Council cuts budget, halves civilian review

by Shira Kantor

City Council members unanimously approved a $5.2 million gouge in Minneapolis’ budget Friday, though not without several last-minute efforts to tweak the plan before it went through.

The new budget stymies several city services and cuts 15 currently filled positions. Two dozen vacant positions will also be eliminated.

Mayor R.T. Rybak told the 13 councilors that while this cut might be painful, they could easily find themselves asked to do it again if Gov. Jesse Ventura’s proposed $15 million cut to local government aid passes.

Overall, though, Rybak said the Council proved it “can get the largest city in the state back on track.”

Council members took no action on the Truth in Sale of Housing program. It also cut funds in half for the Civilian Review Authority, the institution designed to hold Minneapolis police accountable for their actions.

The housing accountability program requires homeowners to disclose problems and make necessary repairs before selling their homes. Some Council members think the program is government over-regulation. The program will be revisited in an upcoming committee meeting.

The Civilian Review Authority – which, since its inception in 1990, has been criticized for being ineffective – is left with $200,000 to rebuild itself.

The current program’s director, Patricia Hughes, said the review board is destined to suffer unless it receives more funding.

“If they’re not going to spend the money, they’re not going to get an effective program,” Hughes said.

Hughes said she received hundreds of calls throughout the week from citizens questioning the city’s commitment to stopping police brutality.

“Civilian review has been all but eliminated,” Minneapolis attorney Keith Ellison said. “Yeah, they gave them $200,000, but that’s close-up-shop money.”

Ellison said he was among several protestors who marched in the early ’90s demanding police oversight.

In 1989, police threw a flash bang grenade into the home of an elderly black couple during a failed drug raid. The couple’s home was engulfed in flames, and they died before police could save them. After the incident, the City Council adopted plans for the review board.

“There’s plenty of police brutality,” Ellison said. “It is morally repugnant to me to cut a budget by cutting resources for human rights.”

Ellison was a University student in 1990, when he said Minneapolis police severely beat several black students.

“We marched and we marched and we marched,” he said. “And today there is still a problem with police violence.”

The police department also lost more money than was originally prescribed in the mayor’s proposal one week ago.

The new budget plan asks the department to save an additional $300,000 in overtime costs, putting the entire cut at 1.4 percent – still less than the minimum 2.2 percent budget cut most departments incurred.

The revised budget also reduced funding for the Geographic Information System by $200,000. The GIS is a sophisticated computerized mapping system, which can be used for emergency first responders and environmental planning.

Fourteen thousand dollars in tuition reimbursement – which had been cut in earlier budget proposals – was restored, as was $86,000 in miscellaneous city funds.

Some Council members – including 2nd Ward member Paul Zerby, 5th Ward Council member Natalie Johnson Lee, and Robert Lilligren, who represents the city’s 8th Ward – wanted to reallocate those miscellaneous moneys to increase their council staff budget.

Seventh Ward City Council member Lisa Goodman also spoke in favor of restoring the $30,000 cut from council members’ individual budgets. She said her staff couldn’t handle the influx of calls her office received.

“Government at this level is about people,” Goodman said. “The most important thing we do here is serve our constituents.”

Others, such as City Council President Paul Ostrow, said it was not the time to build council members’ budgets when the city was in such dire financial straits.

“Frankly, I don’t see why our associates can’t work together, why they can’t have a buddy system,” Ostrow said.

Shira Kantor welcomes comments at
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