Seven Lean Years

A discussion on Minneapolis e-democracy list on November 14, 2008

“I do know that we are headed for the biblical "seven lean years" that will challenge us all. I also know that the mayoral candidates - and the city council candidates as well - will be well advised to think in terms of "less is more".

To cut to the chase, framing the municipal election cycle in 2009 as a review of recent decisions about NRP is not the big picture. The long lead time it will take to straighten out the mess left behind by the Bush administration, the huge budget deficit being anticipated by the Minnesota Governor and Legislature, the chronic funding shortfalls at the county and municipal levels of government, serious belt-tightening in the NGOs, and the grim necessity of facing structural declines in household income - that's the big picture.

It won't just be the highway bridge crashing into the river. We have a chronic high school dropout rate. We have a growing wave of foreclosures, layoffs, and bankruptcies. We see pensions and 401K retirement nest eggs shrinking drastically or simply vanishing. We can and must take note of the vacancy rate in the big commercial buildings, the condo projects that are struggling or simply not happening. We must come to grips with the inefficacy of having an "affordable housing" benchmark at 80% of metro median income when a City of Minneapolis median income tells a much more modest story.

None of this is really news. It's great that a new day is dawning in our national life but the devil's in the details. No reshuffling of the chairs on the planning and community development front, no facile pep talks by the city's leadership,
no kidding. Call me Cassandra if you like, but crisis management is going to be the name of our municipal game. Careerists and poseurs beware!”

Fred Markus
Phillips West

"If we in Minneapolis are headed for 'seven lean years' as Fred Markus says, it would be well for city government to nurture and support its local businesses. Too often, the opposite has been true. In particular, I would cite the use of inspections and other regulation to harass and even close down businesses for allegedly condoning crime. Property taxes on local businesses are also quite high. The housing boom of recent years produced high assessed values which in some cases have not been reversed. Also, the City Council has racheted up the cost of various fees.

Just yesterday, the Minneapolis City Council considered an ordinance directed against rental properties which is described:

“Ordinance amending Title 12, Chapter 244 of the Minneapolis Code of Ordinances relating to Housing: Maintenance Code

a. requiring a management plan from a rental property licensee after a first incident of conduct on licensed premises involving prostitution, the unlawful sale or possession of controlled substances, or the unlawful possession, transportation, sale or use of a weapon; and

b. allowing Crime Prevention Specialists to reject inadequate management plans and to work with the rental property licensees to develop good working plans to assist in the effective management of the rental property. “

In other words, after a single incident of prostitution, drug use, etc. in a rental property, the owner is required to submit a “management plan” to the SAFE unit which may or may not be approved. Presumably, the business would be closeddown until SAFE gave its permission to operate once again.

This is absurd. Property owners cannot control the behavior of people coming into their buildings except with extreme surveillance and invasion of privacy. Several months ago, a rental-property manager proposed in his management plan that he station a guard at the front door of his building 24 hours a day and strip search all persons who entered. (The city’s spin machine then went into action against this man portraying him as someone who proposed to strip-search female visitors to satisfy his own lewd curiosity.) Yes, that’s what it might take to guarantee that no drugs would enter the building and trigger that first incident that would give SAFE (the police department) veto power over management of a building.

As an analogy, let’s suppose that a bill was introduced in the Minnesota legislature requiring the Minneapolis Police Department (or the City Council) to submit a “management plan” if a single act of murder or rape occurred in a street, alley, or park within the city of Minneapolis. After a “third incident” of such behavior, the proposed law might trigger automatic removal of all city council members for dereliction of duty, followed by a special election to replace them.

If such a law were proposed, there would be a howl of protest from the about-to-be-deposed Council members and their political supporters. And I would agree. The police cannot guarantee “zero occurrence” of severe criminal activity within their jurisdiction. And if the police, trained in such matters, cannot make crime go away, how can rental property owners be expected to do this more effectively?

We need more grown-ups on the Minneapolis City Council. We need more people of good will who are willing to work with local businesses to combat their mutual problem of crime. About ten years ago, Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee drew up a written set of proposals on how rental property owners might cooperate with the city in this regard. Copies were given to R.T. Rybak, Don Samuels, and others, even before they were elected to office. But the city has not followed up on any of this discussion, preferring the blame-shifting approach instead.

You can’t kill local businesses and expect the city to prosper. Yes, this may be an effective way to do politics - playing on negative stereotypes of various kinds - but it is abusive government. And that’s what we have in many respects. So let’s
focus on controlling that which city government can control - its own bad behavior - while trying to weather the economic storm that lies ahead."

William McGaughey
Harrison, Minneapolis

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