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PolyMet denies access for wetlands research by U of M scientist

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 4:51pm

PolyMet Mining has denied access for a University of Minnesota research scientist to sample wetlands around its proposed copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota.

The sampling was to be done on U.S. Forest Service land, and the project was given a green light by Superior National Forest officials. But PolyMet owns the road that provides access to the site.

Paul Glaser

Paul Glaser, a research professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Earth Sciences, proposed to sample baseline plots in peatlands around the NorthMet site, with the goal of identifying wetland types and assessing potential impacts of the mining operation on wetlands surrounding the site. Glaser and his colleagues have been doing similar baseline studies across northern Minnesota since the 1970s. The data was to be shared with agencies conducting environmental review of the proposed mine.

The research was to be sponsored by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), a nonprofit group that has been critical of the environmental review process for the proposed mine.


The letter from PolyMet denying access said that MCEA had recently threatened to sue if the mine is approved. In the letter Brad Moore, Polymet's executive vice president for environmental and governmental affairs, said, “We feel no obligation to allow a non-federal third party, with MCEA’s stated intent to litigate and its efforts to prevent PolyMet from commencing the permitting process, access across private roads as requested.”

According to MCEA attorney Kathryn Hoffman, Moore was referring to a public event in Ely, at which no PolyMet representative was present. Hoffman said she described many legal problems with the environmental review of the proposed mine. “MCEA is not trying to stop any ongoing process. But based on our review of DNR's work on this mine to date, the PolyMet proposal does not meet legal standards."

The PolyMet letter also referred to safety issues and said the road could not be used for “non-business related use.” And it said studies being conducted by the Minnesota DNR and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are “the most effective way to make unbiased scientific data and analysis available to both regulatory decision-makers and the public.”

The wetland research project was approved by Superior National Forest officials. The letter approving the project said, “Your peatland research is important to the management of water quality and vegetation on the Forest and in the state of Minnesota.” It required Glaser to share his data with the Forest Service, and noted that “This approval grants permission to conduct research but cannot grant permission to access the site via a privately owned road.”

The U.S. Forest Service owns the land where Glaser planned to conduct his research; a proposed land swap that would transfer ownership to PolyMet is being studied.  

Sanders takes on the establishment; O'Malley criticizes GOP (and DNC over debates)

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 4:02pm

The members of the Democratic National Committee meeting at the Hilton Hotel in Minneapolis were thoroughly engaged by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's speech on Friday. But they were inflamed by the speeches that followed as candidates Martin O’Malley and Sen. Bernie Sanders pushed the party’s progressive agenda leftward.

O’Malley called for an expansion of Social Security, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and a stronger defense of unionization — remarks that brought the crowd to its feet more than once. 

And while the former Maryland governor took the obligatory club to the Republican party — “Let their party be led by a hate-spewing carnival barker” — O’Malley didn’t spare the very people he was appealing to. He was blunt in his criticism of the DNC decision to sanction only six debates.

“This is totally unprecedented in our party. This sort of rigged process has never been attempted before,” he said. “Whose decree is it? Where did it come from? To what end? For what purpose? What national or party interest does this decree serve? How does this help us tell the story of the last eight years of Democratic progress?”

O’Malley left the stage to a standing ovation and more applause than greeted him at the start of his remarks.

The applause became ear-pounding noise with the arrival of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — who, far from criticizing the 300 DNC members, praised them. “What you are doing is the most patriotic thing we can do as Americans,” he said.

Then he let the rhetoric rip. Some excerpts:

“What we need is a political movement that is prepared to take on the billionaire class that will work for all of us, not just a handful of the wealthiest people in this country.”

“Let me be as clear as I can be. Democrats will not retain the White House, will not regain the House and Senate, will not be successful in dozens of races unless we ... produce a huge voter turnout. That turnout will not happen with politics as usual. ... We need a movement which tells corporate America and the wealthiest people in this country that they will start paying their fair share of taxes.” 

“We do not need more establishment politics or establishment economics.”

Sanders' positions were not so much a poke at Hillary Clinton as a magnification of similar policies she has offered. She wants to overturn Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that allows corporate and union money to flow unfettered to political campaigns. He says he wouldn’t appoint a Supreme Court justice who doesn’t pledge to rehear and overturn the ruling.

MinnPost photo by Bill KelleyMartin O’Malley called for an expansion of Social Security, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and a stronger defense of unionization.

Clinton has a plan to help students with college loan debt. Sanders wants free tuition at every American college and university.

Sanders admitted that his policies initially put his campaign for presidency in a long-shot position.

“The word fringe was heard more than once,” he said.  “A lot has changed in the last few months.”

So much has changed that while DNC members appeared to give Hillary Clinton an edge in their applause and appreciation, Sanders is holding on to the loyalty of the party’s more liberal members.

MN Blog Cabin Roundup, 8/28

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 3:43pm
#BlackFair and the Minnesota State Fair

from News Day by Mary Turck

I love the Minnesota State Fair. But dang it all — Black Lives Matter is right about structural/institutional racism at the Fair and in the state. So I went to the fair today, and I also plan to go to the #BlackFair march on Saturday. I agree with Julie Blaha, who wrote in a letter to the editor to the Strib:

“I love the State Fair with a passion that borders on obsession … [but] I have no problem with disruption for a good cause.

“If I’m willing to wait half an hour for deep-fried pickles, I can spend a little time on something as important as ending racism. Fairgoers, the least we can do for our neighbors suffering injustice is to put down the mini doughnuts for a bit and listen.”

This is your brain on tax credits

from Minnesota Budget Bites by Ben Horowitz

Minnesota policymakers can push back on one of poverty’s most pernicious impacts on children. New medical research shows that poverty can delay the development of cognitive abilities in children. Meanwhile, new economic research shows that the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) increases families’ income even more effectively than previously thought. The Working Family Tax Credit is Minnesota’s own take on the EITC. You don’t need to be a neurosurgeon to connect the dots — a stronger Working Family Credit won’t just help families economically, it will likely improve the brain development of Minnesota children.

Community Pride: A Vision & Two Gardens, All Because She Cares About Faribault

from Minnesota Prairie Roots by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

WITHIN MY COMMUNITY, there’s a new sense of optimism rising, a positivity that shouts “community pride.”

Rather than whine and complain about what Faribault lacks, locals are taking action. They are finding solutions and digging in to make this city an even better place.

If you blog and would like your work considered for Minnesota Blog Cabin, please submit our registration form.


An alternative education: From 'messed up' to resilient and determined

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 3:29pm
CC/Flickr/Ricky RomeroWe’ve got to make academic opportunities available for all children of all colors and cultures at every economic status.

On Sept. 18, 1990, I retrieved my Wayzata High School diploma from the Wayzata Schools administrative building because I hadn’t attended the ceremony with the rest of the Wayzata senior class. My graduation ceremony occurred on June 3 at West Metro Elliot, of District 287, an alternative education program in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. There were six of us graduating that year, one of the largest senior class groups that West Metro Elliot had at that point.

Christy Coaty

I may have received my official Wayzata High School diploma, but it was NOT easily acquired. From a young age, I couldn’t focus in school. I had trust and behavioral issues with many of my teachers and classmates, and frankly I was “different.” I was also economically disadvantaged, which was particularly difficult living in an affluent suburban community; I had grown up in various HUD housing developments with my single mother, who was on welfare until it was no longer feasible. My early childhood was fraught with physical, emotional and sexual abuse, primarily occurring between 3 and 8 years old. All of these factors would have guaranteed my failing and/or dropping out of school if I had been forced to stay in the Wayzata school district through my secondary school years.

The social-emotional factor

I would have been held back to repeat sixth grade in Wayzata, but my grades weren’t the problem. I excelled in English and creative writing. I also enjoyed science, social studies, art and music, but I frustrated most of my teachers by easily being distracted or discouraged and was frequently sent out to the hall for time-outs. For reasons I still cannot fathom, my sixth-grade teacher decided to share my sexual-abuse history with some of my classmates. That resulted in a nightmare of taunting, bullying and victim-shaming that left me completely humiliated and ostracized by many friends.


Even though I tested above average in fifth grade, I was placed in special education classes in sixth grade because no one knew how to deal with my social and emotional issues. At that point, I was a thoroughly “messed-up” 11-year-old girl and West Metro was to become the alternative beacon of hope for my future education.

I started West Metro for summer school in 1984. District 287 had just recently been formed and West Metro Education Center (WMEC) was starting its second year of operation with Gene Bettermann as administrator. We were housed in the back corner of the former Hopkins Eisenhower High School building, but my 120 fellow classmates all came from different suburban school districts including Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Mound, New Hope and many more.

The teachers at West Metro not only helped me develop “grit and resilience,” they advocated for my unique learning needs and accommodated my continuing emotional and mental health needs. In fact, one of my teachers became a close friend and mentor, staying in touch with me after graduation, remaining close to me and providing support and encouragement even to this day.

What is this ‘gap’ everyone is talking about?

Until several years ago, I hadn’t realized that Minneapolis-St. Paul had what is known as an “achievement gap.” I knew that racial and socio-economic disparities existed, but I was blissfully ignorant until I worked for the right person at the right organization, at the right time. I was fortunate enough to be privy to some of the inner workings of initiatives like the Itasca Project, whose collaboration on the “Mind the Gap” report brought our achievement gap to the forefront of attention in our community.

In November 2012, I accepted an offer to become the first staff member of Generation Next, supporting the executive director and getting our work up and running. It has become one of the best and most life-changing decisions I’ve made as an adult and my own alternative education history is only one of many reasons why closing this gap is so important to me.

I may seem to be just a quirky lady from the suburbs, but I can personally relate to some of the challenges that underrepresented children in our community are facing. So if I’m going to use my white privilege for anything, it’s going toward making academic opportunities available for all children of all colors and cultures at every economic status. Every child. No exceptions. No excuses.

Christy Coaty is the project manager for Generation Next, a coalition of civic, business and education leaders, aiming to close the achievement and opportunity gaps for students of color in Minneapolis and St. Paul. 

Want to add your voice?

If you're interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.)

Nonprofits, mirroring a national trend, grow in Minnesota’s smallest places

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 3:18pm
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MADISON, Minn. – Six years ago, Adam Conroy was home for Christmas, taking a break from his job managing apartments in Moorhead, when his uncle, the newspaper publisher here, threw out an idea: How about coming to work as my editor?

