Improving public safety is top priority
CITY HALL - As Mayor R.T. Rybak and members of the City Council began their new terms in office last year, they didn't hesitate to launch sweeping initiatives and outline broad plans for the future.
They approved a contract to create a citywide wireless Internet network, put together a detailed sustainability plan, worked with Hennepin County to launch a 10-year plan to end homelessness, provided key support for a successful campaign to use instant runoff voting in city elections, laid out a long-term transportation plan and increased initiatives geared toward improving public safety.
While much of the framework of those initiatives was completed last year, now all of it has to be transformed into tangible results for city residents. That, the mayor and members of the City Council acknowledge, will be much of the task for the year ahead.
“This year is when you'll see the results of all this planning,” Rybak said, adding that he won't be introducing as many new initiatives as last year and will largely focus on what's already on the city's agenda.
One of the things city leaders are most anxious to see the results of are efforts to improve public safety, which Rybak said remains the city's top priority. The city should start seeing increased results this year, he said, from public safety initiatives that include the addition of more than 100 police officers over two years, the resurrection of the Minneapolis Police Department's Juvenile Unit and expanded public safety technology, such as additional cameras and Shot Spotter devices that are able to detect the location of gunfire.
Another piece of technology that city officials have said will aid in increased public safety will be the citywide wireless Internet network, which is scheduled for completion in November. The network will allow police officers to access information and file reports from their squad cars, for example, and allow firefighters to access information about a building before entering.
Councilmember Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward) said in addition to public safety technology initiatives, the city has been working on better coordinating public safety efforts among departments - such as 911, the city attorney's office and the Police Department - and will continue to do so this year.
Lessons in leadership
Another issue that city leaders spent a lot of time dealing with in 2006 was the turmoil in several of the city's top leadership positions. The police chief, fire chief, Public Works director and civil rights director positions have all been without a permanent leader at some point in the past year.
Councilmember Robert Lilligren (6th Ward) said he expects the mayor and City Council will take a closer look this year at the city's hiring process and have a discussion about improvements that can be made.
“I think that we really need to look more at our appointing process and screening process,” Lilligren said.
Glidden and Councilmember Ralph Remington (10th Ward) said they would like to see specific policies established for how the city vets candidates for its top leadership positions.
Rybak admits there was more transition than he would have liked among city leaders in the past year, but said he didn't anticipate former Police Chief William McManus leaving or the lawsuits against former Fire Chief Bonnie Bleskachek (alleging various acts of harassment or discrimination) that led to her removal from the position. The mayor said he's focused on stabilizing all of the city's leadership positions and has also begun meeting monthly with Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bill Green, who is serving as the interim leader in that position. Although the city does not have authority over the public schools, Rybak said he's trying to work more closely with school officials and open the dialogue on planning and policy.
Another entity city leaders will have to work more closely with in 2007 is the financially ailing Library Board, which closed three community libraries at the end of last year. Two committees - the Library Advisory Committee and the Committee on the Future of Libraries in Hennepin County - are examining long-term solutions for the Minneapolis Public Libraries that could include a full or partial merger with Hennepin County. City leaders will need to consider the recommendations from those groups as well as any increases from the Minnesota Legislature in local government aid, upon which the libraries are heavily dependent for funding, and work with the Library Board to figure out how it can achieve long-term financial solvency and stability.
� is really our crunch year,” Glidden said. � was really a warm-up.”
Other things to watch for
The sale of a number of municipal parking ramps, most of them located Downtown, is still underway and could be completed sometime this spring, Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) said.
“This is not going to be money we would have [available] to spend,” Goodman said. “It will be used to pay down debt.”
Issues will also likely emerge as the construction of the new Twins Stadium moves forward, Goodman said. She has already raised concerns at meetings of the Ballpark Implementation Committee about the proposed elimination of a section of 3rd Avenue near the ballpark site and said she will continue to resist any stadium plans that make it unfriendly to surrounding neighbors.
“I'm not going to be bowled over,” Goodman said.
Lilligren said one of his top priorities in the upcoming year will be to reopen Nicollet Avenue at Lake Street, where Kmart currently sits. Restoring continuity to Nicollet Avenue is important to the revitalization of the corridor, he said.
One of Glidden's top priorities is reevaluating the city's current 2 percent cap on wage increases for its employment.
“You can't expect to retain good employees with a 2 percent wage cap,” Glidden said. “It's unsustainable. It's unfair.”
Glidden said she's also interested in working toward the creation of a Peak Oil Task Force at the city level. The city of Portland, Ore., formed a Peak Oil Task Force this summer that is comprised of citizens who advise the City Council there on appropriate responses to uncertainties in the supply and affordability of oil.
Remington said one of his top priorities will be continuing work on the Uptown Small Area Plan that was started last year. He said he also plans to push for the Council to pass a major antiwar resolution and would like the Council to examine restricting the use of trans fats in city eateries.
“With us, it may take the form of requiring restaurants to label whether they use trans fats, or self-identify,” Remington said, adding that he thinks access to healthy food is a socio-economic issue. Poor families are more likely to eat cheap fast food filled with trans fats, he said.