Development reform advances
It would include planning, development and other tasks

Rochelle Olson, Star Tribune

September 14, 2002

The City Council agreed Friday to move ahead with the "Focus Minneapolis" reorganization

A Minneapolis office of Community Planning and Economic Development came closer to fruition Friday with a City Council vote to move ahead with reorganizing how the city handles development.

"Focus Minneapolis," the core of Mayor R.T. Rybak's agenda, underwent substantial revision throughout the week, but ultimately the council voted 11 to 2 to go with it. Rybak was so pleased that he kissed Council Member Lisa Goodman on the cheek, then shook hands and patted backs as he moved down the line.

Council Member Natalie Johnson Lee and Vice President Robert Lilligren were the dissenters. Both wanted to wait until after an upcoming strategic planning session before deciding.

The other politicians said the reorganization was a mandate of their elections in November 2001. Most of the seven new members as well as Rybak campaigned as critics of previous city development decisions, such as a $39 million subsidy for Block E and $60 million for the Nicollet Mall Target store.

Consultants acting at the behest of Rybak recommended in June that the city set clear goals and priorities and streamline a complicated system for those who do business with the city.

"We all know the process doesn't work, and this action is going to improve things," Council Member Gary Schiff said.

Council Member Barret Lane warned that the hard work remains. "The council has got to lead," he said. Referring to the resolution, he added: "Like any other tool, if we're not willing to pick it up and use it to good end, it will serve no one well."

Specifically, Friday's action establishes housing and economic development as the city's top development priorities. It also takes the council toward a reorganization of city departments, but it didn't go as far as setting up an umbrella office for development functions, a move that some viewed as too aggressive for now.

But the city will begin changing its organizational structure by appointing an interim director to oversee coordination of the changes. It also will begin to adopt the Community Planning and Economic Development structure with new departments such as Neighborhood and Community Planning, Housing Development and Business Development, and existing functions of the Minneapolis Community Development Agency, the Planning Department and Public Works transportation planning.

As part of a compromise, other agencies will remain on their own. The Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) and the departments of Regulatory Services and Health and Family Support won't-for now-be folded into the new structure.

Counecl Member Dean Zimmermann said many residents have been worried about the NRP, which currently lets neighborhoods set some spending priorities, being centrally run instead. "No action we are taking today ... changes the autonomy of the NRP organization in the neighborhood," he said.

A major goal of "Focus Minneapolis" is to make doing business with the city easier. Friday's action directs the city coordinator to establish a "one-stop shop" for developers by June 1.

The most-debated point Friday was an amendment from Council Member Barbara Johnson stating that no employee who gets a Minneapolis payroll check shall suffer any loss of pay or benefits due solely to the restructuring. The amendment ultimately was adopted 7 to 6.

The potential for employee shifting and diminution of pay or status has been a major concern of city unions and workers. Opponents said the provision would give dismissed employees another avenue for lawsuits. They also said a tight budget makes it difficult to ensure jobs.

But to Council Member Paul Zerby, the key is trust between the leaders and employees who must carry out the changes. "For this to work, it's going to take-over a long period of time-sustained trust," he said.

Voting along with Johnson and Zerby for the amendment were Council Members Lilligren, Johnson Lee, Dan Niziolek, Sandy Colvin Roy and Schiff. Voting against it were Council Members Scott Benson, Goodman, Lane, Joe Biernat, Zimmermann and Council President Ostrow.

Rochelle Olson can be contacted at raolson@startribune.com.


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