“I thought, ‘What the heck? I don’t know anything about newspapers,’” Conroy recalled. “I thought he was joking.”

Conroy pondered the offer and decided to enroll in some journalism courses at Minnesota State, Moorhead. In 2010, he got out of real estate and moved to this town of 1,500 in far western Minnesota to work as a reporter at The Western Guard. Now he is the weekly paper’s managing editor.

Conroy had grown up in Wheaton, a similar-sized town an hour’s drive north of here, so he knew the terrain of small-town life. Still, he wondered what he would find in Madison, the seat of Lac qui Parle County, one of the most sparsely populated counties in Minnesota with just 7,300 people.

He was surprised. “There is a lot going on in this community,” he said.

Measuring civic health

Small-town vitality is usually measured by a few obvious factors, such as the growth (or decline) of the population, the breadth of the housing stock and the number of businesses on Main Street. It’s far more difficult to gauge the reach of a community’s volunteers and activists – whose work can be crucial to the success of local projects – though one way to measure that is by looking at the nonprofit sector.

According to the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality, the number of nonprofit organizations in rural Minnesota has increased over the past few decades. Here in Lac qui Parle County, a triangle of prairie, small towns and farmland tucked between the Minnesota River and the South Dakota border, the number of nonprofits increased 19 percent between 2000 and 2010.

Extension demographer Ben Winchester conducted the research, crunching numbers provided by the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Charitable Statistics. (Winchester’s research on this topic and others has fueled a rethinking of the rural narrative, which was covered in an earlier installment of Rural Dispatches).

MinnPost photo by Gregg AamotAdam Conroy, managing editor of The Western Guard, in the stacks of the newspaper.

In studying the list of nonprofits across rural Minnesota, Winchester discovered a mix of well-known, established groups committed to broad community support (such as Kiwanis chapters and chambers of commerce) and newer groups devoted to specific activities (such as the Jack Attack Basketball Boosters in Dawson, in Lac qui Parle County; and the Friends of Glacial Lakes State Park in Starbuck).

The growth of nonprofits has been a national trend for several years, and while some of these organizations eventually shutter or fail to achieve their goals, Winchester sees their expansion in the smallest of Minnesota places as a sign of civic health.

A reflection of diversity

Winchester presents his research findings to civic groups across Minnesota and in other states. Often, longtime residents will complain about falling numbers in the Lions club or other organizations, saying, “Young people just aren’t joining our groups.” His response? “I tell them, ‘You’re right. They aren’t joining your groups. They are joining their groups!’ ”

The trend suggests that nonprofits are really a reflection of a community’s interests and demographics rather than a response to needs that aren’t being served by government or the private sector. “Our rural areas are much more diverse economically, socially and culturally than they used to be,” he said.

While Lac qui Parle’s population declined 10 percent between 2000 and 2010, the number of nonprofits in the county increased from 69 organizations to 82, the research shows. Just to the east in Kandiyohi County, meanwhile, where the population increased 3 percent during that same decade, the number of nonprofits rose 17 percent. And in Houston County in far southeastern Minnesota, where the population declined 3 percent, the number of nonprofit organizations jumped by 42 percent.

Nonprofits and government units in Lac qui Parle County

Statewide during that timeframe, the most rural counties – those located far from metropolitan regions with fewer than 2,500 people living in cities – saw a population decline of 4.6 percent and an increase in the number of nonprofits of 13.8 percent, according to Winchester’s research.

Percent change in number of nonprofits, 2000–2010 University of Minnesota Extension demographer Ben Winchester found that, in spite of population decreases, the number of nonprofits in many rural counties was on the rise between 2000 and 2010. In the map below, counties colored a darker shade of green saw higher percent increases in the number of nonprofits.

Jon Pratt, the executive director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, offered the arts as an example of one driving force behind the expansion of rural nonprofits. He noted that Minnesota ranks at the top among the states for per-capita spending on the arts; consequently, nonprofit arts organizations have popped up in many communities to take advantage of those resources. (Madison has had an arts center since the 1970s; it was renovated in the mid-2000s).

“The key is local energy. You need a coalition of the willing,” Pratt said. “If you have a dozen people who want to do something together, it is amazing what they can accomplish. They set the agenda, pull resources together and then chart what they want to do.”

Keeping Madison viable

On a humid Friday morning in mid-July, as the temperature crept toward 90 degrees, Madison residents gathered for pork sandwiches (and bingo!) beneath tents set up along a stretch of Sixth Avenue, kicking off the city’s summer festival, Dragonfest.

Conroy, who is 30, spent the morning at the newspaper, helped with the community meal and then got ready for the evening’s events, which included the Lutefisk Run & Uff da Walk. (Madison, according to a Codfish statue that marks one entrance to the city, is the “Lutefisk Capital USA.”)

Conroy and others involved with the Chamber of Commerce created the event, building it off of an existing golf tournament and street dance. (The name comes from the old Madison High School mascot, the Dragons, which disappeared after consolidation with Milan and Appleton in the 1980s created Lac qui Parle Valley High School.)

MinnPost photo by Gregg AamotThe Prairie Arts Center in Madison, which was renovated in 2005 and 2006, is housed in a former Lutheran church. The Lac qui Parle County courthouse can be seen in the background.

In recent years, Madison residents have raised money for two significant projects: $300,000 to help build a new swimming pool, and $100,000 to upgrade the movie projectors at the Grand Theatre. Much of the promotion and fundraising was done by two local nonprofits: the longstanding Chamber of Commerce and the Madison Community Foundation, which was created in 2001.

Foundation secretary Sarah Radermacher moved to Madison in 2012 after marrying Jon Radermacher, the city manager (and Kiwanis president). She had previously lived in St. Paul for six years and, before that, in Moldova, in Eastern Europe, where she spent two years as part of the Peace Corps.

Radermacher, who is 35, wanted to get involved in the community and quickly found the foundation, which, according to its Facebook page, is currently backing several local initiatives, including funds for the library and baseball field.

“People are involved because they want to keep Madison viable, keep it alive, keep it a place where people want to live. (Volunteerism) is part of the culture here,” she said. “Small towns place a lot of value in supporting their neighbors and their community.”

Challenges ahead

Winchester, while enthusiastic about the trend, offers a not insignificant caveat: The demand for finite resources (people and money) threatens to weaken the viability of nonprofits in rural areas.

In other words, the same leaders and the same pools of money can only be tapped so many times in areas with tiny populations.

Geography can also be a barrier to the long-term success of nonprofits, notes Pratt, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits official. In sprawling areas where many residents live on farms or in the country, he said, the travel required to bring groups together can be expensive and time-consuming.

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Clinton rouses activists, Chafee not so much at DNC event

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 2:40pm

It was, at a minimum, a contrast of speaking styles as Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Lincoln Chafee addressed members of the Democratic National Committee today at the Hilton Hotel in Minneapolis.

It was also a vivid display of the power Clinton holds among the 300 activists and about 100 members of the public who cheered and chanted at the very mention of her name during the pro forma program description.


Clinton called for action on women’s rights, racial equality, climate change and gun control, touching each subject with passion and without specifics. The crowd ate it up, interrupting her speech so often that Clinton almost doubled the 15-minute time limit that DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz promised would be strictly enforced.

Clinton’s themes were broad, inspirational, and deferential to one Democratic president in particular. 

“In America, if you work hard and do your part you should be able to get ahead and stay ahead.  That’s the bargain that makes this country great,” she said.  “When my husband [Bill Clinton] put people first he made that bargain mean something.  For the first time in decades we all grew together.”

She skewered the field of Republican presidential candidates with humor.

“They say I play the gender card,” she said. “Well, if calling for equal pay and equal health care is playing the gender card deal me in.”

She promised “to elect Democrats up and down the ticket,” acknowledging later in a news conference that she is playing the numbers game to secure the nomination.

MinnPost photo by Brian HallidayLincoln Chafee preceded Clinton with remarks that were more a recapitulation of his résumé than a campaign speech.

Lincoln Chafee, the former Rhode Island governor, former mayor, former U.S. senator, and former Republican, preceded Clinton with remarks that were more a recapitulation of his résumé than a campaign speech. And while he was applauded politely, there were a smattering of boos when he told the group, “In all these years of service I’ve had no scandals.”

In his comments at a news conference, Chafee said he meant no reference to Clinton and the controversy surrounding her use of private email account while she was secretary of state.

But he did take a swipe at that record. “We differ on the approach to the world,” he said. “A little belligerent, a little too close to that unilateral approach to the globe that causes so much trouble, that I personally disagree with vehemently.” 

Clinton did not acknowledge Chafee or any of the other candidates, even when asked specifically about Vice President Joe Biden, who is said to be considering a run.

She left the Hilton Hotel immediately after talking to the new media, headed for a fundraiser. Her closest rival at the moment, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will address the DNC this afternoon.

DNR confronts tribal gill-netters on Gull Lake

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 1:17pm

Turns out the DNR’s one-day conflict avoidance tactic might not work out in the matter of Chippewa band wild rice harvesting and fishing. In the Star Tribune, Tony Kennedy writes, “Two tribal members who attempted to net fish on Gull Lake Friday were chased off the lake and given citations by state conservation officers who then pulled the 200-foot long net from the water and carried it away. … The confrontation happened just 300 feet away from Hole-in-the-day Lake, where treaty rights activists were harvesting wild rice without a license in the second day of a planned act of civil disobedience. … Three Department of Natural Resources conservation officers asked the fish netters to stop as they were paddling to shore. Instead, the two men landed their canoe and left the scene.”

Gov. Dayton never saw a stadium proposal he didn’t like. So Frederick Melo’s report in the Pioneer Press on the probably inevitable soccer stadium should come as no surprise: “Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday called a Major League Soccer franchise and a professional stadium for the team ‘on track’ and said he was optimistic both would come together in the Twin Cities. … Dayton, who spent part of the morning with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, also said he supports any minor changes to state law that would help a stadium to move forward.”

Closing “Last Place on Earth” hasn’t solved Duluth’s synthetic drug problem. For the Duluth News Tribune, Lisa Kaczke reports, “An increasing number of people are being treated in Duluth’s emergency rooms after using a synthetic drug with an unknown chemical composition, authorities say. … This year’s increase in overdoses comes two years after doctors began to see a decrease in synthetic drug overdoses following the 2013 closure of Jim Carlson’s controversial head shop Last Place on Earth in downtown Duluth. … ‘It definitely feels like, “What? Again?” ’ Bilden said.”

