Zerby juggles two constituencies

Permanent residents and students compete for the Minneapolis council member’s time.

Hank Long

The third Tuesday of every month, Minneapolis City Council member Paul Zerby, who represents neighborhoods around the University, meets with the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association to hear their concerns and tell them about what he is doing to represent them.

Besides working with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, the 2nd Ward representative meets with community members daily. The University area, including the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood and its mixture of student and permanent residents, is one of his toughest challenges, Zerby said.

Keeping both groups happy with his decisions can be rough.

But the long-time Minneapolis resident said he could not be more proud of the effort he has given to serve his neighbors fairly.

“The relationship between the students and the neighborhood is probably the biggest single issue confronting this ward,” Zerby said.

The council member said he has always sought to build a bridge between students and permanent residents so the entire neighborhood can be safe and satisfied, no matter the issue.

One such effort is the change to a city housing ordinance that will give the Minneapolis Housing Inspections Services the right to revoke a license from a landlord who receives repeat violations on the same property. Zerby sponsored the ordinance change, which a City Council committee passed Wednesday.

Zerby said the ordinance change should pass at the Jan. 30 City Council meeting, but he does not know how hard the opposition is.

If it does pass, “It will be a step in the right direction for keeping the neighborhoods safer,” he said.

But during a public hearing on the change, both the represented landlords who opposed it and members of the community who supported it were in full force – a situation that demonstrates the balancing act Zerby faces when representing students and longtime residents.

The disagreements do not stop there.

Last fall, Zerby voted to designate 33 area houses as historical. Many of the homes belonged to the greek community, which opposed the decision because the designation increases renovation costs.

“Paul has always been very receptive to the greek community,” said John Kokkinen, former Interfraternity Council president. “It was always easy to work with him, but I think he seems to side with permanent neighborhood residents.”

Some area bar owners and students criticized Zerby’s stance on limiting liquor licenses in the Marcy-Holmes and Southeast Como area and his opposition to the 2 a.m. bar closing last year.

But City Council President Paul Ostrow said any criticism Zerby receives from students needs to be looked at more fairly.

“(Students’ criticisms) need to be put in the context that they are living with (neighbors) who have invested a substantial part of their lives into that neighborhood,” Ostrow said.

Minnesota Student Association Vice President Jeff Nath, who has worked with Zerby on many student housing issues, said students might have mixed opinions about Zerby because they do not get to know him well.

“Once you get to know Paul you realize that he’s really interested in students,” Nath said. “We may not always agree with him on certain issues, but he does care.”

Nath said Zerby is very visible in off-campus communities in which students live, but he wishes Zerby would spend more time with students who live on campus.

However, the recent housing ordinance change Zerby sponsored is proof that he is trying to work for both long-time residents and students, Nath said.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” he said.