Civic Beat: Vote puts new Vikings stadium in peril

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April 23, 2012 // UPDATED 11:18 am - July 29, 2013
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter

A Minnesota House of Representatives committee voted down a Vikings stadium bill on April 16, casting serious doubt on the possibility of a deal before the legislative session ends. 

The Associated Press reported the following morning that Gov. Mark Dayton was already looking ahead to next year’s session for a Vikings bill, and Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson told Minnesota Public Radio that the deal was “probably dead,” but said she was optimistic an agreement would happen at some point. 

Vikings officials made statements that left fans wondering what the future held for their team. 

“It’s a mistake to think the Vikings and the (NFL) will continue with the status quo,” Vikings spokesman told reporters following the meeting. 

The bill, which would have funded a new stadium though a mix of city sales tax revenues, electronic pull-tabs proceeds and private contributions, failed on a 9-6 vote.

Five Republicans and one DFLer vote in favor of the bill. Four Republicans and five DFLers voted against the bill. 

Both Minneapolis lawmakers on the committee — Frank Hornstein (DFL-60B) and Marion Greene (DFL-60A) voted against the bill. 

The vote came less than a week after Mayor R.T. Rybak had held two community forums to discuss his stadium financing plan using city sales tax revenues. Both meetings brought out supporters and critics.

“The stadium issue is the most complex one that Minnesotans have had to consider in some time, and if it were easy to resolve, it would have been resolved long ago,” Rybak said in a statement. “We have always known that there would be highs and lows along the way, and there will be more in the future.”

Pride Fest preacher files lawsuit against Park Board 

Brian Johnson, the Bible-toting Evangelical Christian of Hayward, Wisc. who wants to spread the message of Christ in Loring Park during the annual GLBT Pride Fest, has filed a lawsuit against the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board for violating his free speech rights. 

Johnson is asking for an injunction from the U.S. District Court of Minnesota that would allow him and his family to roam the Loring Park grounds at this June’s festival while handing out Bibles. He also wants nominal damages, which acknowledge that his rights have been violated. 

Johnson’s complaint stems from a Park Board decision last May to keep Johnson and his bibles on the southwest corner of Loring Park, a place where Johnson says is empty of festival attendees. 

The Park Board decision came after mediation with Pride Fest that eventually led to the idea of keeping non-permitted vendors in a designated area and allowing for a literature drop box where Johnson could place his bibles. He would be allowed to walk the park, but not hand out literature. 

 “A booth outside of the Pride Fest event did not allow Johnson to reach his intended audience (those attending Pride Fest) with his message via Bibles,” the March 30 complaint states.

The Park Board made the decision to limit Johnson to the corner of the park after an effort to settle a lawsuit filed by Twin Cities Pride. Pride had asked for a temporary restraining order to keep Johnson out the park. 

Dot Belstler, executive director of Twin Cities Pride, said the lawsuit’s characterization of Johnson’s booth location is inaccurate. She says it’s at one of the main entry points to the festival, at Lyndale and 15th. 

The recent lawsuit, on several occasions, says Johnson is not confrontational when attending the festival. His lawsuit says “Johnson has developed a deep, abiding concern for individuals in the GLBT community.”

Belstler called Johnson a “nice gentleman,” but said conversations can often change in nature from friendly to condemning. 

“He then tells people they’re going to hell and they’re an abomination, and that’s where we have a problem,” Belstler said. 

Johnson’s attorney, Jonathan Scruggs of the Alliance Defense Fund — a Christian organization that deals with religious freedom cases — said requiring Johnson to hand out Bibles in a separate area amounts to viewpoint discrimination. 

Park Board spokeswoman Dawn Sommers said the Park Board would not comment on pending litigation. 

This year’s Pride Fest is scheduled for June 23-24. 

Employee survey reveals declining morale 

A recent survey of 2,560 Minneapolis city employees shows a decline in morale within the ranks, as 54 percent are satisfied working for the city, compared to 

66 percent in 2006.

Kenexa, a human resources consultant, conducted the employee survey last fall. The survey was sent to 3,894 employees, with 66 percent taking part. 

Only 33 percent of workers feel the city has an adequate number of employees, compared to 40 percent in 2009. Just 34 percent say city leadership shows concern for the well-being and morale of employees, down slightly from 36 percent in 2009. 

The city has reduced its workforce by 12 percent since 2008. The survey was taken at the same time the City Council was considering budget cuts and layoffs in order to hold property taxes flax. 

Survey takers also expressed concern with their department leadership. In the past year, four department heads have either retired or took different jobs, including the fire chief, chief financial officer, regulatory leader and the city coordinator.

In no department were bad feelings more evident than in the Fire Department. Of the 161 firefighters who took the survey, just 17 percent felt they have a promising future at the city and only 3 percent say they have enough people to get their work done. In the same survey taken in the fall of 2006, 22 percent felt valued and 13 percent said the department was adequately staffed. 

Since 2006, staffing at the Fire Department has dropped from 444 to 392. Those reductions had come mostly through attrition until last year, when the city laid off six firefighters. Fire Chief Alex Jackson resigned in February. His replacement, John Fruetel, is the fifth person to hold the job in the past eight years. 

The survey also showed several positive trends in the city’s ranks. At least 72 percent of employees gave high marks for the city’s benefits plan, its attention to safety and for its health and wellness programs. In all those categories, the city improved from 2009. 

The survey is meant to gather employee insights about what is working well and where the city can improve.  

Reach Nick Halter at nhalter@mnpubs.com.