It’s that best time of the year again! No, not the State Fair, but the Heavy Table’s roundup of the new foods at the State Fair. Summing it all up up top: “Was this the year the State Fair jumped the shark, or found its rhythm? Has the food gotten more ambitious or lazier? Yes, and yes, and yes again two times. Our 10-person team tackled a list of 59 items (our biggest ever) and discovered some unexpected gems (including an array of brilliant frozen treats), some throw-it-on-the-ground bad trainwrecks, about a tanker truck of Sriracha sauce, and a cooler, quieter brand of gonzo than the fried lamb testicles and ghost pepper wings of yesteryear.” But you’ve got to click through for the photos, mouthwatering and otherwise.

In other news…

No birds in the State Fair’s poultry barn thanks to avian flu, but there will be… “150 to 225 in­ter­ac­tive ta­ble-top dis­plays and posters about the poul­try in­dus­try” [The Country Today]

MSP finds a new solution to the Runway 35 problem. [WCCO]

Walz for governor? He’s not denying it: “U.S. Rep. Walz supporting Clinton; ‘honored’ by 2018 talk about him” [Pioneer Press]

All right, here are your UND nickname finalists: “Fighting Hawks, Nodaks, North Stars, Roughriders and Sundogs” [Inforum]

Also in North Dakota: Drones with stun guns legal under new North Dakota law” [Minnesota Lawyer]

Yeah, good luck with this: “Step Aside, San Francisco: ‘SF’ Now Stands for Sioux Falls, South Dakota” [Huffington Post]

And in non-Dakota news, First Avenue’s ceiling is fixed; GRRRL PRTY tonight. [MPR]

“These Are The 10 Drunkest Places In Wisconsin” [RoadSnacks]

Immigrant rights group to protest during Klobuchar book event at St. Paul church

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 11:11am

Protesters unhappy about U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar's position on immigrant detention camps in Texas will picket tonight when Klobuchar discusses her new book, "The Senator Next Door,"  at Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul.

The Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee says it will have informational picketing outside the church, 733 Portland Ave., when Klobuchar speaks at 7:30 p.m.

The group says the administration is holding thousands of immigrants from Central America in detention centers in Texas, and that they've been unsuccessful in getting Klobuchar to join other senators and House members in signing a letter to the president calling for an end to the detention. They say Sen. Al Franken has signed the letter, but Klobuchar has not.

Group members say they want Klobuchar "to take a stronger stand against the unjust, indefinite jailing of thousands of immigrant mothers and children in ‘family detention centers’ near the U.S-Mexico border."

Sen. Chuck Schumer to speak Oct. 3 at DFL Founder's Day Dinner

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 10:45am

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who's been in the news recently for opposing the Iran nuclear agreement, will be the keynote speaker for the annual DFL Founder's Day Dinner on Oct. 3.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley was the speaker at last year's event. (He's in town this week for the DNC summer meeting as a presidential candidate.)

Schumer, first elected to the Senate in 1998, is described by the DFL as " a noted consensus builder in Washington, D.C. on issues including health care, immigration and financial regulation."

DFL Chairman Ken Martin said Schumer “is one of the more outspoken members of the U.S. Senate and we are excited to hear from him. ..."

Tickets for the 10th annual Founder's Day event at the Minneapolis Convention Center are $75 for general admission. A top-contribution level is $10,000 for Diamond VIP sponsorship, with eight seats, VIP reception, upgraded seating and program acknowledgement.

About that ‘soaking’ of Minnesota’s rich

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 10:44am
Wry Wing Politics

For a long time, we’ve been hearing about how Governor Mark Dayton and DFL legislators “soaked the rich” back in 2013. That’s become the conventional wisdom at both the state and national levels, from both liberals and conservatives.


For example, at the national level, Patrick Caldwell from liberal Mother Jones magazinereported that Dayton ran on a “soak-the-rich platform of massively hiking income taxes on the wealthiest people in the state.”

Locally, conservative columnists Joe Soucheray and Katherine Kersten have long been beating the “soak the rich” rhetoricial drum, as has the conservative Pioneer Press editorial board:

“What’s the plan? Tax the rich, then tax the rich again, then tax the rich again?”

Finally, the Chair of the Minnesota House Tax Committee, Greg Davids, is among many conservative state legislators who have used “soak-the-rich” rhetoric to full effect.

Is the ‘soak’ rhetoric true?

But did Governor Dayton’s 2013 tax increase on individuals earning over $150,000 and couples earning over $250,000 actually “soak” them in any meaningful way. This chart, derived from the Minnesota Department of Revenue’s 2015 Tax Incidence Study, calls that conventional wisdom into question:

This chart shows that the highest earning Minnesotans will only be paying a slightly higher proportion of their income in state and local taxes in 2017 than they did in 2012, under the rates in place before the 2013 tax increase. In 2012, the highest income Minnesotans were paying 10.5 percent of their income in state and local taxes. By 2017, the projection is that the highest income Minnesotans will see their state and local tax burden inch up to 10.7 percent.  This 0.2 percent increase hardly represents punitive “soaking.”

On a somewhat related issue, the chart also shows that the 10 percent of Minnesotans with the highest incomes look to be paying a much smaller share of their income in state and local taxes (10.7 percent) than the decile with the lowest incomes  (26.4 percent). However, on this point, the report contains an important caveat about the first decile data (page 17):

“…effective tax rates in the first decile are overstated by an unknown but possibly significant amount.”

But back to my original and primary point, which is not impacted by this caveat:  Despite all of the wailing and gnashing about the alleged mistreatment of the highest income Minnesotans, the impact of the Dayton-era tax increase on top earners’ overall state and local tax will be negligible.  Higher taxes on top earners didn’t cause the massive job losses that conservatives promised — Minnesota currently has the fifth lowest unemployment in the nation — and they didn’t soak anyone.

Don’t forget about local taxes

How is it that Minnesota’s top earners are paying higher taxes, yet still are paying a lower share of state and local taxes than any other income grouping? Part of the reason is that the top 10 percent will only be paying only 2.2 percent of their income in local taxes in 2017, which is much less than the 3.1 percent share of local taxes that will be paid by the average Minnesotans, and less still than the share of local taxes paid by the lowest-income Minnesotans.

This is a point that is frequently missed, or intentionally ignored, by people who focus solely on state tax burdens, without also taking local tax burdens into consideration.

So, did Mark Dayton really “soak-the-rich” when he increased taxes by $2.1 billion in 2013?   Inflated rhetoric aside, it turns out that the Dayton tax increase was more akin to a light misting than the predicted soaking.

This post was written by Joe Loveland and originally published on Wry Wing Politics.

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Forget calorie-counting and low-fat diets; focus on eating healthful foods, say experts

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 10:22am

We need to stop counting calories and focus instead on the nutritional value of the foods we eat if we want to protect ourselves from heart disease, according to a provocative commentary published this week in Open Heart, the official journal of the British Cardiovascular Society.

Making more healthful dietary choices would “substantially and rapidly” reduce obesity, related diseases (such as type 2 diabetes) and the risk of heart disease — for individuals as well as for entire populations, the commentary argues.

And what is a healthful diet? A high-fat Mediterranean-style one, say the commentary’s three authors.

Those authors are Dr. Assem Malhotra, a British cardiologist who has been a prominent critic of the idea that saturated fat must be avoided to reduce the risk of heart disease, James Di Nicolantonio, a pharmacologist and cardiovascular researcher at Saint Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute and an associate editor of Open Heart, and Dr. Simon Capewell, a professor of public health and policy at the University of Liverpool.

Not all calories are equal

As the three experts point out in their commentary, “focusing on total energy consumed [calories], as opposed to nutritional value, has been exploited by the food industry, which has added sugar to over 80% of all processed foods.”

These added-sugar calories should not be considered equal to calories from other food sources, they stress.


For example: Drinking a can of cola, which contains about 150 calories of added sugar, each day has been associated with a significant increased risk of type 2 diabetes. By comparison, the daily consumption of a handful (one ounce) of nuts, which contains about 200 calories, or four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, which contains about 500 calories, has been associated with a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke.

(FYI: These findings all come from observational studies, which can demonstrate only a correlation between two things,  in these cases, a particular food and better — or worse — health. Observational studies can’t prove cause and effect.)

The commentary’s authors also cite a few clinical trials to back up their points, including a 2013 trial that switched some people to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables but did not instruct them to lose weight or to increase their exercise. That study found a 30 percent reduction in heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease among the people who switched their diet — regardless of any changes in their weight.

The researchers ended that study early because they believed it would be unethical to continue without offering the diet to all the participants.

The failure of fad diets

The Open Heart commentary’s authors are as harsh on the weight-loss industry as they are on the food industry for misleading the public about food, calories, weight and health.

“The weight loss industry, which emphasises calorie restriction over good nutrition, generates $58 billion in revenue annually in the USA, even though long-term follow-up studies reveal that the majority of individuals regain virtually all of the weight that was lost during treatment irrespective of whether they maintain their diet or exercise programme,” they write (with British spellings).

“Rapid weight loss and regain that can occur from fad dieting is actually detrimental to health,” they add. “Such ‘weight cycling’ contributes to hypertension, insulin resistance and [high cholesterol] resulting in increased mortality risk and worse cardiovascular outcomes.”

Needed: new policies

Medications are also not going to be a sustainable answer to the growing global burden of disease caused by poor diets, the commentary’s authors conclude.

Instead, lowering that burden is going to require “policy interventions that make healthier diet choices easier (the ‘default option’),” they write. “The most powerful and effective policies include taxation on sugary drinks, and subsidies to increase the affordability and availability of healthier foods including nuts vegetables and fruit, in addition to controls on the marketing of junk foods and clear package labeling.”

“It is time to stop counting calories, and time to instead promote good nutrition and dietary changes that can rapidly and substantially reduce cardiovascular mortality,” they conclude. “The evidence indeed supports the mantra that ‘food can be the most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” Recommending a high fat Mediterranean-type diet and lifestyle to our patients, friends and families, might be a good place to start.”

You can download and read the commentary in full through the Open Heart website.

Backlog at state-run treatment facilities means long waits for Minnesotans suffering from severe addictions

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 9:59am

Minnesotans suffering from severe drug addictions are getting wait-listed. 

Some are waiting at home. Others are languishing in detox facilities or hospital beds intended for short-term medical care. Some are sitting in jail cells.

