is approved for Black Sheep, Subo

The City Council gave unanimous approval to applications from a pair of Downtown businesses hoping to expand outdoors.

Black Sheep Pizza, 600 Washington Ave. N., and Subo, 89 10th St. S., were both seeking to add sidewalk café tables. Both plans received a 13–0 OK.

An application from Toast, 415 1st St. N., also received unanimous approval. The wine bar was seeking an expansion of its liquor license to be able to sell alcoholic drinks beyond wine and beer.