Police review panel would lose power under city, state proposals

Two separate proposals are looking to reduce the already-limited power of the civilian board that investigates complaints about Minneapolis police actions.A proposal from several city officials would replace the 11-member Minneapolis Police Civilian Review Authority with a panel of two police officers and two civilians, which would have the final say before passing the complaint to Minneapolis police Chief Tim Dolan.Meanwhile, the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis helped introduce bills in the state Legislature that would limit the role of the CRA so that it could only make recommendations about the “merits of a complaint” and prohibit the board from issuing a “finding of fact” that misconduct took place, which carries much more significance.Donald Bellfield, chairman of the CRA said both the city proposal and the bill in the Legislature would dismantle the board and greatly reduce the authority’s ability to oversee police misconduct.He added he is more concerned of the bill going through the Legislature.“But they both chip away at our authority,” Bellfield said.Reducing the CRACity officials have been working behind the scenes to make changes to the CRA.The revamped CRA would address the lack of disciplinary action taken by Dolan and also speed up the investigation process.The new CRA would be known as the “Police Conduct Oversight Commission” and would include the “Determination Panel,” consisting of two police officers and two civilians.This panel would review complaints before forwarding them to Dolan.Proponents say the change would increase efficiency and allow Dolan to discipline officers more often.Dolan said the current structure processes complaints too slowly, and he doesn’t act on as many recommendations because they are too old and not relevant by the time he sees them. Dolan rejects most of the CRA’s recommendations for discipline. Between 2006 — the year he took over — and 2010, Dolan has acted on only 34 of 105 recommendations.“I think having civilian oversight of officers is very important, and we don’t want to lose that. We just want it to be fair,” Dolan said. “And fair means it needs to be timely and the discipline needs to be appropriate.”At the CRA meeting Wednesday night, Velma Korbel, Director of the Civil Rights Commission, which oversees the CRA, explained the proposed change to members of the board and disgruntled members of the public.Many board members expressed frustration that the CRA was not involved with the proposal.Lt. John Delmonico, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, who didn’t attend the meeting, said he was disappointed the Minneapolis Police Federation wasn’t involved in the process either.Korbel left the meeting abruptly after refusing to hear public testimony. Continue Reading

Mpls hopes to switch filtration systems in the next decade, turns to U researchers for help

In the city of Minneapolis’ constant effort to improve its drinking water, city officials are again turning to University of Minnesota researchers for help.The Minneapolis City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee approved a $170,000 contract Feb. 28 to continue a collaborative research effort between the University and the city for another two years in hopes the research can help improve water quality.The research, which originally began in 2010, studies ways to improve the water’s taste and odor by analyzing two water treatment techniques — powder-activated carbon and granular-activated carbon.PAC, a powder that is meticulously added to the water early on in the treatment process essentially absorbs odor-causing compounds and improves taste. It is one of the main treatment techniques the city currently uses.GAC is similar to a Brita filter and improves taste and odor like the PAC, but it also filters out unwanted materials.Annika Bankston, a professional engineer with the city, said the GAC system will likely replace the PAC within 10 years — part of a larger city effort to update its aging water facilities. Currently, the city is running a pilot program with the University for the GAC system.Ray Hozalski, a University professor and principal investigator in this research, explained that GAC adds extra layers of protection beyond what meets the eye.“There is a lot going on in these [GAC] filters that are beneficial. They’re biologically active so they allow for bacteria to grow, which eats harmful compounds in the water,” Hozalski said. Continue Reading

Apartments planned for church site, University Lutheran Chapel raising funds to fight relocation

