CUE ball, side pocket

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July 26, 2004 // UPDATED 2:43 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Will city scratch long-time environmental group?

The City Council is on the brink of disbanding the Committee on Urban Environment (CUE), a once cutting-edge group that is now homeless.

What? You've never heard of CUE?

The group perhaps is best known for its Blooming Boulevards program and awards. (Your July city utility bill included a CUE nomination form for "Minneapolis Blooms.") CUE has other programs, such as Arbor Day and a Front Porch Design Competition.

When the City Council created CUE in 1968, it had grand visions. CUE's 11-point charge included getting citizens involved in cleanup/fix up campaigns, public art projects and historic preservation.

Over the years, CUE has supported the creation of new committees and boards -- such as the Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) and the Minneapolis Arts Commission. Those boards have taken on many of CUE's duties.

Until this year, CUE had a desk, a phone, computer and e-mail in the Planning Department. Last October, the department sent CUE a letter saying it would stop providing space because it could not afford it.

Councilmember Gary Schiff (9th Ward) recently introduced a resolution to dissolve CUE. Schiff chairs the Zoning and Planning Committee, which delayed a vote on his resolution for two months.

"The Planning Department is short on resources and this is a board that does not play a role in the regulatory and planning process," Schiff said.

In the meantime, CUE is homeless.

John Uban, CUE chair, said it's hard to run programs without a space.

"We have been wandering around City Hall with a cardboard box," he said. "Can we be over here for a month? Over here?"

How much does it cost the city to support CUE?

Barb Sporlein, the city's new Planning Director, said she had not estimated the cost of CUE's phone, computer and technical and staff support. CUE had left just as she started the job, she said.

She said CUE's programs have merit -- and that it may seem petty to deny the group a part-time space. Yet in tight budget times, "nickels and dimes count," she said.

"Who wants to be known as the CUE killer?" Sporlein asked. "I don't."

To drive home her budget woes, Sporlein said her 2005 budget proposal has no dollars for training, computer hardware or travel. Her employees already staff the HPC, Planning Commission, Board of Adjustment and city Arts Commission, and are swamped with land-use applications.

CUE may be a victim of its own success, Sporlein said. The boards CUE helped foster have taken over its duties.

Council President Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) introduced a resolution to keep CUE part of the city -- but drop its advisory role in design and urban beautification.

"I am suggesting the work of CUE and the volunteer aspect ... is at least worthy of finding a desk somewhere and a computer," Ostrow said.

Schiff said he reviewed three years of CUE minutes and saw nothing to merit city support. It could continue independently. "If someone wants to hand out certificates for beautiful gardens, go for it," he said.

CUE leaders have drafted an alternative resolution for the City Council that continues the city's commitment and tries to redefine CUE's mission.

Uban said communication between CUE and the City Council "has waned.... They need to embrace what we do or there is no point in continuing."

Uban said he did not know if his CUE appointment had expired yet.

The answer is one measure of officialdom's disinterest in CUE: Uban's appointment expired March 2002, according to the City Clerk's office.

No official has bothered to reappoint him or appoint a replacement. The Clerk's staff said it is common practice to have board members with expired terms continue to serve until the appointing person or body takes action.