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Inspections Pressure on Mayoral Candidate Al Flowers

the debate on Minneapolis e-democracy forum

Terry Yzaguirre, July 17, 2009, 11:30 p.m.

The City of Minneapolis condemned mayoral candidate Al Flowers' home yesterday,
July 16th. Flowers, who announced earlier this year that he is running against
incumbent Raymond T. Rybak, had the condemnation notice plastered on his door
with reason reading water shut off. The Flowers family is to vacate the
property by Sunday, July 19th.

 

Caty Royce, July 18, 2009, 9:32 a.m.

it could be as simple as someone not paying the water bill and the water
is shut off. there is a state required condemation of any property that
lacks utility service.

 

Dan Dittman, July 18, 2009, 10:16 a. m.

I would like to take a moment to thank RT Rybak and the thirteen city
council members who endorsed him, for providing yet another reason why
I will not be voting for any Democrats this year.

This incident very clearly demonstrates abuse, which, under the
current administration has been allowed to continue unchecked. For
example, in the last twelve months, I have become aware of no fewer
than four other candidates for elected office who challenged the
Democratic status quo and promptly received visits by inspections or
some other city department such as the Police. Is the Democratic party
using city departments to harass candidates? It appears that way.
Ultimately Terry and Al should be commended for helping expose this
blatant corruption as most incidents do not come to light other than
in speeches by the candidates to smaller crowds.

Another individual commented that the situation could be as simple as
not paying a water bill. This is not the case. A different notice, one
which threatens to turn off the water service, not a condemnation
notice would have been posted instead. Try not paying your water bill
for three months, I assure you, the city will not condemn your property.

Perhaps the inspections department could be put to better use by
handing them all shovels, bags of asphalt and sending them on pot hole
detail. The project after all is, "shovel ready."

Dan Dittmann

Another Powderhorn resident now waiting for his visit from inspections

Bill McGaughey, July 18, 2009, 11:36 a.m.

If true, this is a MAJOR political story. Why haven't the Star Tribune and
other commercial media gotten on it? Terry Yzaguirre and MPLSMIRROR are doing
the community a great service in calling this incident to our attention.

 

Roberta Englund, July 18, 2009, 12:07 p.m.

This is not a major new story: condemnation for lack of utilities happens
according to law. The status of water bills on the City website is public
information and there is a notice process, before the shut off and before
the property is condemned, that gives ample time for the bill to be paid or
the problem remedied.

 

Bill McGaughey, July 18, 2009 12:56 p. m.

Apologists for the current city administration would have us believe that
there is no major political story in the recent report that a house owned by Al
Flowers, Rybak's principal opponent in the forthcoming mayoral election, was
condemned for lack of water. Nonsense. There certainly is a story. Any
normally alert political person would recognize it.

With respect to water shutoffs being a simple legal matter, there is a question
whether in this case the water was actually shut off. The MPLSMIRROR article
states: "I went over to the house today only to discover that the water was
running just fine."

The article in MPLSMIRROR also discloses that Flowers was hit with $800 in
inspection fees for having some windows without screens even though a number of
homes in the area were in a similar situation. Sure looks like harassment to
me, especially in light of Flowers' past disputes with city elected
officials.

The Star Tribune, evidently lacking the resources which the MPLSMIRROR has for
timely news reporting, is working on a story on the Flowers condemnation.
Further details may soon become available on this situation.


Steve Brandt (Star Tribune reporter), July 18, 2009, 1:32 p. m.

If people are going hop in with conclusions, they might bother to get their
facts straight first. Al doesn’t own the house; he rents it.

 

Reggie Birts, July 18, 2009, 4:15 p.m.

I'm not sure if I'm just naive or missed something but is it to far fetched
(if this is being suggested) to think that sitting government officials would
use their power and influence to place obstacles in the way of people who
challenge them, when running for re-election.

 

Craig Miller, July 18, 2009, 5:17 p. m.

Reggie Birts asks ---

RESPONSE -

One reason I got off this list for a long time and out of the city was the lack
of institutional memory in some areas of leadership and citizens. 1993? Steve
Minn was a builder and remodeler over by the U. I'll step carefully and try
not to get sued.

He had the temerity to challenge the DFL incumbent in the 13th Ward. When he
started to score some points, friends of the incumbent (possibly without the
knowledge of the incumbent) took it upon themselves to go after his business
and daily bread. I believe approved permits were yanked. Projects shut down.
The reasons given by city staff were capricious at best.

Here is the scary part. Union City Employees and civil service management
employees took part in this. I believe they did it at the bidding of a fellow
city councilor and supporter of 13th Ward incumbent. Those employees knew
exactly what was going on and could have balked and never had their employment
jeopordized. As a matter of fact it would have burnished their image and
careers if they had. They would have had air tight lawsuits with taxpayer
dollars paying the legal fees if someone messed with their careers.

Mr. Minn on the other hand had to sue the city and via dicovery got all the
proof. He had to front all the legal fees. The SW Journal did a 5x better job
covering the story then the strib and it was right under the Strib's nose. They
didn't like Minn either. When the dust settled. Minn won both the election and
the lawsuit. In the end all of Minn's accusations were proven true by the
city's paperwork and employee's testimony.

