Civic beat // Amid overtime troubles, Fire Chief retires

Minneapolis Fire Chief Alex Jackson is retiring after three years on the job.

Jackson is a 30-year veteran of the Fire Department and the first African American fire chief in Minneapolis. His last day will be Feb. 29.

Rybak has nominated John Fruetel to replace Jackson. Fruetel served 31 years as a Minneapolis firefighter and most recently served as the city’s emergency preparedness training manager.

In a news release, Rybak said he was disappointed Jackson made the decision to retire. Jackson, however, was facing grilling by the City Council over his department’s overtime budget.

Fire Department numbers show that the city was on pace to dole out $1 million in overtime in 2011. The numbers also showed that firefighters were much more likely to call in sick during the summer and on weekends.

Jackson was up for reappointment this winter, and a few council members said publicly they had doubts about voting for his re-appointment.

Mark Lakosky, president of the Fire Fighters Association of Minneapolis Local 82, said Jackson has also lost the support of firefighters in recent months.

“They didn’t feel that he was reflecting a position that protects us and everybody else,” Lakosky said.

For the first couple years, Jackson’s department was able to cut spending through attrition and retirement, but when city cuts went deeper in 2011, Jackson had to lay off six firefighters.

“When you’re laying off firefighters, you need to sell a mission, whether you believe in it our not — dictated by someone else — and I think it just wore him out,” Lakosky said, who also noted that Jackson took unjust public blame for a failed vacant house board-up program.

Jackson did not return a phone message left at his office.

In Fruetel, Lakosky said Rybak is choosing a fire chief who understands what it is to be a firefighter.

“He certainly does know the ins and outs of our operation, and most importantly to me, the suppression side and keeping people safe,” Lakosky said. “He knows the number of firefighters we need on the ground, not what council members or the mayor say we need.”

Rybak, city meet stadium deadline

Gov. Mark Dayton said he wanted every Vikings stadium proposal on his desk by 5 p.m. Jan. 12, and Mayor R.T. Rybak and Council President Barb Johnson met his deadline with a proposal to build the facility on the Metrodome site.

In a letter to legislative leaders, Rybak and Johnson said the Metrodome site provided the cheapest stadium in the best location and did not require any new taxes.

The plan calls for construction to begin after the 2012-2013 Minnesota Vikings schedule. For at least two years the team would play at TCF Bank Stadium while a new stadium is built with a goal for a 2015 opening.  

Rybak’s plan would use a portion of city sales and lodging tax revenue and a portion of downtown restaurant and liquor tax revenue. Those are existing taxes that are scheduled to go toward the Convention Center through 2020.

From 2016 to 2045, the city would allocate $6.5 million a year to pay for operating costs and capital maintenance support of the stadium, plus a revenue stream to support $150 million in capital costs.

The plan would also renovate the Target Center and transfer the facility from the city to a new stadium authority, relieving residents of roughly $5 million per year in property taxes to support the arena.

In a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Julie Rosen and Rep. Morrie Lanning, Rybak and Johnson said they’re looking forward to a stadium bill during the 2012 legislative session.

“While we are open to and engaged in continued discussions with the Vikings on the Linden Avenue site, we believe that Downtown East remains the best, lowest cost option for a new Vikings stadium,” they wrote.

The letter also mentioned a casino at Block E as a potential funding source.

Dayton received eight other proposals, but only a site in Arden Hills is a serious competitor with Minneapolis.

The Minnesota Legislature is scheduled to convene its 2012 session on Jan. 24.

Allen will become first-ever female Native American legislator

After capturing 56 percent of the vote in a special election for the House District 61B seat, Susan Allen on Jan. 24 will be sworn in as the first Native American woman to serve in the Minnesota Legislature.

Nathan Blumenshine, who ran as a “Respect” candidate, took 43 percent of the vote. Someone from outside of the DFL or Republican Party has not won a seat in the Minnesota Legislature since 2002.

Dayton includes Nicollet Mall, Sculpture Garden in bonding proposal

Gov. Mark Dayton on Jan. 17 announced a $750 million bonding bill that would fund infrastructure projects across the state.

His proposal includes $25 million to rebuild Nicollet Mall downtown and $8.5 million toward renovations at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

Also included in Dayton’s proposal is $25 million toward a future Southwest Corridor light rail line that would run from Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis.

Nicollet Mall was the city’s No. 1 request for bonding money. Downtown businesses say the Mall’s granite pavers are cracking and require millions to repair.

Reach Nick Halter at [email protected]