City Hall Update // Federal grant allows city to hire back six firefighters

A slow reduction of Minneapolis firefighters will come to a halt soon, as the federal government has awarded the city a $1 million grant to hire back six laid off firefighters in exchange for a city promise to hold the line on staffing. 

 

“It’s hopefully going to allow me to more effectively staff our apparatus and improve firefighter safety,” said Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel.

 

The grant will pay for two years salary and benefits for six firefighters, bringing the number of sworn city firefighters to 388, said Fruetel, who took over as chief earlier this year. As a stipulation of the grant, the city will be required to maintain that level of staffing. 

 

According to a recent city report, 39 firefighters are eligible to retire in 2012, or about 10 percent of the workforce. Fruetel said the department would have to get creative in training new employees while keeping costs down. 

 

Firefighter staffing has been a hot topic at City Hall as of late. In 2008, the city employed 405 firefighters and was able to keep average daily staffing at just under 100 firefighters. Today, the city employs 382 firefighters and Fruetel said average daily staffing has been around 92 in recent months. 

 

In 2005, the City Council passed a “standard of coverage” that required the fire chief to keep 96 firefighters on duty every day. Last year, the Council voted to remove that standard. 

 

The city had laid off 10 firefighters last summer following cuts in state aid to Minneapolis. Council members did some budget maneuvering to save four of those jobs, but six firefighters have been unemployed since then. 

 

“The hiring of the six back certainly makes a difference,” Fruetel said. “Every firefighter makes a difference.”

 

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Expansion of outdoor events delayed

 

The Minneapolis City Council has delayed an ordinance that would have allowed bars and restaurants an additional four days to hold parking lot parties and live music. 

 

The ordinance, authored by Council Member Gary Schiff, was in response to a café in his district that wanted to host a summer music series every Friday night on its patio, but current city ordinance only allows for four events a year. 

 

Council Member Meg Tuthill (Ward 10) argued that while neighborhoods were given the proper 10-day notice of the public hearing for the ordinance change, they didn’t have enough time to weigh in because the notices were sent out over Memorial Day weekend. 

 

She got six other council members to agree with her on June 15, postponing the changes for two weeks. Also voting to postpone were Barb Johnson, Don Samuels, Sandy Colvin Roy, Cam Gordon, Diane Hofstede and Kevin Reich. 

 

Schiff and Robert Lilligren (Ward 6) fought the motion to postpone, saying businesses in their wards were planning on the ordinance’s passage and by delaying it their businesses would suffer. 

 

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Five-member stadium authority chosen

 

A five-member committee in charge of handling the construction of a new Vikings stadium is set, as Gov. Mark Dayton and Mayor R.T. Rybak have announced their choices for the posts. 

 

As a part of the stadium deal passed by the Legislature and City Council, Dayton was given the power to appoint three to the authority while Rybak could appoint two.

 

Dayton chose John D. Griffith, Duane Benson and Michele Kelm-Helgen, who will serve as chair of the new stadium authority. 

 

Rybak appointed Barbara Butts Williams and Bill McCarthy.

 

Those five members will oversee the design, construction and financing of the new stadium.

 

Kelm-Helgen is Dayton’s deputy chief of staff and will resign to lead the stadium authority. She lives Downtown. 

 

Griffith is a Target Corp. executive in charge of property development. 

  

Benson is a former state senator and NFL player. He has also served as the executive director for the Minnesota Business Partnership. 

 

Butts Williams is the dean of the Capella University School of Education and is former executive at The St. Paul Companies (now Travelers),  Control Data (now Ceridian) and Wilson Learning Corporation. 

 

McCarthy, for the past 10 years, has been president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, which represents 75,000 workers from 100 unions. 

 

 

Reach Nick Halter at nhalter@mnpubs.com.