Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Post-It Note Sparks Collective Outrage Among Minneapolis Neighborhood Associations

Peter Bajurny (left) is the man at the center of Post-It-Gate

A coalition of 18 Minneapolis neighborhood organizations has been privately working for months to pressure the City Council and other officials to delete a public comment they disagree with from a draft community engagement report published by the city. This is according to a leaked email provided by a person close to one of the neighborhood organizations involved.

A single sentence critical of neighborhood organizations was included in a draft report put together by the Department of Community Planning and Economic Development. The author of the comment, which said "Abolish City recognition of neighborhood organizations," has come forward to reveal that his critical feedback was originally submitted on a post-it note.

CPED spent 2016 doing public engagement in preparation for the City Council finalizing a new comprehensive plan (the "goals and policies that direct the logical and coordinated physical development of a city into the future"). As part of the process of gathering public input, CPED held events, attended festivals, and collected tweets.

Photo courtesy of the Bajurny family.

A draft of the Phase 2 Engagement Report, which compiled all feedback into a 22-page pdf, was released on January 6th. You'll notice the comment from the post-it note was one of many items included in a long list of themes. (You'll also notice the very next comment is pretty complimentary of neighborhood groups.)

One of the "Engagement Goals" put forth in the document is that the public should feel "their input has been thoughtfully considered and sees their contributions reflected in the plan." I've been in contact with the author of the controversial comment, Peter Bajurny, and he says he feels especially gratified to see his input thoughtfully considered and reflected in the plan.

Who are the villains trying to deny Bajurny his moment in the sun? A group of 18 Minneapolis neighborhood organizations having a collective freak-out over a post-it note. They're upset about the inclusion of public feedback in a document intended as an accurate summary of public feedback.

An employee writing on behalf of a group of downtown neighborhood associations sent an 1100-word email to a wider group of Minneapolis neighborhood organizations, detailing months of ongoing effort to have the dissenting comment deleted from the draft report. The group hopes to eventually have a total of 40 organizations sign on to the effort to delete the comment.

The email calls the post-it note a "very big deal" and "not valid statistically." It also includes the detail that neighborhood organizations are seeking an investigation: "We are also asking Councilmembers to find out how the comment got there."

The email's author recounts one particularly dramatic scene where "CPED staff Beth Elliott and NCR staff Christina Kendrick defended for 75 minutes" the inclusion of the sticky-note comment.

This story has all the makings of a big, dumb Minneapolis neighborhood scandal:
  • The director of the city's NCR Department, David Rubedor, running scared from neighborhood organizations, feebly explaining the comment as a "computer glitch." (You'll remember, I tracked down the actual post-it to its actual author. His name is Peter Bajurny. Mr. Bajurny is not a computer glitch.)
  • A whistle-blower. Neighborhood groups were tipped off to the offending comment "by a member of an 'internal work group'" which had discussions about the "appropriateness" of including a public comment in a report summarizing public comment.
The author of the leaked email claims Council Members Jacob Frey and John Quincy have committed in writing to have the comment removed from the final version of the report (update: Frey says this claim isn't true). That would be a shame because, whether or not you agree with the feedback written on the post-it note, it accurately represents a viewpoint I hear expressed by many: Minneapolis neighborhood associations are highly political, sometimes vicious organizations, that tend to prioritize the concerns of property owners over the interests of diverse neighborhoods, despite being publicly funded. You should either want to reform what currently exists, or end the system entirely and start over with something better. Neither of those ideas is unworthy of discussion.

Despite the problems with these groups, they are politically powerful enough to have recently extracted $9.1 million in funding from the city council during the height of caucus season. Neighborhood groups shouldn't be given the additional power to delete public feedback from a city report because they don't like what it says. If these groups are to receive millions from the city, they should at least be subject to all the scrutiny, criticism and reform that you can fit on a post-it.

Full text of the email sent to a number of Minneapolis neighborhood associations on behalf of a group of downtown neighborhood associations.
Dear Neighborhoods,

Here is where we are at.

We continue to pursue the Removal of 'Abolish City Recognition of Neighborhood Organizations' from the Phase II Civic Engagement Report for the Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan 2040. Some at the City believe it is not that big of a thing. We believe it is. We believe that to allow this sub theme under the Theme of Governance in a published City document is a very big deal. Especially when there was only one such comment out of 1,100. It is not valid statistically to elevate one comment to such a level. We are beginning now to reach out to Councilmembers to keep the comment in raw data and remove it from the Document. We are also asking Councilmembers to find out how the comment got there. It was not due to a 'computer glitch'. There were internal workgroups synthesizing the comments and developing this report. We heard about this in early December from a member of an internal workgroup.

