FREE SPEECH ZONE | When bloggers get sued, Johnny Northside will face ex-JACC


No one outside of Northside likely knows the name Jerry Moore but local interweb followers will immediately recognize Johnny Northside. The vivacious blogger is a rogue journalist who has exposed politicians, criticized developers, and is known as a lighting rod of controversy for spilling the truth about the inner ugliness of North Minneapolis. He’s also a former Minnesota Daily columnist.

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Viva la mercenaire, he says in a recent post.

Jerry Moore is the most recent target of Johnny Northside who’s IRL name is John Hoff. Hoff criticized the University Research and Outreach Center for hiring Moore as a contract worker to focus on mortgage issues. According to Hoff, evidence in Hennepin County Court has shown Moore was involved in a fraudulent mortgage transaction. Of course Moore is also well known for being a failed Jordan Area Community Council Executive Director. Oops U of M!

Hoff’s first post on June 21, 2009 sums the community reaction to the hiring, “Former JACC Executive Director Jerry Moore Hired By U of M, Neighborhood Leaders Are All, Like, WTF?!!!” According to University spokesperson Dan Wolter, Moore was terminated on June 22. One week later, Moore subsequently named John Hoff, Donald W R Allen, and five “John Doe” commenters in a Hennepin County civil suit filed on June 26. Let the drama begin.

A hard history

For decades, Northside was long ignored by private and governmental agencies. Only a massive and embarrassing lawsuit brought upon HUD in 1992 would finally open light to the systemic issues of poverty in the area. Hollman v. Cisneros prevailed, the City of Minneapolis along with HUD was found to be concentrating poverty in North Minneapolis. Today suburban like multi-family homes dot the landscape along I-94 and Olson Memorial Highway, the new Heritage Park development is a re-mastermind of low-income housing. The “Hollman Consent Decree” also calls to deconcentrate poverty by shifting housing throughout the metropolitan area.

Enter the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA), a research center that fulfills the University’s obligations to its land grant and urban missions. Suffice to say, they are the U’s arm for government and community agencies who need expertise. In 1998, CURA was contracted by the State to evaluate the outcome and achievement of Hollman which produced eight reports through 2001 that revealed mixed results.

Soon after the U surprised community leaders with a proposal to create an University Northside Partnership. After decades of silence, why was the U so interested in entering North Minneapolis? Of their many visions, one was suspect:

We want to partner with community organizations to establish a physical presence where services can be offered and where the community will have easier access to University programs.

Coincidentally the U had just completed a visioning of its own by 2005 and was set to aspire to the top three public research institutions in the world. Lofty goals require bricks and mortar. Many saw the U’s approach as an invasion, the U needed new land and buildings to realize any such vision. Just like the gentrifiers saw a decade earlier, North Minneapolis was ridiculously cheap compared to even the industrial yards of Southeast.

While invasion it was hardly, enormous state funding for building projects continues to contend with Governor Pawlenty’s fiscal nerve as of this year. The U wisely went a different route and purchased the Plymouth Penn Shopping Center at a cost of about $1.1 million from the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council, which is a community development group. The U estimated $2.1 million for renovation and occupancy by December 2008.

The newly branded Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center claims to have been started by “informal talks” between Mayor R. T. Rybak and President Bob Bruininks. The two have an amicable relationship in many manners but have mostly been livability issues such as bicycling and housing. No evidence can be found how UROC is attributed to either man.

A mall, a mission, a man, a blog

A tandem collapse of the financial and construction industry, along with Pawlenty’s budget battles, forced the U to delay UROC’s reconstruction. Ironically one of the facility’s initiatives had been to analyze the housing mortgage crisis in Northside, except that by 2008, the crisis was already in full swing.

Then comes the Independent Business News Network and one of the men named in the libel suit, Donald Allen. With a rather incongruent name, IBNN started in 2008 as, well, a soapbox and community voice of Allen and submitted contributors. It’s not easy to categorize IBNN other than reminding oneself of Rage Against the Machine and the satire of Dave Chappelle. For example they recently criticized Minnesota Public Radio having done no reporting of real Northside issues as part of their new article series called “Riding the Minority-Ethnic Train all the way to the Bank.”

IBNN has been a vocal critic of UROC, following its every step and posting private emails exchanged with University staff. So when Jerry Moore was discovered to have been secretly working at UROC for two months, the reaction by IBNN and Johnny Northside was outrage.

According to entries in both blogs, Moore was a former Executive Director for the Jordan Area Community Council (JACC) who was fired for misconduct after a community meeting “fist fight” in January. Moore also neglected on financial duties as director. Many of these facts which were stated through the blogs have been independently confirmed by the Minnesota Daily’s Robert Downs in “Former U employee files defamation suit against blogger” which subhead reads, “The suit is the latest in a long line of legal issues for Jerry Moore.” Downs also sums the strained history of the JACC as “rife with conroversy and litigation.”

How rife? A Twin Cities Daily Planet story earlier this year by Sheila Regan titled “Suing everybody in sight: North Minneapolis neighborhood battles” detailed the matter:

Old board officers have filed a lawsuit demanding a restraining order against the entire city of Minneapolis, as well as the new JACC officers… They want an order directing the… entire city of Minneapolis, to stop aiding and abetting the newly-elected board officers of JACC.

Former JACC Executive Director Dottie Titus also blogged about the revelation that Moore was working for the U, stating:

In view of the damage that Mr. Moore has already done here, hiring him to work at UROC is a huge betrayal of trust by the University. There are tens of thousands of good people in North Minneapolis.

Don’t U sue

How the U of M’s actions will affect the case is uncertain. Local journalist Anna Pratt confirmed with U spokesperson Daniel Wolter that they were unaware of Moore’s controversy:

The University was unaware of the allegations against Mr. Moore at the time of the hiring and is currently not aware of the details of the allegations — nor are we in a position to comment on them.

This statement somewhat contradicts claims made in the filing in Count II:

…Defendants intentionally induced the contract and/or intentionally induced UROC to refuse to perform its contract with Plaintiff… The intentional interference caused the termination of Moore’s employment contract at UROC…

Did the University know about these claims or not? The suit also says Hoff wrote a defamatory email which Allen sent to “Dr. McClaurin.” Dr. Irma McClaurin is the Executive Director of UROC.

According to the Daily’s Downs who was able to contact Hoff’s attorney Albert Goins, the bloggers expect to win and be cleared of the defamation suit. Pratt noted in a recent entry that there are two media related court rulings that might render the entire suit frivolous to begin with.

We will continue following the matter as it reverberates through the blogosophere.

This article was published at Twin Cities Scene.