Kooky theater, with a cast of 13

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April 23, 2002 // UPDATED 1:18 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Richard Carney
Richard Carney

Watching the City Council work can be a great way to learn how government works--and there's no extra charge for the entertainment

Earlier this month, Downtown\'s own Councilmember Lisa Goodman tangled with Council President Paul Ostrow over the hot-button issue of whether the Twins should or should not have to pay the $25 permit fee to have a family street party for the club\'s home opener.

Mr. Ostrow\'s stance was that the currently named Kirby Puckett Place would be closed anyway, so if the Twins want to make it a family event that\'s just icing on the cake, and therefore the fee needn\'t apply. Ms. Goodman countered that everyone else has to pay to close a street, the T-Wolves included, so the Twins should have to pony up the $25.

Ms. Goodman prevailed, and the cash-strapped ball club -- still trying to scrape together $165 million for a stadium down payment -- will now have to find a way to raise $25 for a permit fee (Mr. Pohlad will NOT be happy!).

Such were the fireworks coming from City Hall on April 5 during the regular fortnightly meeting of the Minneapolis City Council.

Have you been to a City Council meeting lately? No?

Granted, these meetings always have the potential to rank on the entertainment meter between a lecture on the history of the sponge mop and an episode of Punky Brewster. But they can also be quite spirited.

Oftentimes it isn\'t the councilmember delivering their two cents' worth that catches one\'s eye, but rather what the other 12 councilmembers are doing during the diatribe. The body language, whisperings, impromptu mini-meetings that go on during orations often add to what transpires.

One of the more vivid images I remember from a Council meeting came back in 1998, when then Steve Minn proposed seeking outside counsel to undo the agreement to create something on Block E. While Minn gave some cogent reasons (centered around missed deadlines, lack of details -- lack of anything, really), then-Council President Jackie Cherryhomes sat with her arms crossed and shook her head adamantly. On TV, you would only have seen Minn in close-up. In person, you could have seen the body language that preceded Cherryhomes\' proclamation of the \"drop dead date\" (her version of \"read my lips...\") -- which of course came and went and recame and rewent over the following year.

The council works and meets in City Hall -- that old stone building with the bigger-than-Big-Ben clock located on 4th St. and 3rd Ave.; visiting the old building is worth the trip. When you enter through the revolving door you are greeted with a large and handsome rotunda that has an enormous stone statue of a towel-clad man, who I believe is Mayor Rybak.

Climb the marble stairs with the nice ornate railings (or take the elevator) to floor three. Unfortunately, the hallway to the chamber is a letdown: its paint scheme feels a bit like a junior high, and the ugly suspended ceiling looks as if the city used its Menard\'s Big Card.

The homely hallway is easily forgotten once you are in the meeting room. Rich drapery, nice lighting, lush colors and modern technology which blends easily with the elegant feel. Hats off to all who helped make the room what it now is.

This was my first meeting of the new council, so some comparison with the previous incarnation was inevitable. The meeting I attended wasn\'t exactly replete with hot-button issues, and thus was pretty low-key. But, as a casual observer, my general impression is that this new group is more docile than its previous incarnation.

Minn vs. Cherryhomes at times seemed like an Edward Albee script -- I can remember one clash where Cherryhomes pounded the gavel in unison with a Minn outburst for what seemed like an interminable period; it wasn\'t policy that caused the row, it was a disagreement over Robert\'s Rules.

Minn and Jim Niland had some fabulous urination contests, including Spamgate (my term), which entailed Mr. Minn disabling union Local 17\'s e-mail during the debate over the now-finished Milwaukee Depot project. During this row, Niland took the floor and called Minn a fascist. Maybe not the city\'s finest moment, but for a follower of the council, pretty darned entertaining. I just don\'t sense that the new crew could produce that same level of venom and invective.

But who knows? Once the stadium issue ramps up or another not-currently-known whopper gets the ward parochialism pot a-boiling, maybe the fur will fly and people will pine for the days of calm.

Ultimately, the demeanor doesn\'t really matter. It\'s the policies. And history says that this version of the council will probably find some way to tick you off, or at least make you shake your head. The best way to fight City Hall is to know how it works, and who\'s in charge. It's worth spending a couple of hours a year watching, and you can get some great, free theater in the bargain.