DMNA and CLPC on behalf of the DT Neighborhood Groups brought this item to the January NCEC meeting. We discovered this bullet point from a draft document sent to us out of concern by a member of an 'internal work group'. There had been discussions by this internal workgroup member since early December - before it was a published draft - on the appropriateness to have this comment in this City draft document - with CPED and NCR staff. At the January NCEC meeting, no one on the Commission was aware of the inclusion of this bullet point in the report. The Commission moved to discuss this at their February meeting and bring City Planning/NCR staff in to explain how and why this occurred. During the Commission meeting, DMNA President Joe Taburino pulls up the City's website and we find out the this Draft Document is already posted on the City's website. Director David Rubedor was at this meeting.

The day after the NCEC meeting, even with all the expressed concerns and challenge to validity of this comment, the Draft Document gets sent out to thousands via Gov Delivery.

The Downtown Neighborhood Groups then developed the Resolution and began to circulate it to other neighborhoods they knew and/or worked with.
CM Lisa Goodman's Policy Aide Patrick Sadler was requested by CLPC to find out how this Bullet Point got into the document. He talked to Director Rubedor who stated that it was a computer glitch, that CPED staff did not catch it, and that it would be taken care of. 
The Resolution was presented at the February NCEC Meeting in advance of the discussion with City Planning & NCEC staff. Several neighborhoods and MCTC were present. We find out at the meeting, even though there were concerns expressed in January and even tho NCEC/NCR was to be working with CPED on this community engagement piece, the Draft document in debate had been finalized. CPED staff Beth Elliott and NCR staff Christina Kendrick defended for 75 minutes the inclusion of this statement to 'Abolish city recognition of neighborhood organizations' in the document. Beth Elliott stated that she could not remove language from a finalized document. Director David Rubedor was not present. The new Deputy Director was.

Thank you to Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association, Citizens for a Loring Park, Jordan Area Community Council, Midtown Phillips Neighborhood Association, East Phillips improvement Coalition, Waite Park, and Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association for attending the February NCEC Meeting.

The NCEC Commission moved the Resolution for further discussion to their Committee of the Whole meeting, to the March NRP Policy Board meeting, and to a vote at their March meeting.

We plan to be present at the NRP Policy Board meeting. Once a meeting is set up, we will notify everyone.

Then, last week we discovered that CPED is taking the Comp Plan work to date to City Planning /City Council for Interim Approval. We expect that this Civic Engagement report will at that time, be 'Received and Filed' with the Bullet point in it.

So, now we are moving to discuss this with Councilmembers and to get this Bullet Point removed from the published city document.

See conversation with CM Jacob Frey below.

DJ Heinle, is a Charter Commissioner and has been active with the North Loop Neighborhood. North Loop Neighborhood is a participant of the Downtown Neighborhood Group which authored the Resolution. The Minneapolis Charter is about the Governance of the City. Charter Commissioner DJ Heinle offered a Resolution to 'Establish a workgroup to look at the role of neighborhood organizations in the City of Minneapolis.' This motion passed 7-3. The process and composition of the Workgroup has not yet been established, but as an Official Work group of the Charter Commission, all meetings will be published on the Charter Website and open to the Public. There will be transparency. You can sign up for Charter Commission notices via Gov Delivery.

What needs to be done now:

If your neighborhood has not signed the Resolution yet, take it to your Board for approval, sign it and send me the date of your board approval and a copy of the signed Resolution. We will contine to update the Resolution as Boards approve it.

We presently have 18 Neighborhoods signed on. We would like a minimum of 40 neighborhoods signed by the March NCEC Meeting.

Contact your NCEC Commissioner about the NCEC Committee of the Whole meeting. Ask them to support the Resolution.

Attend the March 27 NCEC Meeting at 5:00 pm at the DT Library when the Resolution will be voted on.

Talk to your Councilmember!! They need to ensure that this bullet point is removed BEFORE this Civic Engagement Report is approved by City Council. So far we have a written commitment from CM Jacob Frey and CM John Quincy to pursue this on our behalf. We need the language removed. This is very important right now. Read the attached correspondance to this email.

Plan to Attend the April 1st Community Conndctions Conference. This is supposed to be 'the time' that Neighborhoods can give input to the Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan.

Know also that throughout this entire debate over the Civic Engagement Plan, the larger question is 'Why have Neighborhoods who do and have done planning, not intimately involved with the 2040 Minneapolis Comp Plan development?'. NCR Neighborhood Specialists who have done neighborhood planning thruout 25 years of Neighborhood Revitalization are not involved and the NCR Staff assigned to the Minneapolis Comp Plan to represent all of us in this process is the NCR Access & Outreach Specialist for Senior Citizens.

Think about making these topics for discussion if you are planning any Mayoral or City Council Candidates Forums/Debates.

We will continue to keep you posted.

Jana Metge, CLPC Coordinator
On behalf of the DT Neighborhood Group