From time to time politicians of all stripes behave on symbolic days, such as
the day a new council is sworn in. It had to be an interesting 1st council
meeting in Jan of 1994. 1st item on the agenda was 'settle lawsuit with Steve
Minn, because we are going to lose x thousands for the behaviour of city
councilors and their city employee minions'. But that 1st meeting, after being
sworn in, councilor Minn had to abstain from his first vote because the
vendetta against him was on the agenda. Nice way to start a council term.
I do not know if anyone is out to get Al Flowers' place of residence. I will
not accuse the mayor of doing so. I do know that if you don't have the guts,
money and staying power and you run afowl of the locals, you can and will be
subject to un-even enforcement and you will be crushed.

 

Terrell Brown, July 18, 2009, 6:09 p.m.

Should this be true it wouldn't be the first time that someone who
raised the ire of someone with an office in City Hall had problems with
the Inspections Dept.

Given the number of city elected officials that have taken up residence
in federal corrections institutions someone put it well recently when he
asked "do you want your politicians corrupt or incompetent, you get one
or the other?"

Part of the problem is that they stay around for to long, witness the
number that are seeking 3rd (or more) terms. I'm not really a proponent
of term limits but in what is a one party town we do need some options
to the status quo.

 

Steve Brandt, July 18, 2009, 6:53 p. m.

As much as I hate to disappoint critics of the Star Tribune, a story on this
matter has been written and should be posted later this evening, at the risk of
adding a few facts to the debate.

 

Guy Gambill, July 18, 2009, 6:59 p. m.

Greetings,

Well, RT once worked for the Strib and I have remained incredulous for years
at what the staff of that once great paper are willing to ignore in the case of
our Mayor... one of the many reasons (they don't give a tinker's damn about the news) that
the Strib is now on the ropes...in light of their record, of late, I say good
riddance.

As for the folks who find it difficult to believe that our local government is
capable of, well, a very blatant set of discriminatory--if not outright illicit--
actions... I ask, are you serious?

I have had occasion to get to see how our sitting Mayor operates, up close and
in a very personal manner. Let me tell you a story of how Mayor Rybak, as a
man, really is. A couple of years ago a group of politicians were on the Capitol
Steps for a State event. A friend of mine related to then Senator Becky Lourey, someone I
count as a friend to this day, that my son Justin was, at that point in time,
lay in a coma following a car accident. An old military buddy of mine, a man whose
personal friendship with me spans decades, happened to be in proximity to the
conversation.

When Senator Lourey heard of my son's condition she immediately stated she
would give me a call...and she did. My son received a personal call from Congressman
Ellison when he awoke. Amongst those who followed suit were Senator Higgins,
a number of Commissioners and Council Members, many other State Legislators,
the Governor's Office....but nary a "hi, how are ya?" from our beloved Mayor.

Truth is that the Mayor, personally, had---and he knew full well what he was doing--
bodily stole (yes, stole) the work I and others had done over the course of years,
around homeless strategies...the Strib, by the way, did a singularly poor coverage of
this. He knew from this and many other efforts in which I have been involved and
which I had ample opportunity to view the honesty, integrity and quality of the man,
that I had no time for him....yet he portrayed himself to be someone who gave a crap
about either me or my son. He most decidedly did not.

This is the man you want to re-elect again? Really? Across the board, this
Mayor's ultimate assessment, from housing to public safety, must be an atrocious one.
I have had occasion to know Al Flowers. Al may have his shortcomings, but the
one thing I have never found him to be is uncaring or unwilling to learn. I
hold our current Mayor woefully deficient in both departments. At some point in this our
troubled America the decision must be made: Do we want something different or
more of the same? I will be voting for Al. I can buttress that vote with a very
strong set of personal and professional reasons. Can you?

I still, as when Peter Mclaughlin ran against RT and I voted for the former,
am able to distinguish s--t from shinola....it is my sincere hope that folks will
ultimately recognize our current Mayor for the snake oil salesman that he truly is.

 

Laura Waterman Wittstock, July 18, 2009, 10:40 p.m.

It's both hilarious and sad, at once, that the North Side political
> climate is so noxious that a probable bill non-payment, and its
> automatic response from the city bureaucrats, is treated by some like
> some kind of evil plot on the part of RT Rybak.
>
> Let's keep in mind, folks: Flowers is a politician running,
> ostensibly, for mayor. So, puleeeeze, don't bring out the sobbing
> violins about poverty and poorly-paid part-time work, etc. He's a
> Public Figure, unlike the students over here, who just disappear into
> the mist when this kind of thing happens.
>
Not sure Flowers has announced for mayor. At the city convention
Flowers got if I recall seven or so votes for endorsement. Rybak was
endorsed on the first ballot.

Trying to connect Rybak with the water turnoff at Flowers' residence
is more than a stretch of conspiratorial theorization. I do think
there is a bit of non news at work here. I'll wait for the Strib..

 

Peter Tharaldson (chair, 5th district Independence Party), July 18, 2009, 11:55 p. m.

"It's both hilarious and sad, at once, that the North Side political
climate is so noxious that a probable bill non-payment, and its
automatic response from the city bureaucrats, is treated by some like
some kind of evil plot on the part of RT Rybak."