On July 1, the state cut 66 beds from its six state-run, residential drug treatment programs, bringing the collective count down to 108, according to Department of Human Services (DHS) data. The programs — known as Community Addiction Recovery Enterprise, or CARE — serve patients with severe addiction, usually accompanied by other mental illnesses.


Before July, the CARE programs took a mix of patients who came for help voluntarily and those ordered into treatment by the courts. Now the centers only accept clients committed by a judge, a measure reserved for extreme cases, such as when a person can no longer take care of him/herself or has become a danger to self or others as a result of addiction.

As of mid-August, 43 patients were on the waiting lists, according to the data. The CARE center in Carlton had the longest wait, with a 7-8 week backlog. In Fergus Falls, patients were waiting 3-4 weeks to get in.

Here's the full waitlist, according to DHS:

CARE SitePatients Waiting
(as of 8/13)Estimated Wait Anoka172-3 Weeks Brainerd44-7 Days Carlton107-8 Weeks Fergus Falls83-4 Weeks St. Peter1No Wait Willmar44 Days

These delays amount to a serious problem, said Ashley Erickson, spokeswoman for Minnesota Association for Professional Employees, or MAPE, the union that represents about 1,800 DHS staff. While these patients wait for a bed to open, there is no designated place for them to stay.

“There’s no way to stay in touch with them,” said Erickson. “We’re worried about them ending up in jail or on the streets. We’re worried about them causing harm to themselves or others.”

So far this year, the majority of patients admitted to the CARE programs have come from hospitals, like Hennepin County Medical Center. Megen Cullen, senior director of psychiatry at HCMC, said they commonly languish in beds for months designated for general medical care, not chemical dependency treatment.

”We have a ton of people that need long-term care, and because there aren't enough beds, they don’t ever get it, or they wait a really long time,” she said. “It’s quite frustrating.”

The move to reduce the bed counts and cease accepting volunteer patients came in response to a 2013 report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor, said Wade Brost, executive director of DHS’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Services. Among the key recommendations from the 155-page report was that DHS rethink the role of its state-operated residential and inpatient facilities, and act as a safety net of sorts by focusing on services that fill gaps in the system. Since many private facilities also offer addiction services, DHS determined the CARE programs didn't need to serve volunteer patients.

There were also financials considerations: The CARE centers cost more than they billed (usually to patient insurance companies), so they were losing money.

Borst said it’s too soon to know what to make of these wait-list data. Since DHS narrowed the clientele to only committed patients in July, there’s no point of comparison before then.

“It’s really quite early to tell how the wait list is going to fluctuate, or whether this is a good number or a bad number,” he said.

More cuts are expected over the next 10 months, and people like Erickson fear that the waiting periods could be further exacerbated in that time.

But patient backlog isn’t the only worry, she said. As a consequence of only taking in committed patients, CARE staff members are dealing with more clients with higher likelihood of mental illness beyond drug addiction. “Kind of the worst of the worst end up going into these facilities,” she said. “It’s really changing the clientele of these facilities.”

She’s heard complaints from frustrated union members who feel underqualified taking care of these patients. “The turnover has been insane,” she said.

“We want to be hopeful, with our main priority being the care for these [patients],” she said. “We have another 10 months for these cuts to be complete, and wait and see.”

What’s really at stake in the Chinese economic turmoil

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 9:37am

Okay, the financial markets may have stabilized, and despite all the panic we’ve seen this week about China’s economy, the world as we know it isn’t coming to an end just yet.

But as hard as Chinese officials make it to figure out what exactly is going on in their country, it’s amply clear that the decline in China’s growth rate and the volatility in its stock market have real consequences — inside the country and out. Who’s at risk? Who gets hurt? How badly?

Officially, China is aiming to grow its economy by 7% this year, but there are widespread doubts about its official statistics. So some analysts (by no means everyone) concluded that the sudden devaluation of its currency this month was a sign that the economy was in much worse shape than anyone was letting on.

America: It’s not about you

The pain has been apparent outside China’s borders for some time.  And despite the attention that Americans — in the world’s largest economy — have been paying to China — the next-largest economy — the real action is elsewhere. Think Brazil. Chile. Australia. Japan. South Korea.

In order to flood the world with consumer goods, China needs all manner of machinery and raw materials. It moved aggressively into global markets to lock up supplies, casting its attention from Afghanistan to Zambia.

High demand drove up global commodity prices. But demand — and prices — have been dropping, hurting countries that supply machinery (like Japan and South Korea), copper (like Chile), agricultural products (like Brazil), oil, and many other products to China.

According to this excellent chart put together by The Guardian, China’s imports dropped almost 15% in the first half of this year. Australia, which has had a booming business exporting coal, iron ore and other commodities to China, already has lost about 1% of GDP.

Then, there is the effect on oil prices. While China burns a tremendous amount of coal, it also the world’s leading importer of oil. Global oversupply, in part the result of increased U.S. production, has helped drive down prices. Lessening demand in China exacerbates the trend, making matter worse for countries that are heavily dependent on oil exports: Venezuela, Nigeria, Russia to name a few.

Internal migrants

Inside China, the stakes are extremely high. For hundreds of millions of people, it’s about a chance at a decent life. For the political elite, it’s about stability and control. It’s almost impossible to overstate how important that is.

This recent article by Damien Ma in Foreign Affairs focuses on one very big piece of the problem: China’s internal migrants. There are more than a quarter-billion of them – enough that if they made up their own country, Ma calculates, it would be the fourth-largest in the world.

They have moved en masse from the countryside to the cities in recent decades, providing much of the muscle for China’s impressive growth. But because of longstanding policies aimed at social control, they don’t have official permission to live there. Therefore, they often don’t qualify for the same benefits as urbanites, and may earn less as well.

This is important for two reasons. First, putting more money in their pockets would be a big way of turning China’s economy into one driven by consumer spending rather than investment and exports. The government acknowledges it needs to do that because the old model is running out of steam. On the flip side, if all the paths for advancement are cut off, these millions could easily become disruptive.

Resisting democracy

That brings us back to the hidden world of Communist Party politics, the leadership’s worries about stability and control, and murky signs of internal discord.

No one has succeeded in doing what the Chinese are attempting: loosening controls on a major economy, allowing it to become one of the world’s most prosperous, while maintaining tight political control.

A former World Bank and U.S. Treasury Department expert quoted here says this is the stage at which countries that made the transition started to democratize. That’s not what the Chinese leadership has in mind. President Xi Jinping has been heading in the opposite direction.

Despite a façade of normalcy, this excellent analysis by the BBC’s China editor, Carrie Gracie, teases out signs of internal discord: a declaration that time for reform is running out; and strategically placed warnings about factionalism and retired officials meddling in policy.

In addition, Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, aimed at attacking one big threat to the party’s legitimacy, appears to have turned internal politics into a blood sport. Freeing up the economy further threatens the business interests of the elites.

Very powerful people stand to get hurt.

“When the economy was growing fast, there were no hard choices between core economic and political objectives,” Gracie says. “But now that growth is slowing, the conflict is stark between the economic imperative of freeing up markets for the sake of China's future and the political imperative of iron control for Party survival.”

The party wants economic reform. But there is a very good chance it wants political control even more.

Klobuchar's 'The Senator Next Door' centers on the people who shaped her politics

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 9:09am

A midcareer senator publishing a political memoir as the 2016 presidential race takes shape can’t be viewed as a casual move, especially if that senator is Amy Klobuchar, who has long been viewed as having Cabinet, judicial or vice-presidential ambitions — or perhaps something higher. But it’s also State Fair season, and perhaps our senator just wants to get closer to her constituents by sharing some of her experiences as a nice, neighborly politician whose career has been low on drama while moving steadily forward, one win at a time.

Her new book, “The Senator Next Door” (Henry Holt) recounts growing up in Plymouth, Minn., doing well in school, marrying a nice guy, winning elections pretty easily and getting along pretty well with just about everybody. Of course, there were rough patches, but Klobuchar is super skilled at finding the silver lining. Her father [former StarTribune columnist and MinnPost contributor Jim Klobuchar] struggled with alcohol addiction, and one day young Amy found the word “drunk” scrawled on her locker at school; as an adult, she accompanied her reformed dad on epic bike rides that helped her get to know Minnesota’s scenic beauty. When she became a parent herself, insurance company rules dictated that she leave the hospital posthaste after a difficult delivery, while her fragile newborn stayed behind in intensive care; that experience helped her pass legislation expanding maternity coverage to 48 hours.


Klobuchar’s book centers on the people who shaped her politics. Immigrant grandparents, Range mining relatives and a mother who taught elementary school gave her a traditional DFL mindset, but she also recounts solid friendships with Republican colleagues, doesn’t criticize even her opponents and occasionally votes with them. Perhaps this is the key to her steady success. “The Senator Next Door” is a guide to getting ahead by getting along.

MinnPost: Most political biographies are ghostwritten, but you say this one is “all me.” Tell me about your writing process and timeline.

Amy Klobuchar: I worked on this over a couple of years. I used an iPad so I could work on it wherever I happened to be — on a plane, in an airport lounge, at my kitchen table. I wrote a lot back in my college days, so I’ve always enjoyed writing, something I still do a lot of as a U.S. senator. I wrote my first book, “Uncovering the Dome,” about the 10-year political struggle behind the building of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, back in the early 1980s as a college senior. I figured that since the subject of my first book was being torn down, it was time to write a new one! This book is intended to make an impact on our politics, to show that good governance is about being neighborly, and that regular people can — and should — get into politics.

MP: You look back on your life with a level of detail most people wouldn’t be able to access. How did you piece together your own past, and what was the research like?

AK: As a senator, I haven’t had time to keep a daily journal. I tried doing that the very first week I was in Washington, D.C., but it’s a demanding job so I found that wasn’t practical for me. I did write down some of the stories from time to time. But most of all, I have told a lot of the stories over the years, and I have a pretty good memory. I called a lot of old friends and neighbors, from my high school prom date to my college roommates to my across-the-street neighbor growing up.

My husband [John Bessler] assisted me by checking my memories on the Internet and in old newspaper clippings, as well as in my dad's writings. I think John took just a little joy every time I was a bit off! The research on my grandparents came in part from immigration records that you can order off the Homeland Security Department website.

MP: What influence did your father have on your writing?

