New Office with broad role is proposed in Minneapolis
It would include planning, development and other tasks

Steve Brandt, Star Tribune

May 30, 2002

A consultant is suggesting that Minneapolis merge development, planning and other tasks into a new office that would supervise everything from patching streets to giving immunizations to easing the path for developers.

The preliminary recommendations by the firm McKinsey & Co. have been floating around City Hall for several weeks but have been held within a small circle. Final findings won't be ready until mid-June. Mayor R.T. Rybak said that the report will get a thorough public airing then.

McKinsey previously indicated that while the city has spent considerably on development-for instance, by subsidizing new buildings-it has shown limited progress on housing and job creation.

Rybak praised the analysts for "exceptional work" in making recommendations based on his campaign themes of making development more responsive to citizen priorities. The proposed Office of Community Planning and Economic Development would aim to ease the process for both residents and developers while ensuring that planning priorities influence the outcome.

As envisioned, the office would bring together the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA), the Planning Department and the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP). But it also would encompass the city's public-health operations and eventually its Public Works Department. Some council members are balking over including Public Works, except perhaps for transportation planning.

McKinsey's initial recommendations would splinter the MCDA a semi-independent but oft-criticized development agency-into three new departments. One, called Development Services, would be a one-stop starting point to walk developers through the city's regulatory thicket. Another would handle the financing and management of housing development, and the third would work on creating and financing jobs and businesses.

The changes would bring the agency more directly under city administrative control, which would require changes in state law

Of the current two Planning Department wings, the one focused on development would join the new Development Services department, and the one working with neighborhoods would join NRP staff in a Neighborhood and Community Planning Department.

Meanwhile, a new Human Development Department would include existing public health and employment programs. Finally, the proposal envisions the eventual addition of public-works functions to the new office as a Community Services Department.

Initial reactions

Rybak and aides cautioned that McKinsey's preliminary recommendations may change based on feedback from council members and department heads whom the firm has briefed over the past several weeks.

"This may or may not be where the public wants to go . . . or where the mayor or council want to go," he said.

Council Member Robert Lilligren praised the McKinsey work as "incredibly thorough" but said the full council needs to discuss the issues before it creates a new office to supervise six departments.

He and Council Member Barbara Johnson question the need to shift the Public Works Department, which plows and paves streets, cleans sewers and maintains much of the city's infrastructure. That may have overstepped McKinsey's marching orders, Johnson said.

The firm volunteered its time to study the city's development strategies.

Some council members have complained that the process for addressing preliminary suggestions by McKinsey hasn't been fully laid out to make sure that all council members get a voice.

Robert Miller, the city's NRP director, said the proposed reorganization would change that program's model. It has been an interjurisdictional program involving outside agencies like Hennepin County and the Minneapolis schools. The program is intended to spend $400 million over up to 25 years to address priorities set by neighborhoods.

The proposal suggests that neighborhood plans retain "complete discretion over some NRP funds" but increase use of competitive proposals for NRP housing funds. Rybak said the proposal would "absolutely not" cut discretionary funding decisions by neighborhoods.

Council President Paul Ostrow said the critical element of the proposals is to bring the planning functions of city government together with the departments that carry out city priorities.

Former Council Member Lisa McDonald, who competed against Rybak for mayor, was involved in the last major effort to restructure the MCDA in the mid-1990s. She dubbed the new structure"McMCDA."

"It sounds like it's a supersized agency," she said. Key questions for the council ought to be whether the proposal saves money while making MCDA more responsive, she said.

McKinsey said its findings are intended to align city agencies toward the same ends, minimize overlap among departments and establish clear accountability. It said the outline will improve neighborhood-based planning

Some familiar with the intricacies of the several agencies involved in McKinsey's study suggest that it could take the city more than a year to fully implement whatever the council agrees on. The potential changes involve rewriting state laws, city ordinances and its charter, along with merging staffs with differing union contracts and salary structures.

Steve Brandt can be contacted at sbrandt@startribune.com or 612-673-4438.


© Copyright 2002 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

Return to In the News Index


Site Map