Al lives at 5800 Knox Avenue South....pretty dang far from the north side. I
happened to ride by there when he was doing an interview with the Mirror....it
is a couple blocks south of my friend Jim Moore's house. Why did you say North
Side?

While there are many reasons to criticize the press (I would suggest reading
" Out of Order" by Tom Patterson---former professor of mine), ' I have found Mr.
Brandt's articles to be quite deep.

Inspections: I came back from Graceville this afternoon, and stopped in
Starbuck briefly (western Minnesota). There are several homes without screens,
paint that is chipping... etc. People live in them and are welcomed in the
communities (these communities need people... I guess they understand that).
There is an understanding that times are tough for them. I find many of the
policies of this city remarkably confusing.

 

Bill McGaughey, July 19, 2009, 12:30 p. m.

Yesterday I was criticized for referring to "a house owned by Al Flowers" when
according to Steve Brandt, it should have been "a house rented by Al Flowers".
I'm sorry for the error and apologize to whoever might have been offended by
that statement.

Brandt's "fact-filled" article in today's Star Tribune was fair as far as it
went but it failed to address the key question of how a house can be condemned
for lack of water when by the testimony of both tenant and landlord, as well as
video evidence, the water to this house is still running.

Beyond that is the all-important issue of whether Minneapolis city officials
are condemning the house occupied by Al Flowers as a means of thwarting his
expected mayoral campaign. MPLSMIRROR.com raises the chilling possibility that
if Flowers is ordered out of his legal residence today, he can be arrested if
he tries to register at city hall as a candidate for mayor on or before July
21st.

The whole situation, including other inspections citations targeted at Flowers
after he announced his probable candidacy for mayor in April, smacks of
political harassment. The only evidence to the contrary was a statement by the
city's inspection director, Henry Reimer, quoted in Steve Brandt's article,
that his department operates free of interference from elected officials. If
the contrary were true, would you expect Reimer to admit it and be able to keep
his job?

Yes, water bills have to be paid. According to Brandt: "Mr. Flowers is $574
behind on his bill, of which about $448 is past due." It seems a bit
draconian, however, to be condemning a building for an unpaid bill this size
and especially to be giving the tenant only three days to move out. Likewise,
the $800 charge by city inspectors for missing or torn screens raises serious
questions of propriety and consistency. But, again, the condemnation order for
lack of water is clearly improper if the water is still running. What's going
on here?

Is this selective inspections enforcement directed against one of Mayor
Rybak's likely opponents? Is it timed, perhaps, to coincide with the
candidate filing period? If so, it's a serious matter. We want clean
government in this town, not a situation like Iran's where the incumbent
government sends out goon squads to harass its political opponents. Minneapolis
voters should be concerned if the city employs goon-like inspectors to harass
likely opponents for its officials seeking reelection.

To restate my original posting, this is a BIG, BIG, BIG political story - one
which belongs on the front page of the Star Tribune (and perhaps be run several
days in a row) rather than be buried in an inside page. Star Tribune reporters,
as well as other journalists, need to dig MUCH deeper into the situation. The
one exception is, of course, Terry Yzaguirre and Mplsmirror.com. She is keeping
the flame of investigative journalism alive in our day.

 

Wizard Marks, July 19, 2009, 1:59 p. m.

To be fair to the city, this whole situation seems to be computer generated.
When payment is not forthcoming, a computer generated billet-doux is propelled
to you courtesy of the U. S. Post Office. As the bill gets further behind, and
it happens when one is marginal economically, the consequences get more
impossible to contend with. That's how poverty works. If you don't have $200.00
for the bill, and you don't have steady, reliable work, how, for the luvva
Mike, are you going to pay $500.00?

To be fair to Rybak, the proposition that he had anything to do with Mr.
Flowers predicament vis-a-vis his candidacy for mayor generates a preposterous
motive. Is there a bookmaker in the English speaking world who will give you
odds that there is a conection between the two? I think not.


Bill McGaughey, July 19, 2009, 9:16 p. m.

The proposed condemnation of the house where Al Flowers is living goes to the
heart of the integrity of the political process in Minneapolis. This should be
of concern to all on this list. Elected officials in Minneapolis have a
history of interfering in inspections decisions. (A friend who used to be a
Minneapolis housing inspector told me today that this was common practice when
he was working for the city.) I thought Rybak was above this, but now I'm not
so sure.

Of course, I have no hard information that Mayor Rybak, his aides, or others in
city government ordered city inspectors to harass Al Flowers. But neither is
it likely that this a simple computer-generated outcome. Flowers reported a
rash of inspections citations since he announced for mayor in April. The $800
inspections charge for torn or broken screens is draconian. Flowers is known
to be detested by certain city officials. Exercise a bit of common sense here,
please. Too much is at stake to allow our political freedom to be sacrificed
to automatic belief in what the city's inspections department says.

The harassment of Al Flowers is not the only such case of suspected (or known)
political interference in inspections decisions. Mayor Rybak, along with Don
Samuels, was also involved in the shameful condemnation of "Uncle Bill's Food
Market", once located at Sheridan and Plymouth Avenues, where elected officials
directed Fire Department inspectors to find something wrong with a building
which they had inspected and approved six months earlier. If you want the
story on this, go to http://www.landlordpolitics.com/unclebill.html.

