City Hall update: Amid overtime troubles, Fire Chief retires

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January 16, 2012
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
Minneapolis Fire Chief Alex Jackson is retiring after three years on the job.

Jackson is a 30-year veteran of the Fire Department and the first African American fire chief in Minneapolis. His last day will be Feb. 29.

Rybak announced he will nominate John Fruetel to replace Jackson. Fruetel served 31 years as a Minneapolis firefighter and most recently served as the city’s emergency preparedness training manager.

In a news release, Rybak said he was disappointed Jackson made the decision to retire. Jackson, however, was facing grilling by the City Council over his department’s overtime budget.

Fire Department numbers show that the city was on pace to dole out $1 million in overtime in 2011. The numbers also showed that firefighters were much more likely to call in sick during the summer and on weekends.

Jackson was up for reappointment this winter.

Jackson did not return a phone message seeking comment on his retirement.

New power structure proposed for city

A group with ties to controversial developer Basim Sabri is working on an amendment to the city’s charter that would cut the City Council nearly in half and reduce their terms to two years.

Along with a seven-member City Council, the proposal calls for residents to elect the police chief, city attorney, city coordinator and mayor to four-year terms. Residents would also elect 14 planning commissioners, with two coming from each of the seven wards

The group, Power by the People, has run into some road bumps in its efforts. It is trying to get approval from the Minneapolis Charter Commission to summarize its amendment into plain language so it can collect about 7,000 signatures in order to get the amendment on a ballot.

On Jan. 4, the Power by the People was denied a summary based on the word count length of the amendment. The group’s attorney, Rachel Nelson, said Power by the People would go back to the drawing board to come up with language that satisfies the word count requirement.

The identity of Power by the People has been mysterious. Originally, the group listed Martha Schiller as chair, but on Dec. 27 notified the city that Luna Al Qutob is the chair.  

Nelson said on Jan. 4 she had registered the group with the Secretary of State as a Political Action Committee, but as of Jan. 5 it was not listed on the state’s website. Nelson said she registered in late November or early December, and the group was given a tax ID number.

Perhaps most controversial is who isn’t listed as chair of the group. Nelson, after pointed questioning by Charter Commissioner Dan Cohen, admitted that Sabri has contributed money to Power by the People, but was not the sole financer.

Sabri is a local developer who spent 19 months in federal prison after being convicted on three counts of bribing a city council member.

Sabri did not return a phone message from The Journal. Power for People lists its address at 207 E. Lake St., a property owned by Sabri.

The proposal is known as a charter amendment.

The Minneapolis Charter Commission is made up of 15 members appointed by the chief judge of Hennepin County.

Under the current city charter, residents elect 13 city council members and the mayor to four-year terms. The police chief, city attorney and city coordinator are appointed by the mayor.

Originally, the group had proposed a five-member city council, but has refined its request to seven members.

Mayor R.T. Rybak’s spokesman, John Stiles, declined to comment on the proposal because the mayor’s office hadn’t reviewed the amendment and didn’t know anything about Power by the People.

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