Civic Beat

Legislature gives library merger green light

Just days before the end of this year’s session, the Minnesota Legislature approved enabling legislation for the consolidation of the Minneapolis and Hennepin County library systems.

The merger will still need another round of approval from the Minneapolis Public Library Board, Minneapolis City Council, Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, with advisory review by the Hennepin County Library Board. According to the enabling legislation, those groups may not offer local approval until the city and Library Board reach an agreement with at least 80 percent of the represented Minneapolis Public Library employees addressing the impact of the merger on employees.

If it receives that additional approval, the merger can happen as soon as Jan. 1 and no later than Dec. 31, 2008. The new system would be called the Hennepin County Library and would be comprised of 15 Minneapolis and 26 suburban libraries.

In a prepared statement, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said if the merger receives full approval, the city is committed to giving the Library Board additional funding to reopen Roosevelt, Southeast and Webber Park libraries. The Library Board closed the three libraries late last year in an attempt to get the financially ailing system on stronger footing.

Under the consolidation plan, the city will also contribute a declining amount of money to Hennepin County for 10 years. That contribution would start at $7.8 million in 2008 and would include the portion of the city’s local government aid (LGA) that would have been allocated to the library system. It will decrease $780,000 per year. The city will also fund any increased service at libraries during the first three years.

Council Acts

5/25 Meeting

Absent: Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) was absent.

Community Engagement: The City Council approved the structure of the Community Engagement Task Force, which is charged with examining how the city can better communicate with and elicit participation from community organizations.

The Council voted to change the initially planned structure of the task force to include more representatives from neighborhood organizations and block clubs, a move Council Member Robert Lilligren (6th Ward) said was done in response to community input. Those task force participants will join representatives from ethnic and cultural organizations, issue-focused organizations, business associations, community development corporations, at-large residents and others as voting members of the group. Three council members, the mayor or one of his staff members, and several staff members will serve as non-voting members of the group.

Council Member Cam Gordon (2nd Ward) moved to have some voting members – such as community development corporations – moved to non-voting members, but that motion was defeated.

The Council also directed the city coordinator to organize staff teams that will analyze future options for the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), which has an end date of 2009.

Civil Rights Director: The City Council approved the appointment of Michael Jordan to serve as the new director of the Department of Civil Rights.

Rybak tapped Jordan, who has served as commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and was the public information officer for the St. Paul Police Department, to lead the department after a search that began late last year.

Michael Browne has served as interim director of the department since May, when Civil Rights Director Jayne Khalifa was named as the new deputy city coordinator.

Minneapolis Convention Center: The Council approved $3 million to repair and polish the flooring of the Minneapolis Convention Center. The completion date for the project is set for August 2008.

Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) raised concerns about the cost at the May 24 Committee of the Whole meeting, but Council President Barb Johnson (4th Ward) said repairing the cracked and eroding floor is a long-standing problem that needs to be addressed.

“It’s been discussed over the years … this is the most cost-effective way to address this,” Johnson said. “It’s a safety need. It’s also an aesthetic need.”

Graffiti Abatement Deadline: Council Member Gary Schiff (9th Ward), introduced an ordinance that would reduce the amount of time city residents have to remove graffiti on their property. The ordinance would reduce the number of days residents are given for graffiti abatement from 10 days to seven days.

Housing Director: Council members took time at their meeting to honor and give a standing ovation to Cynthia Lee, the director of multifamily housing for the Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) Department who left the city after 29 years of service. Lee helped put together the affordable housing trust fund and is, Goodman said, one of the “true believers” in affordable housing.