City Pages ran an article that fairly reported the situation in its issue dated
July 4, 2007. This article by Matt Snyders said, among other things: "Ali
Hassan Meshjell, an Iraqi immigrant, opened Uncle Bill's in January 2006. Just
three weeks later, the city sent him a letter threatening to revoke his
business license, citing neighborhood complaints. But the city was unable to
gather sufficient evidence of wrongdoing, despite stationing an undercover
investigator at the store for 45 days." On the other hand, a story in the Star
Tribune characteristically followed the party line set by city officials - that
the store was responsible for bringing crime to the neighborhood.

I think the mayor needs to issue a public statement on this matter, either
apologizing to Al Flowers and getting the condemnation lifted or else offering
a convincing explanation to justify what was done. (I would respect him more
if he did the former.) Certainly, the Star Tribune need to take a more
aggressive stance in investigating such matters. Don't be naive: Politicians
sometimes do awful things and it takes a vigilant community to call them to
account and check further abuse.

Tim Bonham, July 19, 2009, 6:35 p.m.

1. "Not sure Flowers has announced for mayor. At the city convention
Flowers got if I recall seven or so votes for endorsement. Rybak was
endorsed on the first ballot."

Actually, Flowers got 69 votes, or 8% on that ballot. Rybak got 591, 75%
and was endorsed. These numbers are available online at mpls.dfl.org.

2. Even if Mr. Flowers is not legally residing in that house, this will NOT
prevent him from filing to run for Mayor. The only residency requirement is
that he reside in the City of Minneapolis by October 4th (30 days before
election day). Inability to pay the $20 filing fee WOULD prevent him from
filing, unless he obtained a petition with the required number of signatures.

3. About the water bill, I worked for the company that was hired to redo the
city utility billing several years ago, and colleagues of mine worked on the
project. Here is how it works:

- If a utility bill goes unpaid, the next months bill shows a 'past-due'
balance, and a note about it on the bill. These continue, with increasingly
severe & threatening notes each month.

- Eventually, a separate 'shut-off' notice is sent, warning that the water
will be shut off if payment arrangements are not made soon (usually within 7
days). This is mailed to the same billing address that is used for the utility
bills (usually the address of the house). It is a special notice, with a very
prominent note on the outside warning of a utility shut-off. This is all done
by the computer system, and timing is based on a couple of items: the amount of
the bill owed, and how many payments have been missed. (It used to be $300
past due or 4 missed payments.)

- If nobody responds by the end of this period, the computer sends a shut-off
order to the water department workers, and they will schedule someone to go out
and turn the water off. How soon that is done depends on how busy they are.
(They do not stop collecting garbage, because that would be a health hazard to
the neighborhood, and because it's faster for the garbage workers to not check
any lists, but just pick up garbage from every house.)

- The computer also sends a report to the Inspections Department, telling them
about houses where the utilities have been shut off. Houses without working
utilities are required to be condemned. How soon the inspector gets out to the
house to post this notice depends on how busy the inspector is. When the
Inspector goes to the house, they also do an inspection of the outside of the
house & yard, and if there are other violations (uncut weeds, junked cars,
missing windows or screens, etc., those are also written up by the inspector.
So it seems to me most likely that this has just been following the normal
computerized process, and that no elected official has been involved at all.
It appears that the utility bill is past due by about 4 or 5 months, and the
amount owed is over $500. The water shut-off and notice to inspections would
follow automatically. And it's possible that the Inspector would get there
before the Water Department has actually shut off the water -- the water
department is much busier in summer.

All this could have been avoided by just paying the water bill. Or even
calling them and making some arrangements -- the city is quite willing to agree
to payment plans on these bills.“

 

Dave Garland, July 19, 2009, 11:23 p. m.

So it seems to me most likely that this has just been following the normal
computerized process, and that no elected official has been involved at all.
It may well work that way. The fact remains that the inspector's claim
that the utilities _had_ been shut off appears to have been false.

Perhaps the ordinance needs to be changed permit condemnation when the
utilities will be shut off at some indefinite future date.
Alternatively, inspectors could actually be expected to check to
verify if utilities have been shut off.

It is possible that this incident is not political retribution, but
merely evidence of a dysfunctional city department. It's hard for us
to know which is the truth, but neither reflects well on the current
administration.

 

Jim Bernstein, July 20, 2009, 1:01 a.m.

Only Michelle Bachmann and her nutty "it's all a conspiracy" believers could
possibly think that Mayor Rybak has any hand in this! Mayor Rybak has
nothing to fear from Al Flowers in this election and everyone on this list
knows that. Besides, whatever one thinks of Mayor Rybak, this sort of thing
just isn't his way of doing political business.

The only unresolved issue is this mayoral election is the size of the
landslide.


S.C. Fehler, July 20, 2009, 9:35 a. m.

I think Mr Flowers is pointing his finger the wrong way. If Inpections are
showing up at his house, I bet it's a neighbor(s) calling, not RT. Mr. Flowers
should be more worried about neighbors driving slowly down the alley, (checking
for kids and violations), people walking with strollers (again, moving slow to
look closely at his house) and people standing at the bus stops (standing
still, looking at all the houses).

I'm betting there is a neighbor out there laughing really hard.

 

Joel Baird, July 20, 2009, 9: 43 a m.

