Audience members who packed the floor of Burroughs School auditorium last night were treated to an informative candidate forum in the Ward 13 City Council race. The four candidates answered pointed questions submitted by seven neighborhood co-sponsors, audience members and the candidates themselves.
“A quick glance would lead you to believe there are not a lot of differences between the candidates. But I think if you take a closer look, you’ll see significant differences between us,” said candidate Matt Perry.
One of the differences:
On police and fire staffing levels, candidate Linea Pamisano said she wants 50 more police officers to help support Minneapolis’ future population growth. Perry said the city couldn’t afford the cost of training all those new officers without raising property taxes.
The following is a recap of the questions and paraphrased candidate answers.
From the Fulton neighborhood: What are your thoughts on the current infill housing ordinance? How can you work with other council members to address resident concerns with the ordinance?
[Editor’s note: Also called the “Monster Home” ordinance, the infill housing text amendment regulates the size of new home construction to preserve the character of neighborhoods.]
Durant: Get the right people in the room to solve the problem.
Palmisano: The ordinance is an important step, but more could be done. We should have a housing ombudsman similar to the city of Edina.
Perry: Revist the floor area ratio laws to yield smaller homes. Perhaps take into account the size of adjacent homes. Better enforce construction sites so they are safe and follow hours of operation.
Reuer: Find a way to regulate building monster homes.
From the Armatage neighborhood: A strong neighborhood fosters community engagement. What would you do to ensure funding for neighborhoods is maintained or increased?
Durant: It’s hard to answer a single budget item question for a $1.2 billion budget. I would support neighborhoods having that money.
Palmisano: Increase the funding level. I don’t like the new structure of the Neighborhood and Community Relations (NCR) department, because tasks that previously required eight staff people now take 16.
Perry: NCR is a good program. We can’t ever go back to the days of the Phase I Neighborhood Revitalization Program, because it would take a 5 percent tax increase. Tax Increment Financing district funds are not stable, and I like the idea of taking money out of the General Fund instead. If neighborhoods are providing a basic city service, they should be treated as such.
Reuer: Don’t take money from the General Fund. Don’t let property taxes go up, instead work with the money we have now.
From Linden Hills: What role would you take in resolving the Minnesota Orchestra dispute?
Durant: In response to news reports suggesting public subsidy to solve the financial trouble — it’s not up to taxpayers to subsidize the orchestra on an annual basis.
Palmisano: The city should serve as a facilitator.
Perry: I was standing with the musicians at an Orchestra rally. There is a lack of leadership in the city on this issue. The Orchestra is too valuable to lose.
Reuer: The solution shouldn’t come out of our pockets. I don’t know the answer, but I would find it.
From Durant: How would Minneapolis Public Schools’ five-year plan impact Ward 13?
Durant: The five-year plan is about enrollment, but what we really want to know is whether our kids will receive a quality education. If we had high-quality education in every neighborhood, we wouldn’t have 600 kids shipping over here to get into Southwest High School.
Palmisano: A council member’s role with the schools relates to transit and affordable housing. Eighty percent of children at Jefferson Elementary [in Uptown] do not have a permanent address, and other schools have high turnover. The county and city should work together to provide a safe, stable environment.
Perry: I’m supportive of the superintendent’s “SHIFT” plan. We should improve schools citywide, so that people don’t need to make housing choices based on varying school quality. We should make better use of affordable housing trust funds to provide stable homes for students.
[Note: The SHIFT plan gives more autonomy to principals to make decisions for their schools.]
From the West Calhoun neighborhood: What is your most important consideration in designing the West Lake Station?
[Note: The light rail station would be located near Lake & Excelsior.]
Durant: Make sure all voices are at the table. As we end up in arguments, we forget that light rail is a regional issue.
Palmisano: I see widely varying funding amounts for the Lake Street station. This is an opportunity to rethink how we move around that area. We don’t want huge amounts of money from the General Fund spent on the Minneapolis stations.
Perry: The most important consideration is how people will get to the station and how they will utilize it — How do people get there from the lakes? How do they get there without a car?
Reuer: We’ve got to make a majority of the people happy or it’s not going to be beneficial.
From the audience: Will we see property tax relief?
Durant: We should make sure all parts of the city are growing and thriving like ours. Every business I’ve worked in has purportedly been “cut to the bone,” but we can be creative to find savings.
Palmisano: Although I would lobby for more state aid, I’m not sure that’s the best way to decrease property taxes. We’ll have to grow the tax base by increasing housing across the city and adding residents.