AK: My dad had a huge influence on me. I grew up watching him write on his old Underwood typewriter, and I’ve always loved his writing — how energetic and accessible it is, and how much humanity he’s able to express in it. In going on long-distance bike rides with my dad, including on several of his multiday “Jaunt with Jim” rides, he gave me a real love for Minnesota’s natural beauty. And in seeing what an impact his newspaper columns had on the people of our state, he’s been a true inspiration to me — and I know to many others. A few years ago, my dad wrote a book titled “Heroes Among Us.” My dad is my hero.

MP: You discuss his problems with alcohol (and marriage) in some detail. What was it like for you — and for him — to revisit this part of your history?

AK: These are definitely difficult subjects to write about, but unlike some, my dad has already written a lot about his divorce from my mom and his own struggles with alcohol. When my mom and dad got divorced, my dad wrote a whole column titled “Four Days Short of an Anniversary.” And after getting a DWI in 1993 and going through treatment, my dad — who is now happily remarried and enjoying life at age 87 — wrote a wonderful book, “Pursued by Grace: A Newspaperman’s Own Story of Spiritual Recovery.” I highly recommend it for anyone struggling with alcohol addiction or — for that matter — any other form of substance abuse.

MP: What other political memoirs do you admire?

AK: One of my favorite autobiographies is Katharine Graham’s “Personal History.” She wasn’t a politician, but she wrote a really candid memoir about growing up and later being the owner of the Washington Post. I liked the candor and honesty of that book. I’ve also long admired Nora Ephron’s books, and for political biographies, David McCullough’s books — “John Adams” and “Truman” — are hard to beat.

MP: You point out, a few times, that your parents were both conceived before marriage (in the 1920s). This certainly wasn’t uncommon, but I wondered what comment you were trying to make about that era’s perception of morality vs. reality.

AK: I certainly wasn’t intending to wade into the 1920s “culture wars” — if there was such a thing back then. I just found it interesting when I uncovered that little nugget. When you delve into family history, it seems, there’s always a few things that never seen to get mentioned in one’s childhood.

MP: When you write about the effort to expand insurance coverage for new mothers, you say that the legislation passed in part because the testimony was “so embarrassing” to male legislators. In recent years, female bodies are a big topic in legislatures. How have conditions changed for women in politics in the past 20 years?

AK: They’ve changed a lot. When I was born in May 1960, Margaret Chase Smith — who served as a U.S. senator from Maine — was the only woman in the U.S. Senate. And she’d actually first gotten into politics after filling the U.S. House seat of her husband after he died. Today, there are 20 women serving in the U.S. Senate. Also, more and more women are deciding to run for office, whether it’s at the local, state or federal level. There’s still a lot of progress to be made, but there’s definitely strength in numbers. Having more women in leadership positions is important and a welcome change.

MP: During the 2006 senate race, Mark Kennedy ran a series of negative ads that elicited a backlash — you say that Minnesotans became "disenchanted with negative ads.” Do you think we’re a more civil state when it comes to political discourse?

AK: I do. There’s something special about Minnesota. We have high voter turnout, a highly educated work force, and people pay close attention to what’s going on throughout the state. I think grassroots politics still works a lot better here than negative ads. Minnesotans also have a tradition of coming together after elections and moving on. Congressman Kennedy, the book points out, also ran some very lighthearted ads about growing up with his brothers and meeting his wife at a 4-H booth at the State Fair. Mark is now doing terrific work as the chair of the nonpartisan Economic Club of Minnesota in addition to heading up George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.

MP: You describe yourself as nonpartisan and friendly with both sides of the aisle, and some of your positions could be seen as moderate or even conservative. How do you describe yourself on the political spectrum?

AK: I don’t like labels because I think they oversimplify the complexity of politics. I am proud to be a Democrat, but no person or party has a monopoly on good ideas. I enjoy working with people of both parties, and in the Senate, where you typically need 60 votes to get anything done, working together is an absolute necessity. More than anything else, I’d say I’m pragmatic because when I see a problem, I like to try to solve it. I think the success I’ve had in passing legislation over the past nine years is a reflection of that approach.

MP: Releasing a biography in advance of Iowa could be interpreted as the beginning of a new campaign. What role are you aiming for next?

AK: I called “The Senator Next Door” the “The Senator Next Door” for a reason. I love my job, and I love representing the people of our state. I see my job as working on behalf of my constituents. As I say in the book, they are my “guardian angels” because they daily inspire me, give me new ideas and I steadfastly believe that citizen advocacy still matters and can make a difference in people’s lives.

  • Aug. 28, 7:30 p.m. Common Good Books and Unity Church-Unitarian, Unity Church Sanctuary, St. Paul
  • Aug. 29, 3 p.m. Barnes & Noble, Mall of America, Bloomington
  • Aug. 30, 3:30 p.m. Barnes & Noble, Fargo, North Dakota
  • Aug. 31, 7 p.m. Barnes & Noble, Miller Hill Mall, Duluth
  • Sept. 2, 7 p.m. Barnes & Noble, Edina
  • Sept. 3, 7 p.m. Barnes & Noble, Apache Mall, Rochester

How to attract more new teachers

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 8:35am
CC/Flickr/Philippa Warr

With the recent reports of a teacher shortage in America, a vital conversation about how to attract more new teachers has started. While many are talking, perhaps the most important voice in the conversation, the voice of teachers themselves, has yet to be heard.

Ben MacKenzie

I believe that the next generation of teacher leaders won’t be satisfied with just a bump in salary. We want the chance to affect change in our community, to creatively problem-solve, to use our autonomy for our students’ benefit, and to engage socially with everyone around us. Fortunately, there is already a forward-thinking initiative in Minneapolis that offers exactly that: Community Partnership Schools.

Community Partnership Schools (CPS) are launching this school year in the Minneapolis Public Schools. These site-specific programs will have greater autonomy, and offer teachers richer engagement with students, parents and community leaders through shared responsibilities and collaborative innovation.

Such partnerships with invested, passionate people offer veteran and novice teachers a path toward changing the way we see schools, a path to creatively designing better schools, and ultimately, a path to helping every student learn. This initiative has been trumpeted by Minneapolis Public Schools Interim Superintendent Michael Goar, and should be equally exciting for any teacher interested in nurturing a new generation of teacher-leaders to support our students.

A collaborative network

Community Partnership Schools embrace the philosophy that school culture should be built on the existing foundation of community support through dialogue, design and innovation shared among professional educators, families, and neighborhood leaders. Even the most tireless teachers know that collaborating with an existing support network will trump the best efforts to manufacture such support. Moreover, this integrated collection of voices will more effectively influence student success than teachers operating in isolation. The embedded social aspects of this design should appeal to new graduates looking for careers, rather than just jobs, and all teachers will benefit from listening to and speaking with community members.


To create better and more responsive schools, and to recruit and retain more educators, we have to make teaching more than instruction and assessment. For too long teacher voice has been missing from policy-making. Community Partnership Schools aim to amplify forgotten voices, creating reforms built on the advice of parents, community leaders, and classroom teachers. By inviting teacher-driven ideas for innovation at CPS sites and creating leadership roles for teachers on the CPS Advisory Committee, both Minneapolis Public Schools and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers have boosted the role teachers play in creating change.

To some, the CPS model may seem daunting: demanding more time spent in meetings and less on the individual art of crafting a lesson, and expanding teachers’ roles to shoulder even more responsibility for student achievement than a high-stakes testing already has.

Teachers know how to juggle schedules

However, I trust that those teachers who take the opportunity to explore and give input to the CPS will address these issues. I know teachers can juggle shifting schedules of meetings and course management; we do it every day. I have seen teachers seek greater responsibility in supporting students; we care too much not to. Moreover, we will not be going it alone. We teachers know that parents, administrators, and students themselves adore great teachers. They want us to succeed as much as we do. I trust that they will help juggle timings and share responsibilities to make the system work.

We need more teachers. We need them to feel challenged and engaged. We have a way to do that. It now falls to us as teachers to accept the challenge and the responsibility of creating better schools through the innovation, autonomy and social atmosphere of Community Partnership Schools.

Ben MacKenzie teaches 9th- and 12th-grade English/Language Arts at FAIR School Downtown in Minneapolis, and he is a teacher leader for Educators 4 Excellence.

Want to add your voice?

If you're interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.)

Minneapolis' emerging Bob Dylan mural: the back story

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 8:23am

By now you’ve probably heard that downtown Minneapolis is getting a massive new piece of public art: a five-story mural of Minnesota’s own Bob Dylan by Brazilian muralist Eduardo Kobra. It will fill the west façade of the 15 Building at 15 South 5th St., just southeast of Hennepin Ave., visible across a parking lot from Hennepin all the way down 5th to Target Field.

If you drive, walk, bus or bike downtown or use light rail, you can watch it take shape over the next two weeks.

The 15 Building is owned by R2 Companies and AIMS Real Estate, a business unit of Goldman Sachs Asset Management. 

“When we first bought the building, we said, ‘We’ve got to do something with this wall,’ ” R2’s Matt Garrison told us Thursday by phone from Chicago, where R2 is based. “At first we were thinking we’d put up a big sign for the building, but that just didn’t seem right because it’s so prominent, facing the North Loop and the community. We thought it was an opportunity to do something really cool.”

Mark Kuske at Goldman Sachs in New York reached out to Mary Altman, public arts administrator for the City of Minneapolis, who suggested he call Joan Vordebruggen, cultural district arts coordinator for Hennepin Theatre Trust and the mind behind “Made Here,” which has filled empty storefront windows along Hennepin Ave. with art since 2013.

Vordebruggen considers this “one of the best moments of true partnership with the city … Mark Kuske called me, I flipped out and said ‘Yes!’ ”

Hennepin Theatre Trust is now managing the project, meaning Vordebruggen is on site almost constantly, working with Kobra and his team of five artists. Three are from Brazil, two are from Minneapolis. The Brazilians speak only Portuguese, so Vordebruggen is using Google Translator.

Kuske is a fan of street art, which led to Kobra being chosen for the $50,000 commission. “We ping-ponged back and forth about several artists,” Vordebruggen said. “Then [Kuske] said, ‘What do you think about Kobra?’ I was like, ‘Yes! One hundred percent!’ I knew if we could get him here, it would be so transformative.”

Kobra began as a young street artist in a low-income São Paulo neighborhood, tagging with an older graffiti crew. Today he is internationally known for his enormous works on buildings and walls, portraits that pulse with color.

