An Open Reply to Lisa Bender

(Editor’s note: This letter has been revised to remove an inaccurate statement suggesting Council Member Lisa Bender called for the Whittier neighborhood board to be censured. Here’s a note from Matt Laible, a city spokesman: “Neighborhood and Community Relations Department staff have been working with the Whittier staff and executive committee to develop a number of steps that Whittier will take to improve its operations and create a positive, engaging environment at its meetings. Following up on those conversations, the City is sending a letter to Whittier to document the agreed-upon action steps. It is not a censure or any action taken against the group.”)

Dear Lisa,
I appreciate your thoughtful letter seeking to engage a broader swath of the Minneapolis citizenry. I have long worked with under-served and disenfranchised members of our community in the healthcare setting, and I applaud those who work to help others voices be heard.

As a neighbor who voted for you in the last election, I hoped you would make a difference, and I still have hope. You do, after all, have several more years to your term as an alderwoman. I want to respectfully disagree with your approach, however. You have not been helping others use their voices – you have been claiming to represent them – whether real or imagined – and creating open hostility within your ward.

As a homeowner who continues to be concerned about development that destroys existing structures rather than building on vacant lots, I felt more than ignored when I tried to communicate with you. Emails went unanswered. When I sought you out during our neighborhood meeting to understand why I hadn’t heard back, you told me you couldn’t talk about it. As someone who has invested significantly in my neighborhood, I deserve to be heard too. Renters should be heard as well, but when the neighborhood goes downhill, they move.

I’m stuck with my investment.

When confronted about ignoring constituents, you were disparaging of a homeowner constituent because she has the bully pulpit of her television show and could energize her followers. In fact, you dismissed all of us who were contacting you by saying that most of the people that emailed weren’t even from Minneapolis, and you’d been hearing from a lot of others, who you apparently didn’t dismiss. That’s not giving them a voice – if that were the case, you would facilitate them coming to speak in public. After all, voices that aren’t heard by all can be misrepresented and misconstrued.

You did attend the open forum hosted by The Whittier neighborhood – bravo.

Except, when the neighbors expressed disagreement with your point of view – they didn’t agree with the voices you keep claiming to hear and represent, you complained that they ambushed you. Let me suggest that when you start to feel paranoid that your constituents are against you, that perhaps you re-examine your positions.

Lastly, someone in frustration coined the term, “Bendrification.” While I don’t agree with that, yet anyhow, please understand that you are now a public official. It is unwise to rile up your fellow aldermen and complain about how others perceive you, unless you want the caricatures to become even more ugly.

I hope you will take this to heart and re-examine your public diplomacy. If not, your tenure will be both short, and increasingly uncomfortable.

Eric Meininger
Constituent and resident, Minneapolis 10th ward