Various Government-Related Stories

Councilmember moonlights as executioner

During the day, he is mild-mannered City Councilmember Scott Benson (11th Ward). At night, he is the Lord High Executioner.

Benson, a theater guy since high school, has the role of Ko Ko, the Lord High Executioner, in Theater in the Round's upcoming production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado."

The role "is not much different from my day job," Benson mused in an e-mail.

He had performed with the Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Company for a number of years, he said. He took a hiatus from theater but jumped back in for this production because of the short rehearsal schedule.

"In 1996, I was the Mikado," he said. "I got demoted."

The story is about the son of the Mikado of Japan and his thwarted passion for the beautiful girl engaged to the Lord High Executioner, the theater's Web site said. The songs include "A Wandering Minstrel I" and "Three Little Maids From School Are We."

As councilmember, Benson represents Tangletown, Windom and parts of East Harriet and Kingfield in Southwest.

"Mikado" performances run Friday-Sunday, July 18 to Aug. 17. For more information, go to

MCDA alters home refinancing policy

The Minneapolis Community Development Agency has modified a loan policy some people said had unfairly kept them from refinancing their homes.

Facing significant staff cuts, the MCDA has started trimming services, including one called "loan subordination."

Subordination indicates which lenders have first call on assets if a borrower defaults. It goes chronologically. The first lender gets first position; the second lender gets second position, etc. The MCDA has backed forgivable loans under $10,000. Refinancing lenders ask the MCDA to subordinate its smaller position and, for a small fee, the agency routinely did.

However, the MCDA instituted a policy April 1 allowing only one subordination. That meant homeowners with MCDA-backed loans and earlier subordinations couldn't refinance, even as interest rates dropped.

People complained that the policy should not be retroactive. MCDA now says it will allow any homeowner one loan subordination after April 1.

"Since this change, the MCDA has received far fewer complaints from the public, suggesting that the new policy is being received much more favorably by the communities we serve," said Mark Anderson, manager of residential finance.

The Southwest Journal reported earlier this summer on CARAG homeowners Kjerste and Craig Villars, who got a forgivable $4,000 Neighborhood Revitalization Program loan in June 2002. They asked the MCDA to subordinate its loan that fall so they could get a home equity credit line.

When they tried to refinance this spring, the MCDA told them it would not subordinate since they had already used their one-time option. Until the policy change, the Villars had to repay a $4,000 loan they thought would be forgiven or forego the refinancing savings.

"It helps. We have an option we didn't have before," Kjerste Villars said of MCDA's policy change.

She and her husband are evaluating whether to refinance, however. She lost the good interest rate she had, she said. Further, they would have to close their home equity line of credit to refinance and could not take out a new equity line because the MCDA would not subordinate the loan again.

The new subordination policy still does not allow people to take out cash when they refinance, she said. (The policy says the MCDA will subordinate for cash-out refinancing only if the money is used for home improvements.)

Rybak rejects tax hike for lost state aid

Mayor R.T. Rybak won't release his budget until Aug. 14, but one key decision is already made -- he won't increase property taxes to make up for lost state Local Government Aid.

The city adopted a five-year plan last year that would cap increased property tax revenue at 8 percent a year. That translates into a $13 million increase in the 2004 budget, Budget Director Tami Omdal said.

State law allows local governments to increase property taxes for up to 60 percent of its LGA losses, she said. In 2004, Minneapolis will have $33 million less LGA than it had in 2002. Under the state's terms, Minneapolis could increase its property tax levy by approximately $19 million -- partially offsetting police, firefighter, parks and library cuts.

However, that would also mean a collective 12 percent jump in property taxes for 2004, or $6 million-plus more than the city's five-year plan anticipated.

Rybak said he would stick to the five-year plan.

"I consider the 8 percent to be a maximum," Rybak said. "It is disingenuous for the governor to say he is for no new taxes but instead we should raise them on the local level. The property tax is the worst possible tax.

"I found it a 'thanks-but-no-thanks' on that one."

Homeowners have historically enjoyed lower tax rates compared to commercial industrial property. State property tax reforms in 2001 compressed the rates, shifting costs from commercial/industrial property to residential property on a phased-in basis. (Commercial/industrial property rates are still higher than residential rates.)

Said Rybak, "The citizens of Minneapolis need me to hold the line on property taxes as hard as I can in extraordinarily difficult times. I will continue to do that."

The Board of Estimate and Taxation -- which includes representatives from the city, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the Library Board and independently elected members -- will set the maximum tax levy in early September.

City holds hearing on new super-agency

The Minneapolis City Council's Community Development Committee will hold a public hearing on a proposed ordinance to create a new department of Community Planning and Economic Development on Tuesday, July 29, at 1:30 p.m., in Room 317, City Hall, 350 S. 5th St.

CPED would include the current Minneapolis Community Development Agency, city Planning Department, Minneapolis Employment and Training Program, and the Minneapolis Empowerment Zone.

The proposed ordinance can be viewed at:

Written copies are available from Julie Bartell at 673-2296. Questions about the ordinance can be directed to Jeff Schneider, CPED senior project manager, at 673-5124.

City takes shot at conceal-and-carry

Taking a shot at the state's recently passed conceal-and-carry law, the Minneapolis City Council unanimously passed a resolution to ban dangerous weapons from city-owned buildings or any space leased or controlled by the city.

City Councilmember Paul Zerby (2nd Ward) authored the resolution, calling it "a modest step for safety for our employees and those who do business with us."

"This will bring us into conformity with Hennepin County and Ramsey County … and the University of Minnesota," he said.

Kevin Smith, director of communications for the State Department of Public Safety, said if the city tries to cover pistols under its definition of dangerous weapons, it is in violation of the conceal and carry law.

"The gun law is a pistol law," Smith said.

While private businesses can post signs to ban handguns from their establishments, different rules apply to government, he said.

"Public bodies cannot ban weapons from public places," he said.

There are some exceptions, however. For instance, universities can ban students and employees from carrying handguns, but they cannot keep the general public from carrying a pistol while they are walking on campus, a public safety spokeswoman said.

A challenge to the law would likely come from a citizen with a conceal-and-carry permit who is charged with violating the city ordinance, Smith said.

It does not appear the state will challenge the city's ordinance.

A spokesperson for the state Attorney General's office declined to comment on Minneapolis' ordinance. The Attorney General is defending the state in a lawsuit brought by Edina Community Church, seeking to strike down as unconstitutional portions of the state's conceal-and-carry law, she said, referring questions on the city's dangerous weapons ban to Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar.

A spokesperson for Klobuchar referred questions on the legality of the Minneapolis ordinance to the Minneapolis City Attorney.

Burt Osborne, assistant city attorney for Minneapolis, said the city's legal staff does not think the resolution conflicts with the state's conceal-and-carry law.

State law gives local governments the power to set reasonable rules and regulations to protect the lawful access to and conduct on public property, he said, "just to make sure that the public business is protected free from interference."

"That statutes suggests a legislative intent to allow local governments like Minneapolis to place reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on bringing weapons into public buildings -- if doing so would disrupt the business of the government."