New York has a Kobra, a re-imagining of Eisenstaedt’s famous 1945 photograph “VJ Day in Times Square,” of a sailor kissing a young woman. Los Angeles has his psychedelic take on Mount Rushmore. For Art Basel in Miami, he painted rappers Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. The city of Boras, Sweden, has Kobra’s Alfred Nobel mural; Lodz, Poland has Arthur Rubinstein. His gigantic portrait of the Russian ballerina Maya Plistetskaya leaps off a wall in Moscow.

“Kobra doesn’t just do what you tell him to do,” Vordebruggen said. “His art is rooted in storytelling, history, and things that are culturally relevant to the area. We bounced around a thousand different ideas. Then, one day – OMG, it’s gotta be Dylan! Public art has to be accessible. Dylan has broad appeal. He was recently named the best songwriter in America by Rolling Stone. Dylan is going to live on forever.”

Dylan also has connections to Hennepin Avenue. He once owned the Orpheum Theatre, which today is owned by Hennepin Theatre Trust, and he played a sold-out, three-night stand there last November.

Part of the parking lot of the 15 Building is now a work site, with ladders and boom lifts and air compressors. The formerly blank white wall is becoming a triptych of Dylan through the years. Lyrics from his song “The Times They Are A-Changin’ ” will be included in the final image.

Photo by Bailey CahlanderThe formerly blank white wall is becoming a triptych of Dylan through the years.

“The mural is going to be a downtown Minneapolis icon,” Vordebruggen said. “It’s going to be like ‘Spoonbridge and Cherry.’ You’ll see it and think ‘Minneapolis.’ ”

“We’re spending some money on this mural,” Garrison said, “and we’re happy to do it. Normally, real estate investors want a direct return on investment, but this is more qualitative than quantitative. We’re doing it to help create a sense of community and excitement.”

For Garrison, it’s about generating the kind of vibrancy that attracts companies and employees to R2's buildings. Public art and what it says about a city can be a strong draw. For Vordebruggen, it’s about vision.

“I look at this district and all I see is opportunity,” she said. “I won’t rest until it has art and culture from local artists, emerging artists, professional artists, international artists. This to me right now is a canvas, and I want to fill it up. … I want people from Tokyo to fly here because they want to see it. I want people all over the world to think, ‘We’ve got to go to Minneapolis because the city is covered in art.’ ” 

The picks

Tonight (Friday, Aug. 28) through Sunday at the Trylon: “Tron.” If you’re under 30, this is more of a geological event than a film screening, but “Tron” was the first film to make use of computer-generated imagery. And it stars Jeff Bridges several years pre-Dude. Friday and Saturday, 7 and 9 p.m., Sunday 5 and 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($8).

Closes Saturday at the Walker: “International Pop.” Last chance to see this landmark show before the Walker packs it up and ships it to Dallas. 140 works from 14 countries trace the global emergence of Pop art from the 1950s through the early 1970s. FMI.

© Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, WashingtonRoy Lichtenstein, “Look Mickey,” 1961. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art. Dorothy and Roy Lichtenstein, Gift of the Artist, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art

Saturday at Hamline Park: Midway Art Festival. Live music and dancing, live and interactive public art, world cuisine, sidewalk chalking, pavement painting, and – fanfare, please – the unveiling of the Midway Murals, the neighborhood-transforming, Knight Arts Challenge-winning project conceived by neighborhood resident Jonathan Oppenheimer and previewed in MinnPost earlier this week by Jim Walsh. At the corner of Snelling and Thomas Ave. in St. Paul. Noon – 6 p.m. Free.

Closes Sunday at Mia: “Leonardo da Vinci, the Codex Leicester, and the Creative Mind.” You’ll see it through glass, but there it will be, for just a few more days: Bill Gates’ personal copy of one of Leonardo’s original notebooks, with his detailed illustrations and left-handed mirror writing. FMI and tickets.

Monday at the Dakota: Terrence Blanchard E Collective. Multiple Grammy-winning, New Orleans-raised jazz trumpeter Blanchard’s new album is a departure stylistically and sonically; it’s more funky than we’re used to hearing from him, with electric instead of acoustic bass, dance grooves and electronic processing. It’s also more overtly political. “Breathless” is a direct reference to Eric Garner, who died in police custody in New York City and whose last words were “I can’t breathe.” So it's also about justice. 7 and 9 p.m. FMI and tickets ($40/$25).

Monday and Tuesday at the Fair: Sonny Knight & the Lakers. High-energy retro R&B. There will be dancing. On the International Bazaar Stage at 7:30 and 8:45 p.m. both nights. Free with admission.

The ins and outs of drive-thrus, and why they’re bad for cities

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 8:16am

In a way, the fast-food drive-thru might be the peak of American civilization. The ability to stop, order anything you want and have it handed to you within minutes, without even having to put your car in park, is nothing short of a miraculous testament to modern technological privilege.

But drive-thrus also cause a lot of problems, particularly for people trying to live or walk near one. As cities like St. Paul try to become more walkable, people are looking more critically at the complexities of the ubiquitous drive-thru.

Families love them, bikes do not

These days, cities like St. Paul are doing their best to limit drive-thrus through mixed-use zoning, which explicitly discourages “auto-oriented uses” like drive-thrus, car repair shops, and large surface parking lots. (Currently, drive-thrus in mixed-use "traditional neighborhood" zones require conditional use permits from the city, which allow city staff to alleviate their impacts.)

Changing the drive-thru culture does not come without a fight. (See, for example, my earlier Cityscape column on strip malls, where drive-thrus were often a sticking point with mall developers.) The appeal of drive-thrus is probably greatest for parents driving with small children, when getting into and out of the car is a big chore.

“Starbucks' drive-thru was a lifesaver when I was a mom with a very fussy baby,” Sarah Beilke Champe told me. “Sometimes it was the only interaction I had with an adult during the day.”

On the flip side, drive-thrus can be inaccessible to anyone not in a car. Many fast-food restaurants close their walk-in restaurants late at night, while keeping their drive-thrus open (sometimes 24 hours). This practice actually prompted a lawsuit against a local White Castle back in 2009, when a woman on an electric scooter argued that drive-thru-only service amounted to discrimination.

(I've heard lots of stories of people riding bikes or walking dogs going through drive-thrus, but this is mostly just for banks or pharmacies.)

Never-ending nuisance of late-night hours

The worst-case scenario for an urban drive-thru has to be the Snelling Avenue Taco Bell, which because of a historical accident is pushed up right next to a residential neighborhood.

Because its original permit dates back to 1973, when the company was called Zantigo, the city has almost no regulatory leverage over the restaurant. This was before the modern drive-thru existed, and well before the emphasis on late-night hours, so the restaurant's “special use permit”  came with no strings attached — leaving the city and  neighborhood with few controls over things like hours, noise levels, or security concerns.

The Taco Bell drive-thru debate came to a head this summer as the company proposed to rebuild the decades-old building and redesign the drive-thru, which would require a "conditional use permit" from the city. 

"The whole theater of the drive-thru experience is pretty fascinating," Kristine Vesley, who lives directly behind the Taco Bell, told me. "People love that ritual of pushing the speaker button and hearing the tinny worker voice asking them what they'd like to order. They love inching along in the line bopping in their seats and drumming on the steering wheel. They love the disembodied hand giving them a bag of greasy food."

But in their public comment to the city, the closest neighbors, the Vesleys, offered extended documentation of the noise, trash and passed-out people generated by the late-night drive-thru. Because late-night drive-thrus don't offer bathrooms, many people simply urinate in the alley, and the Vesleys' documentation of years of nuisance are neatly categorized according to type of loud car, or the politeness of the public urinator. The couple also included years of correspondence with city regulators and staff, trying in vain to rein in the hours and nuisance. 

MinnPost photo by Bill LindekeCars stack up in the Taco Bell drive-thru during the day.

After weeks of deliberation and back-and-forth between Taco Bell and the city’s Zoning Committee, the issue came down to a few details: The city wanted hours reduced to 1 a.m. on weekends, and a security guard on site, but the company balked at the proposal. In the end, profits outweighed politeness, and Border Foods withdrew their application.

"We're really disappointed that Border Foods was such a sore loser," Kristine Vesley told me after the final hearing. "A 2 a.m. closing was their line in the sand, even though other similarly situated Taco Bells close at midnight during the week and 1 a.m. on weekends. We objected to the intensity of this drive-thru use in this particular location, more like a wild after-party with nine cars idling, full of occupants yelling and radios blaring and horns honking — open 22 hours per day, and only because of a flukey old permit. Having this Taco Bell drive-thru operating for five to six hours per day without the building and rest rooms open is just stupid." 

Blight on walkability

Another dynamic is that drive-thrus damage walkability because they require so many curb cuts cut into the street. For example,  just past downtown along Saint Paul’s West 7th Street, hotels and apartments are quickly rising in long-empty parking lots.

The new development prompted questions when, last year, a drive-thru proposal emerged that would have transformed an old Dairy Queen into a drive-thru Brueggers/Caribou hybrid. It would have required two loops of car lanes surrounding a small, one-story restaurant.

“We had purposely rezoned that part of West 7th Street,” Adam Yust, who is on the board of the local neighborhood group, told me. “Across the street from the site, there are amazing historic buildings, and we wanted more of that on West 7th. The board was unanimous, and made a motion to deny approval because it was the complete opposite of our long-term plan and visions for the corridor.”

MinnPost photos by Bill LindekeThe proposed Starbucks site

According to Yust, the more that driveways are built up and onto the sidewalk, and the more cars are driving over them, people will be less likely to walk around.

“The future of West 7th is not a car-oriented street,” Yust said. “If you’re walking down the street, you don’t want to walk through two cut-thrus within 30 feet of each other. Plus they were asking for more parking spaces than the minimum. They could have put a two-story building there, and that would have been fine. But, it was clear that they wanted to keep the neighborhood paved over.”

After meeting resistance from the local neighborhood group, the developer withdrew the application. To this day, the Dairy Queen remains empty, and the land is used mostly for Xcel Center event parking.

A fit for marginal spaces?

Not all drive-thrus are immediately shot down. The Southeast corner of Snelling and Marshall is an awkward space, where a drive-thru might be the only reasonable fit. For the last few decades, the site has housed a bike shop, a (long-shuttered) car-repair place, and a drive-thru coffee kiosk where a lonely employee sat in a tiny box distributing hot coffee to passing drivers.

