Thirteenth Ward City Council independent cites family reasons; biggest achievement might be long-term city budgeting
City Councilmember Barret Lane (13th Ward) says he will not seek another term, citing family reasons and saying it was a family decision.
"My 7-year-old came home one night and said, ‘Daddy, you need a job with fewer night meetings,’" said Lane.
Lane, 41, made his announcement during a Sept. 27 interview with the Southwest Journal. The 13th Ward covers the city’s Southwest corner. It includes Fulton, Linden Hills, West Calhoun, Armatage, Lynnhurst and Kenny neighborhoods.
During the past five years, the Fulton resident has shown a drive for tackling difficult financial issues, such as pushing for the city’s first five-year budget, department-level business planning and finding a long-term fix for Neighborhood Revitalization Program funding.
"I think I am going to walk out of here in a year feeling like this has been time well-invested — by me in the community and by the community in me," said Lane, sitting in his City Council office. "Despite its bumps, on the whole, this has been quite positive."
Lane is one of three Councilmembers that isn’t a part of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party and is the Council’s only independent. Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward) and Natalie Johnson Lee (5th Ward) are Green Party members.
Lane got nosed out of the Ways and Means chairmanship in 2002. His self-appointed role as financial watchdog has put him at odds with colleagues at times. Yet he said he didn’t think he had any more political dust-ups than any other Councilmember, and any perceived internal wrangling "is not a big driver" is his decision.
"When I started this, this really was sort of a sabbatical," said Lane, an attorney. "I never was going to be a career politician."
Lane is the second incumbent to announce he would not run in 2005. Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward), father of young twins, announced earlier this year he would not run for a second term, also citing family reasons.
Lane is married to the Rev. Pamela Stalheim Lane, a part-time pastor at Robbinsdale’s Faith Lilac Way Lutheran Church, and they have two sons, Benjamin and Daniel, 7 and 5, respectively. Pastor Lane and Councilmember Lane both have evening meetings and often merely pass each other in the night, he said. As the boys are getting older, they have more afterschool activities, such as Cub Scouts.
The boys’ artwork adorns their father’s office. Hanging behind Lane’s desk is a series of drawings: a portrait of a stick-people family, a whale and a jumble of green squiggly lines. Written in adult hand, above the squiggles, is the title: "Wrestling with my dad makes me happy."
Lane used to practice law in the small, now-dissolved law firm Hanlon & Lane. He does not know what he will do when his term expires, he said.
"I am wide open to all types of alternatives, whether it is returning to the practice of law, working in government service in some fashion or going to the private sector," he said.
He only recently decided he would not seek re-election and wanted to let other potential candidates know as soon as possible.
Lane first won a seat in a May 1999 special election, defeating DFLer Karen Wilson. Lane replaced Steve Minn, who stepped down to take the Commerce Commissioner’s post in Gov. Jesse Ventura’s administration. Lane defeated DFL-endorsed Greg Abbott in the 2001 general election.
His advice to new 13th Ward candidates is to pick an issue to run on and stick to it.
"That is the hardest thing — because everybody is going to pull you in a different direction," he said. "You have to decide where you have the most leverage, where you will make the most difference, where your talents lie."
Going out gracefully
Taking the high road, Lane declined to name any particular job frustrations — such as losing the top Ways and Means spot — saying, "You just have to go with the flow.
"Ultimately, the majority decides," he said. "That is part of the understanding of being here. It is not a matter of whether I am frustrated or not frustrated, it is a matter of whether the work is moving forward or not. In retrospect, it is important just to be thankful that we have got as far as we could."
The next Council will continue to face financial challenges, but he is generally optimistic, Lane said. Credit for creating the five-year budget plan should be shared "broadly and widely."
He singled out praise for Mayor R.T. Rybak for making the plan the core of his budget proposals.
Some constituents have criticized Lane for not taking early strong stands on development proposals, such as The Boulevard at West 54th Street & Lyndale Avenue South.
Lane said he would not change his approach — which is to go through the formal city process and listen to all sides before weighing in.
"For me, with my values and my background, it is the only thing I could do. I have to have the facts to make the decision," he said.
Lane said the top priorities for his last year in office include making the 13th Ward a prototype for a more intensive Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) effort, something other wards could copy.
CERT offers training for citizens to learn how to better prepare themselves, their families and their community for emergencies, and respond in a safe manner. Lane said he is ready to support it with his office budget and campaign for neighborhood groups’ NRP support.
"Would it be useful in case of a terrorist attack? Sure," said Lane, who has taken the CERT "train the trainer" class. "But it is much more likely we will have a big ice storm or blow-down or tornado."
Lane also wants to continue to work on the Lyndale Avenue improvements from Minnehaha Creek to the Crosstown, he said.