I live in Jordan and am not a big fan of RT because I see the consequences of
some very misguided policy's. However, I have also seen Al Flowers in action.

There is no way that Rybak would sabotage flowers as the sole opponent for the
upcoming election. It would be nearly impossible to find a bigger buffoon to
run against him. I am sure that whatever dilemma that Flowers is experiencing
is self imposed.

 

Steve Brandt (Star Tribune reporter), July 20, 2009, 10:01 a.m.

McGaughey: Brandt's "fact-filled" article in today's Star Tribune was fair
as far as it went but it failed to address the key question of how a house can
be condemned for lack of water when by the testimony of both tenant and
landlord, as well as video evidence, the water to this house is still running.

Brandt: In an ideal world, yes. But on a Saturday, when regulatory officials
are out of the office, and you've called three of them at home or on the cell
phone, and the only one who responds isn't familiar with the specifics of the
situation because he's too high up, McGaughey seems to be asking for something
that a reporter can't reasonably address.

As to McGaughey's dissatisfaction with Reimer's denial because he wouldn't
admit it if it wasn't true, McGaughey seems to expect that reporters have
super-powers to know when someone is truthful, in the absence of concrete
information. I recognize that some of the folks on those list have those
super-powers, given their confident assertion of a multitude of conspiracy
theories, but I missed out when those powers were handed out, and have to rely
on the old-fashioned technique of empiricism.

 

Bill Kahn, July 20, 2009, 10:33 a. m.

The only thing that I can divine with my special powers is that
perhaps Al Flowers needs a job to pay his bills and this might be his
excuse to drop out and keep doing whatever it is that he does. If Al
or anyone else wants the job of Mayor of Minneapolis, they must file
by end of business tomorrow, I think. See:
http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/elections/candidate-filings.asp

The page was last updated Friday @ 5 P.M. and does not include
Flowers, yet; it does not list anyone but RT Rybak, Dick Franson, John
Wilson, Tom Fiske, and Joey Lombard (who lists "is awesome" in the
political party or principle column). Perhaps more folks with $20 and
the ability to do some quick paperwork should jump into the race.

Ned Vester, July 20, 2009, 11:12 a. m.

Give me a break. The guy didn't pay his water bill for how many months? Four
months? Five months? Why would I want the guy in charge of a big city budget
when he isn't managing a small one at home?

Yes maybe his water WAS still on but as someone here already explained the
inspectors don't shut the water off. They just deliver the notice. Actually
Flowers is lucky his water is still on.

I'd keep my mouth shut about that and hope the water dept. is busy long enough
for me to come up with the $500 so that I don't have to go to the gas station
to use the bathroom.

 

Ron Leurquin, July 20, 2009, 1:22 p. m.

Has anyone in all this hullabaloo checked to see who is responsible for the
payment of said water bill? Not all landlords directly pass on bills like that
to the renters you know.

I love a good conspiracy theory. I would highly doubt that RT would do this
kind of thing. But I would not put it past some of his minions to do just such
a thing. Reality or just speculation, we don’t presently know, and may not
know for quite some time. Let's let the facts come out.

 

Guy Gambrill, July 20, 2009, 1:37 p. m.

Greetings,

Just to put things in perspective: Last year our beloved Mayor RT had his
vehicle towed for unpaid tickets....as we all now, failure to pay tickets also results
in the suspension of one's DL...so, do you want to vote for the guy who goofed and
didn't pay his water bill on time or the guy who was tooling around without a DL? One
of the choices has a full-time staff and bodyguard, one does not....which one
reflects an higher level of irresponsibility? And, by the way, Al runs a daycare.

 

Bill McGaughey, July 20, 2009, 4:28 p.m.

As one who has expressed concern that the Inspections action taken against Al
Flowers' home may be political harassment, I object to the tone and content of
Jim Bernstein's recent posting. Michele Bachmann has nothing to do with the
controversy over Al Flowers and his condemned home. That situation is remote
from any issue that she or her followers espouse. To associate her with critics
of the city's inspection practices, throwing in the word "nutty", is an
attempt to smear me and other critics. It is troubling that someone who chairs
the Minneapolis Charter Commission would stoop to that tactic. We are not of
Bachmann's political persuasion nor is there any reasonable similarity between
her issues and ours.

Bernstein also distorts our position by implying that we hold Mayor Rybak
personally responsible for the decision to condemn Flowers' home. In my most
recent posting, I stated specifically that I had no information to tie Rybak or
his aides to that decision. Terry Yzaguirre in Mpls Mirror wrote: "I wasn't
suggesting that R.T. was in any way responsible for Al's plight when I asked,
'I wonder when the last time a house in Minneapolis was condemned due to water
shut off that is still running?'" Why, then, is Bernstein implying that she, I,
or other critics are claiming that the mayor was behind the condemnation?
This, too, is deeply irresponsible.

What I did argue that the condemnation might represent political harassment
directed against one of Rybak's mayoral opponents. I also repeated the argument
that Flowers' lack of a legal residence might cause filing problems for him.
(Someone pointed out that this might not be the case.) Political harassment
would mean influence upon the Inspections department by elected officials,
their staffs, or supporters, or perhaps someone in the department wanting to
please the boss. It's as likely that council member Don Samuels, chair of the
Public Safety and Regulatory committee, had a hand in this decision as did the
mayor, given his known animosity toward Al Flowers. We simply do not know what
goes on behind closed doors.

