Over a decade of living in Minneapolis, I have found that a good way to hear many local government officials is to attend my local neighborhood association’s annual meeting. This is especially true during this time of pandemic and social unrest. The local association presents a roster of candidates to run for its board positions, and usually offers time for many local government officials to speak about their hard work throughout the year. At least that’s what these annual meetings used to be like until the age of COVID and Zoom.
I was a former board member and Treasurer of the West Maka Ska Council when my wife and I lived on that side of Lake Street. We now live in the Cedar Isles Dean neighborhood and have attended a few Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association annual meetings since moving here. The agenda for the annual meeting that took place October 14th 2020 contained multiple reports and government officials, and featured former Supreme Court Justice Alan Page. But as the meeting went on, I deduced some major problems with this annual meeting.
Lack of renter representation. The CIDNA board is made up of six homeowners and two renters. Despite claims at this meeting of unprecedented outreach, I have not noticed it in any significant measure. Most of the building managers and neighborhood residents I asked about the CIDNA board’s activities this year did not know about CIDNA or what it did. After a lengthy period of silence in the online meeting when calling for new board nominations, a single other person (albeit a renter) in a neighborhood of hundreds was voted onto the board. Were there truly no others that had the time or interest?
How the meeting was run. This was more glaring in light of the Southwest Journal’s reporting (disclosure: I am quoted in that article) on Minneapolis declining to recommend these neighborhood associations record their Zoom meetings. Chair Mary Pattock ran the meeting with a strong grip and only allowed unmuting during the scant roll call votes. Few others on the board were even allowed to speak, including the new coordinator Deb Jessen, who has been brought on for her grant writing skills amid a panic over city funding levels. John Edwards, who recorded this meeting for his streaming program Wedge Live, had this to say: “There’s a fundamentally exclusionary mentality. If they actually thought CIDNA was doing good work you’d want to broadcast that. But it’s clear she (Chair Pattock) thinks this organization is only there to serve the few.”
Visibility of local officials. In attendance at this annual meeting were Hennepin County Commissioner Marion Greene, State Senator Scott Dibble, State Representative Frank Hornstein and Park Board member Jono Cowgill. But Minneapolis Ward Seven City Council Member Lisa Goodman was allowed much longer than the “two-minute drill” allotted to these other officials. Commissioner Greene has so many issues under her purview, from the homeless epidemic to climate adaptation, that it would have been nice to hear from her for much longer. She has a record of not telling the board members what they want to hear so I believe that was a factor. Former MN Supreme Court Justice Alan Page was the keynote speaker and gave a very interesting presentation on a proposed constitutional amendment on education. But as was the case back in June, there was almost zero talk of the scourge of Minnesota Nice racism revealed in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. This was rather galling to me in the context of the tone-deaf statement the board put out in response to the Minneapolis City Council’s proposed charter amendment on public safety. There were also a ton of rambling statements by Chair Pattock concerning the Southwest LRT project, and one of the board members brought up the “1500 trees” that had to give their lives for the track while according no such dignity to those Black members of the community who died at the hands of MPD. Edwards with Wedge Live said: “I always think it’s interesting hearing from Lisa Goodman at these neighborhood org meetings because it can be hard, at times, to find her expressing ideas on certain topics anywhere else. She’s got a diverse Ward and I think she uses these meetings to narrowcast a very particular message to white homeowners, that you might not get at a council meeting.”
Neighborhood groups as barriers to change
My motivation for writing this article came after a few months of attending CIDNA meetings and witnessing the appalling lack of understanding or empathy by the board members of the very real social change occurring this year in Minneapolis. This reached its peak when I attended the meeting in the weeks after George Floyd was murdered by the Minneapolis Police Department. I had to first contact the association to get this important subject on the agenda, and then expressed my outrage for how little social inequality they fathomed or discussed during the meeting. The association has also celebrated their almost single-handed defeat (through Chair Pattock’s group repeatedly initiating environmental lawsuits) of the Southwest LRT project, acting as if there could be no other possible viewpoints about such a transit project in the neighborhood. In comparison, I do not believe the West Maka Ska Council would allow the perpetrator of lawsuits attempting to stop a public works project to then lead their board as Chair.
Neighborhood associations like CIDNA wield an inordinate amount of sway at the city level and believe me, their members know it. One reason why Minneapolis initiated the Neighborhoods2020 plan is to force entrenched boards like CIDNA to conduct outreach to more than just wealthy homeowners in their areas every year.
What else can be done about these problems of representation? I think more neighborhood people attending may help, but this meeting revealed many of the issues with conducting these meetings online. I hope this can somehow be addressed in the Neighborhoods2020 plan. If not, the neighborhood associations like this on the wealthier west side of the city will continue to support those interests that will obstruct the change necessary to move toward a more equal future for all of Minneapolis.