Plans for another apartment building near the University of Minnesota are moving forward.On Thursday, Doran Companies heard concerns from the Minneapolis City Planning Commission about its proposed five-story, 94-unit apartment building at 1101 University Ave., where the University Lutheran Chapel currently stands.Aspects of the plan, like its size and design, are still under consideration. Commissioners asked Doran to return with revised plans in the near future.Despite the project’s progress through city committees, the church is still raising money in hopes that it can somehow save its home.Pastor David Kind said the church has raised roughly $200,000 through nationwide fundraising since the board of directors at the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, which owns the Dinkytown building, voted to sell the property for $3.5 million in September.“It’s very disheartening,” Kind said. “We’re still fighting the sale.”Rev. Dr. Mark A. Noren, executive assistant to the president of the district, declined to comment on behalf of the district.Kind said he’s happy with the amount the church has raised but hopes to raise more than $1 million before the sale officially closes by July 1.“We obviously need to raise more money to help us either buy this place or relocate if we don’t have the opportunity to buy it,” Kind said.He wasn’t aware of the meeting Thursday, and Jim LaValle, vice president of development for Doran, said he didn’t know the church was still fundraising.Kind was quick to point out that the church’s issue is with church leadership and not Doran.“[Doran is] just a business trying to make a buck, and we understand that,” he said.Kind added that the church has looked at other locations in Dinkytown and near St. Paul in case it’s not able to purchase the land and has to relocate. But he said the church would like to stay close to campus so it can maintain its ministry with students.LaValle said construction is scheduled to begin this summer and be complete for the beginning of the 2013 school year.Commission concernsMembers of the planning commission asked Doran to move the proposed building farther from city sidewalks and to change the building design so it’s not as “boxy.” Commissioners also raised concerns about the size of the building.Current zoning regulations restrict buildings to a height of 56 feet, or four stories. Continue Reading

Minneapolis revises its goals for sustainability

The city of Minneapolis recently revised its goals for becoming a more sustainable city.

The various targets for the 26 Minneapolis Sustainability Indicators, which measure the city’s progress towards environmental, economic and social sustainability, were revised to reflect progress the city has made toward these targets so far.

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New Minneapolis fire chief inherits hot seat

Fire chiefs don’t stay long in Minneapolis.On Friday, the City Council approved John Fruetel to become the city’s fifth fire chief since 2004.Fruetel, 59, will inherit a department that is struggling with budget cuts, low morale and heavy criticism over firefighter overtime and sick leave pay.“These are interesting times, and they are challenging, but I truly want to provide quality leadership,” Fruetel said.Fruetel won’t take over until Mar. 1, but he said that maintaining the department’s current budget levels will be important in order to maintain its level of service.Mark Lakosky, president of the Minneapolis firefighters union, said he is cautiously optimistic that Fruetel can restore confidence in the department and help restore its funding.“I have no illusions of him coming in and the mayor letting him put all the rigs back in service that were cut under chief [Alex] Jackson,” Lakosky said. “But we really are as low as we can go without redesigning what this fire department does.”Lakosky added that the department has struggled to maintain response times because the workforce has been cut by 17 percent in the last 10 years.Jackson announced his retirement Jan. 4, surprising many city officials. Mayor R.T. Rybak said he planned on reappointing Jackson this year.Jackson’s retirement continues a string of short terms for Minneapolis fire chiefs. Continue Reading

Proposed state help gives push to $1.25B Southwest light rail

Plans to build the Southwest Corridor light-rail transit line, which would connect Minneapolis with Eden Prairie, are gaining momentum.Gov. Mark Dayton recently recommended $25 million of his $775 million proposed bonding bill for construction of the 15-mile line. The line would connect with the Hiawatha and Central Corridor lines, as well as the Northstar commuter rail line by Target Field. The Metropolitan Council estimates it will attract 30,000 riders per weekday by 2030.The $25 million is only a fraction of the project’s estimated total cost of $1.25 billion but Gail Dorfman, a Hennepin County commissioner, said the contribution is important because it shows the state is committed to the project, which is crucial for receiving federal funding. The federal government is expected to pay for 50 percent of the project.Before the Met Council, which is spearheading the project, can apply for the federal funds, it must have half of the project funds in hand.The Counties Transit Improvement Board will cover 30 percent of the cost and Hennepin County will pay another 10 percent.The state is expected to provide 10 percent, or $125 million of the project’s total estimated cost. It has already provided $5 million for the project, but another $95 million will still be needed.“The federal government needs to know the state is going to be on board and [Hennepin County] needs to know that,” Dorfman said. Continue Reading