Jim Bernstein also throws the "it's all a conspiracy" tar at us, suggesting
that we might be weirdos promoting the baseless idea of people conspiring
against the public at every turn. First of all, if elected officials talk
privately with inspections officials in an attempt to influence their
decisions, that, by definition, would be a "conspiracy". In my recent
positing, I cited testimony from a retired housing inspector that such
conversations take place all the time - or did when he worked in the
Inspections department. I would regard use of this label, again, as a smear.

Now Star Tribune reporter, Steve Brandt, chimes in, echoing Bernstein's
reference to conspiracy theories. (Great minds must think alike.) According to
Brandt, I was asking him to have "super-powers" of knowing whether the city's
director of housing inspections, Henry Reimer, was truthful in his assertion
that inspections decisions are not influenced by elected officials. No, I was
merely asking forum readers to take Mr. Reimer's statement of denial with a
grain of salt. I do not think that my raising this issue means that I or other
critics of inspections policies think that we have exaggerated mental powers,
as Brandt sarcastically suggests.

Yes, I think it was important to nail down the apparent contradiction between
condemning a house for lack of water and visible evidence that the water was
still running. Maybe it was hard to get such evidence on a weekend, but now
the weekend is over. Mr. Brandt, it's never too late!

With respect to conspiracy theories: gentlemen, that old canard will not work
in this case. There's just too much evidence that the Minneapolis inspections
department has been subject to political influence. Granted, much of it
relates to the bad old days of Cherryhomes and Biernat, but there are
indications that the situation is continuing today, to some degree. If
interested, you can read several case histories at
http://www.landlordpolitics.com/horrorstories.html.

I would call your attention particularly to the closing of Uncle Bill's Food
Market in 2007 - during Rybak's second term of office. There was a shooting in
the neighborhood which "neighbors" blamed on Uncle Bill's. Mayor Rybak, Don
Samuels, assorted inspectors, and others attended a block-club meeting on May
3, 2007. According to an article in the Star Tribune, Mayor Rybak said at this
meeting: "We will not be beaten by this place that is disturbing the
neighborhood. Don't thank me until that store is closed." The mayor, said the
article, "vowed to condemn the property 'sooner rather than later.'"

Here is clear evidence that Rybak himself was influencing, or attempting to
influence decisions of inspections - in this case, the Fire Department - for
purposes unrelated to building safety or health, although "facts" were created
to justify the political decisions made at the block-club meeting. Sure
enough, a placard of condemnation was posted on the building that housed Uncle
Bill's Food Market on May 9, 2007.

What do you think of this, Jim Bernstein? Is it a "conspiracy" or what? Yes,
Minneapolis elected officials are capable of interfering in inspections
decisions and, in fact, have done it many times. Inspections is supposed to
address the condition of buildings, not crime issues. Mayors are not supposed
to be thanked for a particular inspections outcome if city inspections
departments are truly independent.

I do agree with Bernstein that Mayor Rybak is a heavy favorite to win
reelection in this year's mayoral election. However, this evidence of
overwhelming political power is all the more reason to fear that such power may
be abused. Even if Rybak wins reelection with 95% of the vote, I want to be on
the side that opposes abuse of government power.

I am not personally or politically close to Al Flowers; but that does not
matter. I feel it a personal duty to object to what seems to be happening to
him for the sake of preserving fairness in our political system.

Even if mayor Rybak did not personally request that his likely opponent be hit
with inspections attacks, he has overall charge of city policy in inspections
and other areas. There are a number of suspicious circumstances surrounding
the event - most notably, how a building can be condemned for lack of water
when the water is plainly still running - which happened on Rybak's watch.
The mayor owes the people of Minneapolis an explanation - assuming, of course,
that the Star Tribune does not beat him to the punch.

Dean Lindberg, July 20, 2009, 6:49 p. m.

I've been getting free water since I first voted for RT Rybak in 1991.
It's great! Thanks Mayor!

 

Dyna Sluyter, July 21, 2009, 1:11 p.m.

When I was harassed by Minneapolis for "peeling paint" a couple
years back, several folks told me privately that the harassment was
retaliation for my not supporting R.T.. Another listmember reminded
us of how Council Member Steve Minn was harassed when he first ran
for office. That harassment was later proven in court and Minneapolis
had to pay Steve damages. So it's entirely possible that Al Flowers
is being harassed for having the nerve to run against sitting mayor
and governatorial aspirant R.T. Rybak.

But we have no proof of that, only a nagging suspicion that will
linger over R.T.'s mayoral, and more importantly, governatorial
campaign. Sure, we could have a big investigation, but R.T.'s
campaign could clear the air by simply opening up the petty cash
drawer and paying Al Flower's water bill. Matter settled, leaving a
good taste for all concerned.

