Recent snapshots from the Mayor’s office

While Mayor Betsy Hodges spends a lot of her time in the office at meetings with city staff, external partners and other leadership, she also gets the privilege to spend a lot of time in the community. I thought I’d share some snapshots from the past couple of weeks of what she’s been up to outside of City Hall.


IMG_0011.JPGOn April 1, Mayor Hodges was at a “topping-off” celebration at the new Washburn Center for Children in North Minneapolis. She joined community leaders and volunteers as construction crews raised the final beam on the partially constructed building, sharing some brief remarks about how the Washburn Center for Children and North Minneapolis growth is providing hope and change for kids and families.

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Later that day, Mayor Hodges joined Mayor Chris Coleman in Saint Paul at the turf clubTurf Club to celebrate the service of Minneapolis and Saint Paul’s more than 1,300 AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members as part of a national day of recognition. More than 1,500 mayors from across the country took part in their own local recognitions. Mayors Coleman and Hodges were joined by Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service in their day of recognition.


That weekend, Mayor Hodges was the honored guest at Minnesota Tartan Day. She has Scottish heritage on both sides of her family – Clan Morrison on her father’s side and Clan Nicholson on her mother’s side. She joined her friend Jonathan Palmer in celebrating her Scottish heritage at the State Capitol for a Saturday ceremony.
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Next, it was off to the 10th Annual Holland Neighborhood Hotdish Revolution, hosted by the Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association. She joined Senator Amy Klobuchar in judging jello entries.
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On April 7th, Mayor Hodges and a number of her staff visited with Somali women at the Karmel Mall to talk about the challenges and experiences Somali women face. The discussion was one of the items on her Somali 100-Day plan.
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On April 10, she started her day off at Bethune Community School, where she read to a class of kindergartners.

kids 3Mayor Hodges is currently working with her policy aide who is focused on youth and early education to put together a cradle-to-K cabinet, one of her campaign promises.

IMG_2131 (1)When Mayor Hodges returned to City Hall after her stop to Bethune, she was pleasantly surprised to find her official mayoral portrait had been hung on the Wall of Mayors outside her office. More than three months into the new job, she joked that this moment finally made it official, posting to Facebook and Twitter
*Now* I’m the Mayor.
To put another final touch on her office, Mayor Hodges then hung her signed copy of the first edition of Ms Magazine, featuring her favorite superhero, Wonder Woman. The magazine hangs just to the right of her desk, surrounded by an original Wonder Woman drawing, a picture with her and Gloria Steinem – the co-founder of Ms Magazine and author of the signed magazine – and her oath of office as Minneapolis Mayor.
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Remarks from Mayor Betsy Hodges at today’s SWLRT Corridor Management committee meeting

Remarks, as delivered, by Mayor Betsy Hodges, at the April 2 Southwest LRT Corridor Management Committee, as she cast her vote on the Met Council recommendation to route light rail through the Kenilworth Corridor in shallow tunnels, and on a bridge over the channel between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake.

Thank you Madame Chair, thank you fellow committee members. I also want to echo, thank you to everybody who came out and spoke today. The public process here today I think has been valuable for everybody to hear what was said, and I do appreciate that.

I do need to note that what the Met Council is proposing today in 2014 is very different than the reasons and what was being proposed by the Met Council even in 2013. What you asked in 2013 is very different than what was asked in 2014.

In 2013 we were told, you can’t reroute the freight. There’s no way to do it safely, the physics have changed. Then a report came back, and then we were told, well, we didn’t plan for the railroads to say no, and we don’ t have time to go to the Surface Transportation Board, the body that can actually make a judgment about whether or not the physics worked, because we have an actual alternative in front of us.

And there’s been a lot of hue and cry, and I’ve heard you all today say, well, you can’t go back in the past, it is what it is. But I just want to note that this problem that we’re facing is not one that the Met Council is observing, it’s a problem that the Met Council created. By not hiring a company like Trans Systems many years ago, by not building the time to go to the Surface Transportation Board into the project schedule and by giving the railroads veto power over the project, even though we have a place to sort these disputes out: the Surface Transportation Board.

It’s a policy decision to give the railroads the veto power over whether or not we go forward.  It’s a policy decision that I have not seen any body vote on. Not this body, not the Met Council, no body involved in this process has affirmatively said, well, if the railroads don’t like it, then we shouldn’t do it. Today will be the first vote on that score.

And we shouldn’t give them that power. We should not give them that power.

