Councilman: safety improvements important issue at U

The Minneapolis councilman said he helped organize housing inspections.

Emily Kaiser

A year after three University students died in a house fire, Paul Zerby said he hopes he helped improve the quality of off-campus student housing.

Minneapolis City Council member Paul Zerby, 2nd Ward, who represents areas surrounding the Minneapolis campus, said safety improvements are the most important University issue he has worked on during his career in office.

“I really hope at least some good has come out of their deaths in the sense that I was able to get a safety sweep done of the Marcy-Holmes and Southeast Como neighborhoods,” he said.

Zerby said the city inspected all homes in the neighborhood and found more than 3,000 housing violations. These included problems with fire alarm systems, railings and unsafe exits.

“I will never know, but I really think that some tragedies were averted by some of what we did,” he said.

Zerby ran in the 2001 election with a history of working on public issues.

Zerby grew up in St. Paul and graduated from the University. He went to Harvard to study law after serving in Korea with the Army.

Working out conflicts between students and long-time neighbors is an ongoing task for Zerby.

“The biggest single issue I have to deal with is trying to balance the tensions between the University and the students on the one hand, and the other long-time residents on the other hand,” he said.

Minneapolis City Council member Robert Lilligren, 8th Ward, said Zerby is very passionate about the issues he supports.

“I think he is deeply committed to what he is doing,” Lilligren said. “He is excellent at representing his constituents, and meeting them on issues, and bringing their concerns to the Council.”

Zerby strongly supported the citywide smoking ban, passed earlier this year, which banned smoking in all bars and restaurants. He also supported a 1 a.m. bar close everywhere in the Minneapolis area except downtown and Uptown, where he supported a 2 a.m. close.

Zerby’s push for issues affecting bars has angered some local bar owners.

“We need to get Paul Zerby out of office,” said Sue Jeffers, owner of Stub & Herbs Bar and Restaurant in Stadium Village. “He does not represent University businesses or the University area at all.”

Jeffers said Zerby’s ordinances against area businesses are a direct attack on all bars in the area.

“I sent him an e-mail saying, ‘Gosh, Paul, first you were against the 2 a.m. bar close, then you wanted to get rid of all the bars, and now the smoking ban. What’s next, my cheeseburgers?’ ” Jeffers said.

Zerby said his term ends next year and he is unsure whether he will run again.

“It really is a fascinating experience, but it is very time-consuming and demanding,” he said. “I don’t want to shut the door on it just yet.”