On to the public policy implications of condemning any buildings
without utility service. As folks have probably noted, the city of
Minneapolis has gone to great lengths to imprison us within it's city
limits. They haven't put up a fence and barb wire yet, but escape
Minneapolis and you will find your unsellable building saddled with
thousands of dollars in vacant building fees for a start. Even
shutting off the heat and water while you spend winter in warmer
places to the south will get your house condemned- yes, the city
expects you to waste energy to keep an unoccupied home warm all
winter! And they call this a "green" city? It appears the only thing
green about Minneapolis is their favorite color of paper. As for
shutoffs for non payment of water bills, hasn't R.T. himself admitted
that we have surplus water capacity and been trying to sell our water
to the suburbs?.

Now these policies to penalize moving out of Minneapolis have been
hugely successful... over half the dwellings on my block are vacant,
and that's pretty much typical for the northside. With each passing
month and year, Minneapolis piles thousands of dollars more in vacant
building and other fines on empty homes, guaranteeing that they'll
stay empty, go tax forfeit, and go off the tax rolls forever. Yes,
just shutting off the heat and water while you head south for the
winter can put your home on the road to forfeiture. Meanwhile, out in
Starbuck my little place has had the water turned off for years and
we've yet to see a condemnation notice or even a warning from the city.

- from increasingly empty Hawthorne

 

Dean Carlson, July 21, 2009, 1:24 p.m.

I heard from someone that Al Flowers purposely didn't pay his water bill,
knowing that the City would eventually shut off his water and condemn his home.
That way he would get some free publicity for his struggling to get noticed
mayoral campaign. Wow! That's so sinister.

Where did I hear it from? Well actually from me. Pure unadulterated speculation
on my part with absolutely no proof whatsoever. Unfortunately it is the same
amount of proof from those who think R.T. or his minions put the condemnation
order in to play hardball with a potential mayoral rival.

 

Megan Goodmundson, July 21, 2009, 1:48 p.m.

I actually completely 100% agree with Dean's speculation. As a matter of fact,
the timing is perfect... last Friday - the city council met in a closed session
to discuss a proposed settlement agreement for the lawsuit that Al Flowers
filed against the city for Don Samuels (NOT) stepping on his toes. As a matter
of fact, the Mpls Mirror had the proposed settlement up on the website with an
editorial about how 'this round' (of the boxing match) goes to Al Flowers.
Well, the Mpls Mirror yanked down the article/settlement agreement, presumably
because the City decided to NOT settle, presumably because Don Samuels did
nothing wrong and video shows that not only did Samuels NOT step on his toes or
elbow Flowers as alleged, but that Al Flowers was beyond disruptive in a public
meeting and deserved to get put out by the police, video shows him being
uncooperative.

So the day that the City decides to NOT settle is the same day that Mpls
Mirror/Al Flowers/Jill Clark decide to cook up some b.s. story of political
harassment by Mayor Rybak and the City???

Who is really doing the harassing?

 

Ron Leurquin, July 21, 2009, 2:05 p.m.

What amazes me is all the people defending RT when this conspiracy theory is so
easy to believe.

Wouldn’t it be a better thing for RT to be the kind of person that is above
board on his dealings and the kind of person that such a conspiracy theory
would hold no water from the get go?

RT may be above doing what's been purposed, but his minions are not. That is
what bothers me. As for the upcoming elections, I highly doubt RT has much to
worry about. He has far too many of us bamboozled into thinking he's the
greatest thing since sliced bread.

Our inspections department has a history of not being even handed or treating
all things equally.

I'm not trying to do anything more here than point out how easy it is to
believe this conspiracy theory.. Whether it’s a reality or not, it's just too
damn easy to believe.

I want better politicians representing me. I don’t expect perfection, or to
agree with them in all things, but I do expect better than what I have right
now for the most part in Minneapolis. I also want my leaders to do what they
say, and have their actions back up their words. I DO NOT have that right now,
but I think I should.

Dean Lindberg, July 21, 2009, 2:43 p.m.

This whole "conspiracy" thing is so laughable! What, like 4 people are
claiming that something might be going on? (Of course, when Watergate
started nobody believed that either.) Hmmm, "Flowergate"?

Still enjoying my free water.

 

Bill McGaughey, July 21, 2009, 3:21 p.m.

Dean Carlson's self-concocted conspiracy theory that Flower purposely refused
to pay his water bill is somewhat amusing but is basically a Nothingburger. No,
those of us who suspect foul play do not know what went on in the minds of
Rybak and his associates, and we've said so. But there are some undenable
facts that gave rise to suspicion:

We know that the house where Flowers lived or lives was condemned for lack of
water and that the occupants had until July 19th to vacate the premises because
Mpls Mirror has a photograph of the condemnation placard.

We know that, despite claims of lack of water, water was still running in the
kitchen sink at this property because a video on Mpls Mirror shows the running
water. Also, both landlord and tenant confirmed that situation.

We know, from Steve Brandt's article on July 19th, that Al Flowers claims to
have been hit by several inspections citations since he announced his candidacy
for mayor in April and that both he and his attorney believe the condemnation
of Flowers' home was politically motivated.

We know from Steve Brandt's article that the director of inspections, Henry
Reimer, claims that his office does not allow elected officials to direct its
enforcement activities.

We know from a Star Tribune article in May 2007 that Mayor Rybak, in the
presence of other city officials, promised to get the building that housed
Uncle Bill's Food Market condemned - a promise which he could not keep if he
had no influence with the inspections department regarding its enforcement
activities.

