E-DEMOCRACY | Report on Minneapolis City Council stadium hearing: “We are screwed”


I would love to be able to report how many people attended, how many were male and how many female, as I have done before in these reports. Given the configuration of the Intergovernmental Relations sub-committee with the Committee of the Whole, this is impossible. The Council room was full, with a good number of people watching in a room across the hall and quite a few more in the hall itself.

What I can say is just for the Council room itself: 49 men to 17 women at 4 p.m. exactly, with an estimated dozen journalists and press photographers. All 13 council members were present, as was the mayor, and the city attorney. Various other city employees were seated in the audience and several were called on to present expert testimony. (Notable were the city chief financial director Kevin Carpenter and director of intergovernmental relations Gene Ranieri.)

Boy, were there lots of surprises!

First mayor Rybak outlined his reasons for support: He downplayed the sports palace as a “Vikings” stadium and stressed how it would get more use for other civic events. He described the bill as filling the black holes that currently involve financing of the Target Center, the Convention Center and so on. He described how the proposed funding would give the city “more control” over sales taxes now paying for the Convention Center.

Mr. Ranieri, just back from the State legislature, described the ever-changing differences in MN House and MN Senate bills. The House version, for example, requires local approval. The House version also extends the sales tax from 2011 to 2046 (or perhaps 2049), at which point those taxes “sunset.”

Mr. Ranieri also provided the first shocker of the afternoon (for me, at least) by saying that the Senate version not only includes Convention Center and Target Center in the debt, but also rolls in the Pohlad Stadium (yes, the Hennepin County commissioners are likely to yell about that one) and also the Xcel Center in St Paul. You read that right: under the Senate version, sales taxes raised in Minneapolis would also be used to pay for expenses of $43 million at the Xcel Center in St Paul. (That one completely amazed me.)

Next came public comments, chaired by CM Elizabeth Glidden. Since people had signed up to speak without indicating their positions, she allowed 30 minutes of pro-stadium testimony, followed by 30 minutes against, then 30 minutes pro, finally 30 minutes against. Last, the Committee as a Whole convened to vote on Council President Johnson’s proposed subsidy package.

The comments in favor of the public subsidy were made by people in roughly 3 different groups: purple-clad fans, pinstripe-clad execs and t-shirt-clad union members. Among the “suits” were the head of the Downtown Council, the senior veep of the Target Corporation, the president of the Mpls Chamber of Commerce, the public relations guy from the Vikings, the president of the Building Owners and Managers, the owner of the Lynx and Timberwolves, the manager of the Target Center, the senior vice president of Mortensen Construction, and several restaurant owners. “Suits” representing unions included Trades, Regional AFL-CIO and Teamsters. There were also a few fans, banquet servers, concession workers, trades union members and so on. I counted 32 people total, testifying in favor of a Minneapolis subsidy of the stadium.

Points made in favor of the Wilf subsidy included jobs, more state funding, the vibrancy and atmosphere of downtown, jobs, a facility that would cost absolutely nothing in taxes, jobs, jobs for women, jobs for “people of color,” union jobs, control over our taxes, nice memories, jobs, jobs for students, and jobs. My favorite testimony was from a union carpenter who stressed his lifelong Minneapolis roots, his service in Vietnam with the military police K-9 division; he explained how he has served his state and, “Now it is your turn to serve me, to give me a job.”

Those testifying against the public subsidy were a bit more difficult or me to characterize. 22 people spoke against the subsidy. There was a retired school administrators with lots of international experience, a retired public school teacher, a conservation district vice-chair, member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, small business owner, environmental scientist, physician at a free medical clinic, and a number of others, many of whom have already been active in fights against the Pohlad Stadium and in other peace and justice issues.

Some of my favorite quotes against the stadium included the following: In talking about the Council violating the Charter requirement for a referendum, one person suggested that “people will lose faith in their government.” One former school board member soon added, “We have lost trust in you.” One suggested that the city had so many pressing needs that we could ill afford to spend $600 million on a stadium, adding, “I hope your conscience prohibits that.” Several mentioned the Charter requirement for a referendum, saying that the citizens of Minneapolis are overwhelmingly against the subsidy. Any number spoke about what an incredible “bad deal” the city had made on the stadium, suggesting a total lack of due diligence, secret documents, and so on. There were several very direct criticisms of city attorney Susan Segal for her “informal” and non-written opinion that the city Charter did not apply; she remained silent.

My absolute favorite quote against the stadium came from a woman who had biked by the Dome, wondered about the ecological wisdom of tearing down that building and dumping it in a landfill. She said, “We have a perfectly good stadium right now. Stop treating it like an old shirt that has gone out of style.”

