When Gov. Tim Pawlenty weighed in on two recent high-profile murders in Minneapolis by saying in a radio interview that the city should use money “sitting in Neighborhood Revitalization Programs” to crack down on crime, city leaders and local legislators were quick to strike back at the governor with criticisms of their own.
Pawlenty spoke out about the two shootings in Uptown and Downtown in an interview on Minnesota Public Radio.
“From my vantage point, when you've got people shooting each other in the streets and you've got all that money sitting in Neighborhood Revitalization Programs and some of the other things they do that aren't as high a priority, those resources should be redeployed in my view in the near and intermediate term on cracking down on this violence in Minneapolis,” Pawlenty said.
Minneapolis officials and area legislators shot back by saying that NRP money is committed to helping improve neighborhoods and if the governor wants to see more support for public safety, he could start by restoring some of the $30 million in Local Government Aid cut by the state.
“These huge state cuts forced Minneapolis to reduce vital services across the board, including many police officers,” Mayor R.T. Rybak said in a statement.
But while city officials and politicians responded by loudly calling for additional funding, NRP Director Bob Miller quietly pointed out that the programs developed and implemented by neighborhoods have funded community public safety measures to the tune of $10.5 million. More importantly, the programs work at getting to the root of many of the neighborhood problems that lead to crime.
“If you just jump from one crisis to another, you're not going to develop a plan and you're not going to improve the stability of the community. And I think the neighborhood action plans have done exactly the opposite of that,” Miller said. “They have fostered stability in the neighborhoods.”
He said for 15 years NRP has helped build communities and reinforced their ability to deal with issues that arise. It has been popular with community members, who have developed plans that have invested in housing, economic development, social services and, yes, community public safety.
“The important part about NRP has always been that it has empowered the residents to make decisions and it gave them the opportunity to not just develop plans but implement those plans,” Miller said. “That's how you change neighborhoods. That's how you make them better places to live, work, learn and play.”
He also said the governor should be reminded that the money in the NRP reserve have already been approved for the implementation of specific plans developed by neighborhoods.
“These are very much committed dollars,” Miller said.
Pawlenty backed away from his statements and in a meeting just days later with Rybak, Police Chief Tim Dolan and City Council President Barbara Johnson agreed to fund $2 million for additional police officers in Minneapolis.
The immediate funding was part of a package of public safety initiatives discussed during the meeting.
But the governor's remarks left some officials and residents feeling frustrated. State Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, said her constituents were “burning up the e-mail waves” to the mayor, governor and members of the City Council.
“The frustration is really spilling over,” she said.
State Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-Minneapolis, also said the governor's remarks only served to aggravate a city already trying to deal with public safety issues.
“We need a partner in public safety,” Ellison said, “Not a finger-pointer.”