If you had told Minneapolis in 2009 that the reroute – what was going to happen, as they already been talking about for years and years, and the promises that had already been made – and you had told Minneapolis, well, we’ll do reroute but only if the railroads don’t object. If you had said, Minneapolis, we’re going to give the railroads veto power over whether or not we do the reroute, then Minneapolis would not have voted for that locally preferred alternative. This would not be the route that Minneapolis would have supported for light rail.  We would’ve had a clarion call, perhaps not for Nicollet, Commissioner McLaughlin made very good points about that, but perhaps there would have been a clarion call to say, what would it look like on Hennepin, what would it look like on Lyndale, we need to find another alternative here because our support is predicated on the reroute of freight. And so that’s an important bit of context here.

That’s a point that needs to be raised – that this reroute was never taken seriously. This reroute has not been taken seriously. It’s safe, it meets the AREMA standards. Then we were told there were other standards that exceeded the AREMA standards even though those were the ones we agreed to. If it is inconvenient that a plan came forward that met the standard that we had set, just say so. Don’t retroactively apply a different safety standard, just say it’s inconvenient that we actually have a reroute here on the table that meets the standards that we set, but we didn’t anticipate. If it’s inconvenient, just say so.

It’s also a cost versus value question. There are costs associated here. But the tunnels add no value to this LRT project. They are intended – and that can be disputed – they’re intended to protect an asset that already exists. But it doesn’t create more ridership, it doesn’t create more development, they don’t do anything.

Moving, rerouting the freight, would actually add value. Three of the biggest stations along the line, two of the stations are in St. Louis Park, the return on investment for our $1.6 Billion would be in that economic development. And St. Louis Park noted that, in their 2012 comments on the DEIS. They said, freight trains will interfere with the operations of the LRT stations and be a detriment to development in the area as a reason to move those tracks around those stations. Because they wanted that development. St. Louis Park said that in 2012.

So it’s a cost versus value issue here. What value is being brought, it’s not just a question of how much is it going to cost.

So when we get down to it, there are two promises being broken here. There are two broken promises. First, the project is breaking a promise to the residents of Minneapolis that when we chose this alternative route, we would move the freight. That’s a promise that’s being broken. It facilitates St. Louis Park breaking a promise as well. The promise they made to the region that they also would accept that freight reroute. Part of that promise was codified in accepting the money for the Golden Auto Site from the state. Because it was money given to St. Louis Park – who took it and used it – by the state, Minneapolis doesn’t have standing. But just because we can’t sue St. Louis Park, doesn’t mean St. Louis Park didn’t make a promise, it doesn’t mean St. Louis Park isn’t breaking a promise, all it means is that they’re getting away with it. And that has to be clear here, too.

So the question today isn’t about support for light rail. It isn’t even a question about support for the Southwest light rail line. I know how valuable light rail is. I’ve been arguing the virtues of transit for years, and I have been arguing it all across the city. I’ve been willing to say tough things to my constituents about supporting light rail and supporting light rail through this corridor. I understand the value, I understand what it can do for a community.

But today, this is about a fundamental failure of fairness. That’s what today is about. What the Met Council is offering is not shared burdens or shared benefits. And our constituents – my constituents – they know it. Because in this instance, St. Louis Park is going to get everything they want. Everything. Their alignment of LRT which they got in 2009. Their alignment of freight. $55 million of optional rail improvements. And they get to keep the Golden Auto money that was supposed to be used to reroute the freight.

Minneapolis, on the other hand, and what you are asking me to do right now on behalf of Minneapolis, is to lose on absolutely everything we cared about and put forward. We’re going to be getting our third choice for freight and our fourth choice for LRT, which are shallow tunnels that we don’t want and did not ask for.  Asking Minneapolis to lose everything is something I will not say yes to. I will not, on behalf of my constituents, vote yes to lose on everything when there are other, better alternatives that we could and should pursue. I will be voting no.

 

Statement on latest SWLRT idea

In response to the latest Met Council option presented for the first time today for the proposed Southwest light rail line from Eden Prairie to Minneapolis, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges released the following statement:

“We are surprised because the Met Council originally told us this was impossible. This is a brand new, and therefore, unstudied idea that is being put on the table three weeks before I’m supposed to vote. We appreciate the Met Council’s responsiveness to the request from the Park Board. However, anything that may harm our lakes needs thorough analysis, which, according to the law, the Met Council must provide. We expect the community to have the opportunity to review the analysis thoroughly before any votes are taken.” 

You can read some of Mayor Hodges’ previous posts on Southwest LRT here.

Minneapolis 911

I want to extend my deepest sympathies to the family of Raymond Callihan, who as I understand, is preparing to say good-bye to a husband and father. This family’s heartbreak was shared on the news Wednesday night.

My heart aches for them.

We know that the stakes involved in emergency response are high, and that we are often dealing with life and death situations. Please know that we are carefully reviewing this situation so that we can learn from it and improve.