From this set of facts, one notices several discrepancies:

The condemnation placard cites lack of water when that statement is clearly
false. There may be an explanation. Perhaps Flowers illegally turned the
water back on after the city turned it off. If that were the case, I'm sure
the Star Tribune would have reported it.

The inspections chief claims that city officials do not dictate inspections
enforcement decisions when Mayor Rybak clearly influenced the decision to shut
down the building that housed Uncle Bill's. City officials can claim, of
course, that it was the Fire Department rather than Reimer's department that
took direction from the mayor then.

In the background is, of course, the fact that Al Flowers is a candidate for
Mayor of Minneapolis, running against Rybak. There is the fact that Mr.
Flowers has been a vocal critic of the current city administration and has even
had physical confrontations with one official. So there is a motive here to
" get Flowers" - a motive but, of course, no proof that anyone acted on that
motive.

The timing of the condemnation also gives cause for suspicion. If the number of
inspections citations increased after Flowers announced for mayor, that would
be a kind of circumstantial evidence of political motivation.

Many ridicule and dismiss such suspicions saying, for instance, that Rybak is
not the kind of person to be persecuting his political opponents. I hope not,
too. But I think that I have demonstrated here that people who have those
suspicions are not hallucinating but have a real basis of concern. I would
also claim that it is in the best interests of city politics to have suspicious
citizens in cases like this because it keeps city officials honest. In any
event, we will not be deterred by the ridicule so freely offered by the mayor's
supporters on this list.

The whole affair, including the $800 inspections fee for torn or missing
screens, seems draconian to me. But maybe the city treats all its residents
shabbily and is not picking on Flowers here. I claim that this, too, is a
legitimate political issue. The city should not be mistreating any of its
residents.

Admittedly, not all suspicions are justified. For instance, after Kenya
McKnight filed for city council yesterday, the Secretary of State's website had
her listed as a candidate in ward 6 rather than in ward 5. The website showed
Don Samuels running unopposed. But now the listing has been corrected.
Samuels has not just one but two opponents. It appears that McKnight's
mistaken listing as a candidate in ward 6 was a simple clerical error. No
" conspiracy" here.

It would be nice to know whether Al Flowers is still living in the house after
he was ordered to leave. It would be nice to know if the water is still
running and, if so, why the house was condemned. Maybe some curious newspaper
reporter will want to know, too, and will provide answers to these questions.

Dave Garland, July 21, 2009, 3:49 p.m.

Pure unadulterated speculation on my part with absolutely no proof
whatsoever. Unfortunately it is the same amount of proof from those who think
R.T. or his minions put the condemnation order in to play hardball with a
potential mayoral rival.

Well, the City has been caught doing similar things before (in the
Minn case). But you are right, the assumption that it was directed by
RT or anyone in government who answers to RT is at this point
unsubstantiated.

The alternative is that a city inspector negligently (or abusively)
condemned the building for reasons that turned out to be false (the
water was still on, after all, and in any case it looks like
condemnation would require utilities, plural, to be disconnected,
rather than a single utility). And it would be very educational to
hear the inspector's side of the story, and whether he is in the habit
of condemning buildings without having any personal knowledge about
whether a condition that warrants condemnation exists. But I am
assuming that RT, as titular head of government, bears managerial
responsibility for the operation of city departments. Is it not his
job to see that the inspections department is neither abusive,
negligent, nor incompetent? Or would it be the incumbent Council who
bears ultimate responsibility?

Connie Sullivan, July 21, 2009, 6:01 p. m.

I wish everybody would go back and read Tim Bonham's post on this thread.

Tim explained the automatic procedures that lead
to the apparent anomaly of "water still running"
when the water is to be turned off; why there are
multiple citations on the residence when an
inspector comes by for the condemnation notice
and sees a bunch of other things wrong at the
property, etc.

And, let it be noted: only the water bill goes to
the tenant. It's the landlord who "gets hit" for
all the other citations for disrepair, trash,
whatever. Not "poor Al Flowers."

 

Connie Beckers, July 21, 2009, 6:45 p.m.

Puh-LEEZE, Flowers doesn't have an ice cube's change in hell of getting elected
for anything and no one in their right mind would take him seriously as an
opponent so wouldn't even have to bother with a false condemnation order for a
place Flowers allegedly resides in. And didn't someone say he lives in South
Mpls somewhere? Why does he have to rent a house over North? Oh yeah, just to
assert himself in things he has no business in.

He's not a serious candidate nor even a minimal threat to anyone in an election
of any kind so why would anyone take the chance of destroying their career over
it?!?.

 

Bill McGaughey, July 22, 2009, 8:49 a.m.

Thank you. With Steve Brandt's article in today's paper, we now have an
explanation for the condemnation of Al Flowers' home due to lack of water when
the water was still running. It might have been due to an antiquated
" malfunctioning stop-cock valve" that made public-works crews think they had
shut off the water when they had not. Alternatively, someone might have turned
the water back on, although there is no evidence that was the case. The other
part of the story is that Mr. Flowers remains in his home because the $468.98
past-due water bill was recently paid. So this will be my last posting on the
subject. Thanks again.

Caty Royce, July 22, 2009, 8:58 a.m.

WOW!!!!!! can we get off this ridiculous subject!

 
 
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