But as the corner changes with the new Snelling Avenue bridge and new mixed-use developments just blocks away, plans for the oddly shaped parcel have prompted debate in the neighborhood. This summer, a developer approached the neighborhood with a proposal for a drive-thru Starbucks.

“Many of us [in the neighborhood] feel that a drive-thru does not belong there,” Anne White, who chairs the land use committee for her neighborhood group, told me. “This a place where we’re trying to get transit-oriented development, and to make it more walkable. This is just completely in the wrong direction. It’s a suburban model but apparently it increases their profit by 40 percent over not having a drive-thru.”

The primary concern for the neighborhood group is that the drive-thru proposal won’t do anything to improve the surrounding neighborhood, and that it might cause massive traffic headaches at the busy intersection. Indeed, the developer has gone through multiple revisions with MnDOT and the city, trying to figure out just how many left-turn lanes and how much “stacking” (i.e. spaces where cars can idle as they queue up) the spot will require.

“This site has been a mess for 20 years,” Anne White said. “Its not a beautiful location by any means, its east side and south side have great big retaining walls [and] essentially people voted in favor. They felt that Starbucks had done as much as they can do to make this more palatable, and that we should let them go ahead.”

In the end, the committee members held their noses and voted to approve the Starbucks’ plans, citing the awkwardness of the site for more walkable developments.  The plan will go to the city for consideration later this year. 

Dayton calls Black Lives Matter plan to protest State Fair 'inappropriate'

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 5:48am

He’s not the only ally saying this. Tim Pugmire reports for MPR: “Governor Mark Dayton says the group Black Lives Matter has raised valid concerns about the Minnesota State Fair, but he described a planned protest outside the fairgrounds on Saturday as ‘inappropriate.’ … Dayton said Black Lives Matter members should have taken their complaints directly to the State Fair board, several months ago. ‘Being responsible citizens doesn't mean just protesting. It means taking responsibility for making it better. If they had been working with the fair board for the last six months and pressed this point, and the fair board was unresponsive, then I think the protest would make a lot more sense.’"

In City Pages, Susan Du writes, “So far, [BLM St. Paul organizer Rashad] Turner and fair director Jerry Hammer haven’t sat down at the same table. With only the media as the go-between, the two seem to be speaking past each other. Minnesota has about 15 percent people of color. While BLM can't say definitively whether at least 15 percent of businesses at the fair are minority-owned, fair officials haven't provided any figures to prove vendor representation matches the state's demographics. … A colorblind application process is the first thing that needs to go, Turner says.”

Also on Day No. 1. Tom Hauser of KSTP-TV says, “It's been a long-standing tradition at the Iowa State Fair, but now you can cast your kernels for presidential candidates at the Minnesota State Fair. The early front runners in the unscientific poll at the Minnesota Republican Party booth are Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. ‘Anybody can stop by our booth and and cast a vote for whoever their favorite candidate is,’ GOP Party Chair Keith Downey said.” I have this image of Democrats shelling entire ears of corn into the Trump jar.

Meanwhile, in downtown Minneapolis, Pat Kessler of WCCO-TV checked out said Dems. “Organizers of a Draft Biden for President group sent an e-mail to DNC members asking them to keep an open mind and consider a Biden candidacy’. Volunteers for frontrunner Hillary Clinton say they are not concerned. … But Republican leaders — facing a tumultuous presidential campaign of their own — call Biden’s possible entry in the race a sign the Clinton campaign is in serious trouble. ‘THE anointed candidate,’ Minnesota Republican Party Chair Keith Downey said, ‘behind whom everybody has coalesced, has imploded so badly in front of the American people that they are having to look at alternatives like Joe Biden.’”

Likewise, what else would this guy say? Jobs Coalition functionary and former GOP communications director Mark Drake doesn’t like Hillary’s chances.  In a Strib commentary he says, “With her ethical baggage and status as the candidate of the past, Clinton looks to be an albatross for Democrats in the suburbs and in Greater Minnesota. June polling from the Minnesota Jobs Coalition by the Tarrance Group underscored Clinton’s vulnerability in a general election. A poll of 600 ‘likely’ voters in swing legislative districts found that Minnesotans are not ready for Clinton.” And their dream candidate is?

This isn’t too much to ask, is it? The Forum News Service story says, “The Department of Natural Resources asks hunters participating in Minnesota’s bear season that opens Tuesday to avoid shooting radio-collared research bears that are marked with colorful ear tags.”

Speaking of bears in the woods. The Forum folks also have this story. “In East Grand Forks, Minn., man faces felony charges after burglarizing a church and leaving behind a path of destruction and a pile of human feces. … According to the criminal complaint, a day care worker found several items askew early Aug. 18, and when police arrived to investigate, officers found an office area burglarized, and a pile of human excrement hidden under blanket stuffing.”

Meanwhile at Mille Lacs, Josephine Marcotty of the Strib reports, “Next year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will ask the Legislature for funding to launch a pilot fish-stocking program and hatchery so it can be ready to boost the young walleye population if that’s necessary down the road. It will ask the federal government for a permit to kill fish-eating cormorants to reduce pressure on small fish. And it will create a new advisory committee made up of 12 to 16 members from the Mille Lacs community, including business owners, guides and anglers, to help inform future management decisions. Mille Lacs, the state’s most popular walleye lake, will become the sole charge of a newly appointed project manager and a crew of DNR staff.”

Also in DNR news, Zach Kayser of the Duluth News Tribune writes, “The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on Thursday avoided a treaty rights court battle — for now — by granting a surprise one-day permit to Chippewa band members who had planned to harvest wild rice illegally. The 1855 Treaty Authority had organized a protest wild rice harvest on Hole-In-The-Day Lake near Nisswa. northwest of Brainerd, in order to assert off-reservation gathering rights that are disputed by the state government. About 30 to 40 reporters and other observers turned out to witness what could have been a confrontation between the ricers and DNR conservation officers. … the DNR apparently avoided having to cite anyone for ricing or having to confiscate equipment, thus temporarily averting what may be a lengthy federal court challenge that could result in legal recognition of the disputed hunting, fishing and gathering rights in the treaty area.”

One survived. The AP story says, “A Colorado hospital where a Minnesota woman gave birth to conjoined twins said Thursday that one of the babies died after a complicated five-four separation procedure. Amber McCullough delivered the twin girls, Hannah and Olivia, by cesarean section on Wednesday. Doctors had to immediately separate them due to the severity of their heart condition … .”

Again.. According to the AP, “The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has put a Roseville priest on leave after receiving what it is calling a credible allegation that he sexually abused a minor in the 1980s. The Rev. Robert Fitzpatrick is pastor at Corpus Christi parish and St. Rose of Lima parish and school. Interim Archbishop Bernard Hebda announced the decision on Thursday and says police have been notified.”

Enjoyable story from John Enger on the MPR site on one of the more interesting UFO encounters anywhere. “At 1:40 a.m. 36 years ago, Marshall County Sheriff's Deputy Val Johnson was on night patrol along a rural section of State Highway 220 near Warren, Minn., when he drove into a ball of white light. ‘I noticed a very bright, brilliant light, 8 to 12 inches in diameter, 3 to 4 feet off the ground,’ Johnson said in a taped police interview. ‘The edges were very defined.’ Johnson drove toward the light, and woke up in the ditch a half-hour later with burns around his eyes. The windshield and one headlight of his 1977 Ford LTD were smashed. Both radio antenna were bent sharply back. The watch on his wrist and the clock on the dash both ticked 14 minutes slow.” Seems Johnson is way less interested in the incident than the usual suspects.

Work resumes on Vikings stadium after worker death

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 1:29pm

Back to work. KARE’s Dan Thiede reports, “Crews are back at work on the new Vikings stadium less than one day after a subcontractor died in a fall from the roof. … Mortensen Construction Senior Vice President John Wood released a statement Thursday, in the wake of the death of 35-year-old Jeramie Gruber of Northfield. Gruber died after falling 50 feet into a snow gutter at U.S. Bank Stadium. The circumstances that led to the fatal fall are still being investigated. A second worker was also seriously hurt at the scene.”

City Pages has a cool guide to the Twin Cities’ newest murals. Alex Lauer writes, “The six muralists featured here come from a variety of educational backgrounds and approach their work in different ways, working in media such as parachute cloth, aerosol, and mosaic. They shared some thoughts about their recent projects, and where you can find them. Four of these artists are participating in Midway Murals, a project aimed at revitalizing the Hamline Midway neighborhood by way of Snelling Avenue. The finished murals, produced in collaboration with the immigrant business owners who live and work in the area, will be officially unveiled at the Midway Art Festival this Saturday, August 29.”

Major League baseball doesn’t own Twins.com, and they probably won’t be able to buy it. That’s because, as Ben Lindbergh writes in Grantland, it’s owned by a pair of Twins — Durland and Darvin Miller — who aren’t interested in selling: “ Even though the Millers’ facilities management business doesn’t depend as directly on Twins.com as Ray’s Boathouse does on Rays.com, their attachment to their site sounds similar, and just as deep-seated. ‘It’s more of an identity thing,’ Durland says. ‘To lose the Twins.com thing for us would be a life change. We’ve identified with it for decades.’

In other news…

We expect to have the time of our lives, as usual: “State Fair opens: Here's what to expect” [MPR]

This gives a whole new meaning to “Great Minnesota Get Together”: “A State Fair fan pops the question to his beloved - in crop art” [Pioneer Press]

Ballot selfies: legal, but still stupid. “SOS Simon sides with court: no need for ‘ballot selfie’ ban” [Pioneer Press]

You thought flying was hell now? Just wait: “MAC envisions 68% more passengers using already strained MSP by 2035” [Star Tribune]

DNR avoids confrontation: “DNR issues special permit allowing wild rice harvest today by 1855 Authority” [Brainerd Dispatch]

NDSU scholarship athletes about to get paid. [Inforum]

The professors and the police: How a Minneapolis project may change the way cops everywhere relate to the public

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 11:00am

Call it Minneapolis in the petri dish.

Over the next three years, the city will be one of six in the country that will test whether social science research that's more at home in academia than city hall can help improve troubled relationships between police and residents.

“There has never been a more formative time where our country has looked at this issue of police and community trust,” Mark Kappelhoff, a deputy assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, told the Minneapolis City Council earlier this summer. 

What Kappelhoff was describing is the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, a three-year, $4.75 million project with a massive mission: to use data collection, social psychology and best practices to repair and strengthen the frayed relationship between cops and communities. 