I was first asked about the 911 program two weeks ago, when a reporter reached out to me about concerns she was hearing from 911 employees. At that time, the 911 operators and dispatchers were in the midst of an election to decide which union they wanted to represent them. Because of that union vote, the Bureau of Mediation Services had placed a “status quo order” on the city of Minneapolis. That meant that no one at the City — 911 management or elected officials — was allowed to talk publicly about training, systems or any other issues that they would discuss with a union. Orders like this are standard, and are meant to ensure that management cannot influence the outcome of a union vote. We respect these orders and respect our employees’ right to bargain collectively and choose a union to represent them.

Now, the union election is over and the status quo order has been lifted. What I couldn’t say then, I’ll say now.

Minneapolis 911 is in the process of adopting a new, common-sense staffing model, following best practices that have been put in place in many 911 centers around the country. In addition to hiring and training more staff, 911 operators and dispatchers are learning new skills that will help our center be even more flexible and effective in responding to emergencies.

Until now, operators and dispatchers were two separate jobs within Minneapolis 911: operators only took calls, while dispatchers have always been cross-trained both to take calls and dispatch them. Under our new staffing model, operators and dispatchers are being trained to do both jobs. This change will improve public safety because it will allow staff to do whatever job is needed most as emergency situations arise. It also reduces the need for overtime.

Another benefit to this new model is that it bases staffing levels on demand. We have much historical data that tell us the times of day that our call volume is highest and lowest, yet for decades, our staffing was not closely aligned with these historical activity levels. Now, we’ve changed that old practice so that during our busiest times, upwards of 16 employees can be on duty. With the new system, we are better able to balance staffing needs with call volumes and spread the workload more evenly across all shifts. And we have even more flexibility to respond to public-safety needs because operators and dispatchers are now cross-trained to do each other’s jobs.

The City of Minneapolis has been working on developing and implementing this model for three years, with the full support of our public-safety partners in the Police and Fire departments, and the Hennepin County ambulance service. They are part of 911’s advisory board, where we have discussed and refined these reforms over the last three years with full input from all partners. Both Police Chief Janeé Harteau and Fire Chief John Fruetel believe that 911 provides an essential and reliable service, and they support these reforms.

We continue to monitor the results of this new program, and in 2014, our average answer time for 911 calls is 7.75 seconds. But as common-sense as this new staffing model is, change is difficult for some people.

I have always taken an interest in ensuring our 911 operations are striving to the very best standards, both as a council member and now as the Mayor. As a City Council member, I fought to get more funding added to the 911 Center budget, which allowed management to hire two additional staff in 2013 and another two in 2014. I have also done an extensive tour of 911 – once before the 35-W bridge collapse and once again since then. I also spent time in the 911 center during the bridge collapse, one of the most tragic moments for our City. I saw firsthand the dedication of the employees and management who do such important work.

The job of 911 employees and management — and all of us at City Hall — is to help keep our city safe by providing the very best service to people in Minneapolis in the most effective way possible. We are committed to it and will continue to improve upon it.

My thoughts and prayers continue to be with the family and friends of Raymond Callihan at this very difficult moment for them. Their loss is a loss for all of us and for all of Minneapolis.

An update on plowing, ice and snow

As often happens in Minnesota, come March, we still have snow piled up and ice covering the streets. I know many of you are frustrated with the long winter and the tough driving conditions around the City. I wanted to let you know what the City of Minneapolis Public Works is doing to address the snow removal, ice and safety of our streets.

When it snows, as it did last night, removing the snow and plowing is the first priority. As we have snow in the forecast each day this week, Public Works will first prioritize clearing the snow.

We also know the ice, which is bonded to the streets, is a major problem. These areas are everywhere, but are particularly problematic downtown and anywhere else the pavements are most in shade. The chemical deicers the City uses are not effective at temperatures below 15 degrees. So while we continue trying to treat the streets, the best our crews can do is chip away at the ice until we see significant, long-term rises in temperature. During that time, crews are focusing their efforts in the higher traffic volumes and/or speeds.

We also have crews occasionally going into the residential streets to try to clean up the even sides where we had problems during the last snow emergencies. The thick snowpack and bonded ice will remain there for a while. If we get any warming, the hard-pack can sometimes “fluff up,” making it look like it snowed again, or crews were never there to plow. Crews are also dealing with alley plowing concerns as they arise.

Public Works, Police and Fire, as well as Metro Transit are still working to evaluate, prioritize and determine what to do with snow emergency routes that appear narrowed. Plowing crews are already addressing some from Metro Transit, day and night, when they’re able. As for non-emergency streets, Public Works and Regulatory Services, and Traffic Control are working together to enforce the Winter Parking Restrictions where appropriate. These restrictions – while frustrating for many – are necessary to ensure emergency response vehicles have enough space to make it down the streets. Remember that until April 1, do not park on the even numbered side of non-Snow Emergency routes. You can find out more about the restriction and download multi-language flyers here.