Perry: We’re getting more state funding to allow this year’s 1 percent tax levy decrease, which might lead to stable property tax bills. In the long-term, we have to grow our property tax base. We should change the way Downtown surface parking lots are taxed to incentivize high-density development there.
Reuer: We need to keep property tax money in our area. We have to find out where the money is going to see why our taxes continue to rise.
Question from Perry: Do you think we should increase police and fire levels, and how would we pay for it?
Durant: We need to look at the entire budget picture to make that determination.
Palmisano: If you want to grow the city, you need to also grow police and fire levels. Violent crime is up 14 percent. I would support about 50 more police officers. We have 200 police officers retiring in the next couple of years at top pay grades. As we grow the tax base, future budgets should prioritize spending on public safety.
Perry: As officers retire, it costs a lot of money to train in cadet classes. It costs $2-$3 million to train in 20 people. Bringing in 50 new officers would lead to a property tax increase, and I don’t understand what it would accomplish. Minneapolis Police have received an award for analytics, which helps officers focus on where crimes will happen.
Reuer: We should increase police and fire levels, and we should appoint a new Police Chief. The current Chief dismantled revenue-generating divisions in the department.
From the East Harriet neighborhood: We had a controversial development at 40th & Lyndale. What is your philosophy regarding new development?
[Note: The development mentioned above is the Crooked Pint Ale House (renamed Harriet’s), which is coming to the vacant SuperAmerica site on Lyndale. The city Planning Commission recently approved the project over the objections of some nearby neighbors.]
Durant: We need to have commercial development if we want property tax relief. Make sure each neighborhood has a “small area plan” to guide future development.
Perry: We need to make sure people are involved in the process. I did this at Bread & Pickle and it worked very well. Review the restaurant parking requirements for off-street parking.
Palmisano: In my experience, it’s important to get ahead of neighborhood outcry. Make sure the process has a definite beginning and end. A small area plan helps the community define what they want to see.
Reuer: Development is a great idea at 40th & Lyndale. The site has been vacant for many years and development will generate money for the city.
Perry asked Palmisano a follow-up question on the Linden Corner project in Linden Hills, saying that she “ridiculed” people who opposed the project.
Palmisano: I only disagreed with the process, and how people were operating in that process. There were aspects of the project I felt were whole. I support affordable housing in our neighborhoods.
Perry: I do not ridicule people, regardless of how lousy the process might be. As a City Council member you have to stand up and take it, and work with what you have. People get emotional. $350,000 for a condo in Linden Corner is not anything I define as affordable.
Question from Palmisano: What endorsements have you sought and received?
Durant: I sought a couple of endorsements, but I walked in the room and felt like the decision was already made. I felt they were trying to catch me saying something wrong, rather than being curious about what I had to say. My many endorsements include an engineer, a retired architect, and an 85-year-old who’s lived here her entire life.
Palmisano: I spent four months getting people out to caucuses to seek the DFL endorsement. I found it interesting to hear about the different roles that organizations play in the city. My endorsements are listed on my website.
Perry: I sought the DFL endorsement and was not successful. I found it was not worth seeking Labor endorsements without the DFL endorsement. I have a very long list of endorsements posted on the Southwest Journal’s website.
Reuer: I’m endorsed by my company and my wife.
Question from Reuer: What do you think of the lack of leadership in the police department?
Durant: It takes 12 months to learn a new job. I want to give the Police Chief the opportunity to make decisions about firing; there are legal difficulties involved.
[Note: Police Chief Janeé Harteau took the position in December 2012.]
Palmisano: I would give our new leader time to work. Police cameras could improve police accountability and decrease complaints against police. Cameras are already used on squad cars. We can’t reorganize the entire group every time we get a new Police Chief.
Perry: The Chief is a tremendous leader and a fantastic hire. She is working on improving training. We have to review collective bargaining agreements that are protecting bad cops. This will take some political backbone, and we cannot be beholden to any special interest groups.
Reuer: The Chief’s policy is “my way or the highway,” a policy that has caused good officers to resign. She’s going to bankrupt the city.
Question from Palmisano to Perry: I’ve looked at how to improve police accountability in our force, and our police federation hasn’t given me any special favors or interests. Could you explain more about how you plan to increase accountability among our police force?
Perry: The City Council person needs to make sure the Chief is held accountable. Collective bargaining agreements have to be reviewed by the City Council.
Palmisano: I think we also need to improve our Civil Rights Department, and provide crisis intervention training.