The national initiative, which grew out of President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper campaign, took on greater urgency in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer last August. 

“We thought, ‘Why don’t we do something proactively rather than waiting for something bad to happen in Ferguson or Baltimore or some other place,’ ” says Kappelhoff, a Minneapolis native who spent 15 years in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division before taking a teaching post at the University of Minnesota law school in 2012.

A year ago, he took a leave from the U to return to the DOJ to take part in the federal investigations into the Ferguson and the Baltimore police departments, and to work to implement many of the programs pushed by the Obama administration. “We have evidence-based practices that work around the country,” he said. “Why don’t we collect those practices and disseminate them broadly throughout the country?”

Addressing three aspects of community-police relations — implicit bias, procedural justice and racial reconciliation — the new initiative is being led not by cops or politicians but by academics from UCLA, Yale Law School and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice (as well as several institutes, ranging from UCLA's Center for Policing Equity to the National Network for Safe Communities). 

In essence, the program is where academic theory about police and community relations will turn into practice. And Minneapolis is about to become its laboratory. 

A lack of data

“In other public sectors — education and health care — we collect a lot of data,” said Phillip Atiba Goff, an assistant professor at UCLA. “But we do not have the same evidence base when it comes to policing in America. We just don’t collect the numbers.”

Phillip Atiba Goff

The new initiative will seek to address part of that problem by surveying police officers and community members, conducting training and holding public meetings. Goff said every cop will answer questions about how they feel about the community and their jobs. Some will take a longer survey and have their responses matched up against performance data, information such as how many stops and arrests they make, or how often they use force.

That data could help identify attitudes that predict certain behaviors and help the city head them off, Goff said.

There will also be a community survey to measure attitudes of residents about the city, city government and the police. The training will include: “How to engage in procedurally just policing, policing that is less vulnerable to implicit bias and to engage in racial reconciliation.”

Defining the issue

But first the team members have to explain what the three terms even mean.

Procedural justice, Goff said, describes the process by which police and courts enforce the laws. “Compliance with the law begins with trust in the law, not fear of the law,” he told the council. “A neighborhood where people are afraid to call the police is a great neighborhood for criminals to reside in.”

The initiative briefing material describe it this way: “people welcome being treated as equals with a stake in keeping their communities safe, as opposed to being treated as subjects of a capricious justice system enforced by police who punish them for ambiguous, if not arbitrary, reasons.”

Procedural justice, therefore, works to make the system more transparent and more fair. “We’ll take a look at how we do business to make sure it is equitable,” said Mayor Betsy Hodges, who, along with Police Chief Janeé Harteau wrote letters to the federal government asking that Minneapolis be part of the national initiative. 

Said Kappelhoff: “What studies have shown is that when someone gets pulled over by police and gets a speeding ticket, it oftentimes isn’t whether they received a ticket, it’s how the police officer engaged with the person and whether they feel they’ve been treated fairly, respectfully and whether they had their say in the process.” When that doesn’t happen, “that’s when the relationship breaks down between the community and the police department.”

The initiative will conduct training of all members of the police department on how to apply principles of procedural justice to their contacts with residents. And it doesn't want to lose sight of actual crime and actual victims. Its work plan includes outreach to subgroups, including crime victims and domestic violence victims, high-risk youth and the LGBT community.

The initiative's project director, Tracie Keesee, a 25-year veteran of the Denver Police Department who holds advanced degrees in criminal justice and intercultural communications, told the council that it is also important to respond to concentrated areas of crime such as North Minneapolis. “How do you focus on the 10 percent who are creating the unrest? How do you hold them accountable under the law but also how does the community hold them accountable?” 

‘Racism without racists’

Implicit bias seems to be the hardest concept to explain. Goff and others have done research into “the automatic association people make between groups of people and stereotypes about those groups.” One example: the assumption that black people are talented at sports.

“If I know there is an association between black people and being good at basketball, that doesn’t make me a racist; it means I am paying attention to the stereotypes of the culture,” said Goff, who described himself as being “black my whole life” but whose basketball skills are suspect thanks to his size and shape: short and round. If someone was picking people for their pickup basketball team, he joked, they would be better off overriding their implicit biases and picking the taller Kappelhoff over him. 

People, including police officers, might not be overtly racist, but they can use implicit bias about people and groups as shortcuts to decide how to react to situations. “That’s a human psychological universal, it’s not about your character,” Goff said. In fact, a key point made by the team is that implicit bias is not a synonym for racism — Goff often speaks of “racism without racists” — and training can be designed to help officers recognize those biases and not let them control how they react.

‘A solid basis for trust’

The third part of the initiative, racial reconciliation, requires historically more powerful elements in a community to acknowledge the legitimate grievances of less powerful groups — and apologize for them.

“If that doesn’t happen, it’s very hard for an aggrieved party to feel there’s a solid basis for trust,” Goff said. “It’s happened in Germany. It’s happened in South Africa. It’s happened in Australia. But we’re bringing it to a new context here; we’re doing it with policing in America.” 

Nekima Levy-Pounds is a St. Thomas law professor and president of the Minneapolis NAACP. She said the goal of racial reconciliation is desirable, but that it’s “definitely ambitious given the atmosphere we’re in, especially with so many people who don’t want to even acknowledge that race is an issue.

“I’m interested to see if that is possible in a process like this,” she said. “Is three years even enough time given the long history of racial relations?” 

Council Member Blong Yang chairs the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Emergency Management Committee. His ward is one of two that include north Minneapolis, the center of strained community-police relations.

“In my ideal world, racial reconciliation is us going to every single door to build a relationship with every person out there,” he said. “We talk to leaders. We should talk to leaders as well as those at the bottom. We need to do a better job of being out there.”

But Yang said he thinks real reconciliation should mean that everyone — including police rank and file and white residents of high-crime areas — feels free to say what they think, even if it is unpopular. 

“How are we going to be engaged in conversations about race when folks are afraid to say anything?” he asked. “They shouldn’t be shouted down. We don’t allow people to make statements from their perspective even if it sounds racist to some people. We need conciliators who can create a safe space so people can say what they think.”

Using data to create better policing

The six cities where the initiative is being conducted (the others are Birmingham; Stockton, Calif.; Gary, Indiana; Pittsburgh; and Fort Worth) will be used both to test new police practices and to collect data that might point to ideas that haven’t been tried yet. 

Tracie Keesee

Like what? Along with Keesee, Goff is the co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity. He gave an example of how collecting and analyzing data can lead to better practices. He looked at use-of-force incidents in Las Vegas and noticed that many of the complaints of excessive force came after foot pursuits. Goff did a ride-along and even took part in a foot pursuit.

“When you arrive, your adrenaline is up and you want to do something to this guy because they made you run,” said Goff, who described himself as more peaceful than Gandhi. “So it’s a major thing for me to think, ‘Let’s get this guy’ but that’s the situation. That’s not me being a violent person.” 

Goff and his team recommended a new policy to the Las Vegas police: Whenever possible, the first officer to reach a suspect should not be the first person to “go hands on” with him or her, leaving it to those who arrive later. The results have been a 30 percent reduction in use of force, Goff said. And since foot pursuits predominantly involve black and Latino neighborhoods, the racial disparity in use-of-force incidents will also go down, he said.

Why Minneapolis?

Minneapolis was one of 100 cities that asked to be included in the initiative, and was chosen to provide balance in terms of both geography and population. But selections were also based on a city’s history of social tensions, level of violence, economic conditions and willingness to collect the data that will help demonstrate the effectiveness of the program.

But it is a demonstration of how much work the initiative has to do that the very act of having city and police leaders invite the Department of Justice in has raised suspicions. As Council Member Cam Gordon explained to Goff at a meeting: “The fact that the city invited you in — that you’ve been communicating and working so closely with them — does pose some risk to the credibility of it.”

Levy-Pounds agreed that the initiative sponsor’s relationship with the police department causes concern. “How much contribution does the department have in determining what aspects of the department is being investigated?” she asked. “It is still very much a department-led initiative.” 

Levy-Pounds said an earlier assessment by the Justice Department’s Diagnostic Center — an examination into police officer oversight and discipline — was not well received by Minneapolis’ African-American community, largely because of the lack of involvement of community members in the process, but also because the results were presented as Powerpoint rather than issued in a final report.

“It was unacceptable,” Levy-Pounds said. “We hope they can recover from that.”

While she’s glad that Minneapolis was selected for the national initiative, Levy-Pounds does worry about the ability of those conducting it to effectively reach those who are most affected, she said, a job made more difficult because of continued behavior by police that has created hostility and mistrust.

“People feel under siege in their own neighborhoods,” she said. “I get calls all the time about people getting beaten, being arrested for minor offenses. It’s hard to build community trust and confidence when the department isn’t sensitive to what is still going on.”

Yang, the council’s first Hmong-American, said the question of trust in police would get different answers in different parts of the city and different groups. “If you measure it across racial lines, the trust level of whites [toward police] is much higher than blacks,” Yang said. “Other minority groups are closer to blacks and that’s pretty low.”

Hodges said she has high hopes for the initiative, despite the challenges. “We are safer if police and the community have a relationship of trust with one another,” she said. And she has hopes that the project will make things better because everyone — police and community — have in interest in that result.

“Minneapolis is not unique in having tension between law enforcement and the community,” Hodges said. “We ask a lot of our officers. But not having trust works against officers. It makes their job more difficult and lack of trust has negative impact on both sides.“

What defines success?

The Department of Justice’s Kappelhoff acknowledges that building trust is crucial to the success of the project. “If you don’t have buy-in it’s not going to be successful,” he said. “You can’t just impose it.”

MinnPost photo by Peter CallaghanMark Kappelhoff

He thinks the engagement of the community members and leaders is encouraging, illustrated by a public meeting in July that attracted 250 people. And Kappelhoff said he thinks that having the city and police department leaders on board is an asset, not a handicap. “When we have police chiefs that invite us in and work collaboratively with us, the results at the end of the day are always better,” he said.

Researchers usually aren’t supposed to have a stake in the outcome of research. But this is different, Goff said. “We want this to work.”

Throughout the three years there will be training, interventions with police and with targeted groups in the city. A reduction in crime, however, is not a prerequisite for success. 

“The hope is that you’ll see improved community/police relations,” Goff said. “That’s the goal of this thing. I wish I could say that at the end of this process that racism will be over but obviously that’s not what we’re going to be able to do.”