This week crews are working on an aggressive corner clearing operation. About two weeks ago, all of the corners were clear, but after getting another 15 inches of snow over the past week, the corners were all filled in again.

Crews from Public Works are also tasked to enforce the sidewalk shoveling ordinances. Please be sure you’re doing your part by shoveling the walkway to your home or business. You can also help out the City by digging out the fire hydrant on your block. There are more than 8,000 fire hydrants in the City of Minneapolis, and the Fire Department is asking the public to help out when you’re able.

I know many of you are dealing with slick streets and possibly difficulties parking or navigating your alley. The great people who work at Public Works are responsible for all of the work I’ve just mentioned. They have daily and short-term work plans, and they work to balance all the needs and priorities across the City – those priorities can change daily, or even hourly. And as I mentioned, if it snows, everything stops until crews deal with that immediate priority.

Please don’t hesitate to share your concerns with me or through 311. I thank all of you for your patience as Public Works employees strive daily to keep our streets safe and keep our City running well.

The Time is Now

Today was an exciting one in the Mayor’s office. Rudy Lopez and the “Fast for Families Across America” tour came to Minnesota to join faith, labor and community leaders in their call for a vote on immigration reform in 2014.

Rudy stopped by City Hall to meet with Mayor Hodges and some of the city council members. He shared his story of fasting for 22 days in November and December of 2013 to bring attention to America’s broken immigration system. Rudy was one of many people who fasted on the National Mall, which drew support from Minnesota leaders, as well as President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.IMG_3903

While at City Hall, Rudy and Mayor Hodges joined a number of leaders from the faith, labor, and business communities to hold a press conference talking about the importance of passing immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.

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“America’s immigration system is clearly broken. We have more than 11 million aspiring citizens who are living in the shadows of our society, even though they already contribute to our communities and our neighborhoods. They need to live without fear of their families being torn apart. Strong families are the building blocks of strong cities – we need to keep families together, we need to reunite families and we need to ensure there is a pathway to citizenship for all aspiring citizens. I urge Congress to pass immigration reform this year, so all cities, including Minneapolis, can take a critical step to ensuring that all people contributing to our society have the same opportunity to thrive.” – Mayor Betsy Hodges

Below are some pictures from the event. Thank you to John Keller of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota; Rev. Paul Erickson with the St. Paul Area Synod of the ELCA; Emilia Avalos with Navigate MN; and Abena Abraham, a high school student and DREAMer for all taking part in today’s event.

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Opportunities to learn more about SWLRT

At the end of January, the Metropolitan Council released a draft study conducted by independent consultants which looked at possible relocation options of freight rail service to make way for the proposed Southwest light rail line from Eden Prairie to Minneapolis. You can read the draft report here.

After hearing details about the report, I am pleased and optimistic that it appears there may be a viable relocation option on the table.

Last year we were told that the only two options on the table were a two-story tall berm in St. Louis Park and two “cut and cover” shallow tunnels in Minneapolis, both of which were going to be very expensive and come with heavy impacts on our communities. That’s a pretty bleak and expensive set of choices.

With this report, we now have better options to explore. While I know there is still no outcome that everybody will love, for the first time, we have options that allow us to spread the burden among all of our partners.

Nobody is going to get everything they want – not Minneapolis, not Saint Louis Park – but this report gives us hope that we can find a solution that benefits everyone. I look forward to digging into this report further and hearing from my constituents.

I encourage everyone who is interested in this project to attend a community meeting, where the consultants will present this report, in addition to two others released last month. One was an analysis of potential impacts on water resources with light rail operating in shallow tunnels along the Kenilworth Corridor and the other was a tree and vegetation inventory of the Kenilworth Corridor. After the presentations, there will be opportunities for public testimony.

Minneapolis Town Hall Community meeting

  • Monday, February 10
  • 6:00 – 9:30 p.m.
  • Dunwoody College of Technology | Decker Auditorium
  • 818 Dunwoody Boulevard, Minneapolis

St. Louis Park Town Hall Community meeting

  • Wednesday, February 12
  • 6:00 – 9:30 p.m.
  • St. Louis Park Senior High School
  • 6425 West 33rd Street, St. Louis Park

If you’re unable to attend these meetings, you can also submit public comment on the draft reports via mail or email until February 21 by going to www.swlrt.org. Final reports are expected in early March, and the Metropolitan Council is expected to take a final vote later that month.

I look forward to hearing more from my constituents as we move forward on this important project.