When the public testimony ended, the Committee of the Whole began consideration of Council president Johnson’s motion to support the stadium. CM Johnson spoke of the “people’s stadium” that would finance the Target Center, the Convention Center and “other development.”

Soon after, CM Cam Gordon offered an amendment that would require a city referendum, as provided by the city Charter. After some discussion, the amendment was defeated 7 to 6. (I will name names very soon.)

Next CM Schiff proposed an amendment that would provide Minneapolis greater voting strength on the commission created to manage the stadium. That amendment was defeated by the same people voting against (7) and the same voting in favor (6).

Finally, the vote on the original subsidy motion was discussed. At this point came the biggest shocker of the evening. CM Schiff asked the city’s chief financial officer Kevin Carpenter how much the city would end up paying on all bonds and expenses through the year 2046. Mr. Carpenter replied that it would come to $675 million dollars. This is a figure worth noting, since most of the public releases have been only about $150 million in construction expenses and some mumblings about operating expenses. But no, it will be $675 million, said the mayor’s man; that’s over 2/3 of a billion dollars from the city alone. And that is assuming a 2% annual growth rate. (May we all be so lucky.)

The vote came, and it was the same 7 in favor of the Wilf subsidy to the same 6 against.

Those voting AGAINST the Wilf subsidy and in FAVOR of the referendum and in FAVOR of greater management control were Council Members Hodges, Gordon, Schiff, Goodman, Lilligren, and Glidden.

Those voting FOR the Wilf subsidy and AGAINST the referendum and AGAINST greater management control were Council Members Samuels, Hofstede, Colvin Roy, Tuthill, Quincy, Johnson and Reich. The “swing” votes of course were Colvin Roy and Reich, who had initially written constituents of their strong opposition to this proposal without a city-wide referendum, but who changed their minds just a few weeks later.

The drama was not quite over. After the vote in favor of the subsidy, CM Gordon moved that the City Council request an opinion from the City Charter Commission as to whether the expenditure would require a referendum or not. Remarkably, this also produced some debate and again produced a close vote. This time, however, the vote was 7 to 6 in FAVOR or a Charter Commission ruling, with Kevin Reich providing the swing vote in favor, quite in contrast to his previous 3 votes.

So, the shockers of the evening for me were:

1. This sports palace is going to cost the city at least $675 million, not the $150 million that has been advertised.

2. We as Minneapolis residents not only get to pay for Zygi’s sports palace, the Convention Center black hole, Glenn Taylor’s basketball sports palace at the Target Center (plus “necessary” renovations), but we also get to kick in millions for Norm Coleman’s Xcel Center in St Paul. All out of Minneapolis taxes. And not even to mention the Pohlad memorial baseball sports palace that got foisted on us a couple of years ago.

My personal opinion is that we are in big trouble here. Saddled with such a huge debt, it is hard for me to imagine that the city will have money left over for any other projects during the next 30 years or so. Fire, police, parks, schools, roads, bridges and every other city service will suffer until my grandchildren have themselves become parents. We are screwed.

All is not lost, however, although our hope may come from some unusual sources.

For one thing, tonight’s vote was an official action of the city council, as opposed to the personal letters previously written by the same seven council members who betrayed us tonight. I am not a lawyer; I am merely a retired kindergarten teacher. But it occurs to me that we now have a legal basis for one hell of a lawsuit.

Does anyone know a good public-minded lawyer who might take on this case? Is there any organizing already started to stop this flagrant violation of the city Charter?

Second, we may actually get our rear-ends saved by Republicans at the state level. Clearly this is a tax increase equal to around a billion dollars or so, including both state and Minneapolis expenses. They may just vote this disaster down at the state level.

One thing we might do to encourage them is to begin political work in their own districts. I dream, for example, of putting leaflets on the doors of every citizen of Fairmount MN, home of Julie Rosen. Maybe they could speak more clearly to her then we could. I am not sure if I can go myself, but it might be fun to take a caravan down there this weekend, if we haven’t already been completely and totally betrayed at the legislature.

Last, we really need to replace most of our City Council. So many facts and figures came out this evening that is should be quite clear that most of us will receive great pain and get no benefit from a new stadium. This project is for the super-rich. Let’s face it. And the sad fact is that most of the City Council (as well as the mayor) now represent Zygi and do not represent us. So I would love to start hearing some suggestions.

These folks do not represent our best interests. They have no concerns about the long-term poverty they expose us to. So who would you suggest to replace them? Let’s start talking.

See thread here. (17posts … and counting.) 

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