Council adopts less focused ‘Focus Minneapolis’ plan

Eight months after the idea was introduced, the Minneapolis City Council voted 11-2 on Sept. 13 to begin centralizing the city's development bureaucracy and focus on housing and economic development.

The "Focus Minneapolis" resolution will place the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA), the city Planning Department and some transportation planning under the new Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED). An interim director can be hired to run the department.

After furious lobbying, the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) won't be folded into CPED, but could be later. Councilmember Barret Lane (13th Ward) told his colleagues this is just the beginning.

"As hard as this has been, harder work remains," Lane said.

Web of difficulty

Integrating the MCDA, the city's powerful development arm, and NRP, its popular neighborhood program, shows how hard change might be.

Both agencies deal with community development. Both could require state approval for any structural changes.

NRP is also governed by many entities, including the School, Park and Library boards and Hennepin County.

In the original restructuring proposal, the McKinsey report, NRP was to have been subsumed by CPED. The council decided against that.

That leaves one of CPED's core departments -- Neighborhood and Community Planning -- a shell, and perhaps redundant. "Without NRP, [NCP] would be just another Planning Department," said Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward).

While NRP Director Robert Miller agrees neighborhoods would lose no autonomy under CPED, the 19-member NRP policy board issued a statement Sept. 9 opposing integration.

Miller said state approval to make NRP a city department would be extremely hard. In recent years, the Legislature has opposed many city requests.

Said Councilmember Barbara Johnson (4th Ward), "I think what we're going to find out is we're not going to be able to make wholesale changes without going to the Legislature, and I think that's really scary to people,"

A thorny promise

Putting the 150-employee MCDA into CPED could also require state permission; increasing the difficulty, said Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), is a council-approved provision that no employees receiving city payroll checks will lose any pay or benefits "due solely to this restructuring."

Goodman, who opposed the provision that passed 7-6, said employees laid off due to possible budget cuts could have grounds for wrongful termination suits. Mayor R.T. Rybak told councilmembers it would be "not a smart legal strategy" to approve such protection, because any MCDA employee laid off for any reason could claim wrongful termination under the "Focus Minneapolis" policy.