Monthly Archives: November 2010

Access-More in the Breach than in the Observance

It is no surprise that virtually all of the talk to and about newly-elected officials focuses on the economy and jobs, jobs, jobs.  One undertone that is too often ignored is the ever-so-subtle issue of the public’s right to information by and about the government.  Two disparate situations bring the latest issue to the surface.  One is the approach to the electoral process evident in the openness of the recent vote count and in plans underway for a potential recount.  The Secretary of State, the election judges, the legacy and alternative press are all at the table, exposing the process and the results.  On the other hand, the doors have remained slammed on the press and public seeking information about the selection of a President for the People’s University.  It’s time to aim the spotlight at an issue too often relegated to the closet.

One basic reality is that open government enjoys a special place in history as a nonpartisan issue, articulated by the founding fathers (who disagreed about just about everything) as a fundamental tenets of the democracy.  Similarly, the State of Minnesota has a distinguished and nonpartisan history of nonpartisan support for open government and informed popular.  In spite of this proud heritage open government is currently more honored in the breach than in the observance.

To a great extent it’s change rather than malicious intent that poses the threat.

  • Because the President has positioned his administration as a vocal proponent of open access, the inclination on the part of the other party may be to turn a deaf ear.  In fact,
  • The first change is in the newness as much as the politics of newly-elected decision-makers.  Access to information is an extraordinarily complex political arena in which experience, institutional memory and practice balancing forces are not infused but shaped by time on task.  Elected officials, incoming administrators, fledgling staffers and others who forge the information chain are often new to the game, newer still to the nuances of public policy relating to information.  In the current information environment mastery of the tools far outstrips attention to policy implications of technology.
  • Second, the information chain itself is in flux bordering chaos.  The inexorable march of information and ideas from decision-maker to constituent, agency to consumer, candidate to the public is cast aside as information – and misinformation – pulsates through the “pipes”, favoring those who own and understand the tools, disenfranchising those for whom time, geography, skill, finances and other incidentals present insurmountable barriers.  Agencies live is solitary splendor while the floodgates open to horizontal flows that ignore and supercede traditional organizational structures.
  • Third, the decline of investigative journalism has had a devastating effect on an informed public.  The  journalists, print and electronic, who bore a heavy responsibility/  They served the public good by ferreting out the truth, researching the record, separating fact from fiction, poking and probing, digesting and deliberating  – then producing information that makes sense to the reader, listener or viewer .   As their ranks  twindle there is a scramble to fill the void and a desperate search for a viable replacement model able to enhance public understanding rather than drivel.
  • Fourth, though ignorance of the law may be no excuse, it nonetheless persists.  Those who need to know often do not know their rights.  Public and nonprofit agencies face critical challenges that cry out for immediate resource allocation.
  • Finally, though current laws need constant review and tweaking, the base is firm;  transparency is recognized as a basic right.  As technology presents both possibilities and pitfalls existing laws deserve review and revision.  More importantly, implementation of laws and policies requires specific attention to oversight by responsible agencies at every level.  Again, it’s one of those implicit tasks that is so basic it can be neglected in deference to issues that are more dire, more doable or more politically persuasive.

Though undeniable and non-controversial, the basics are implicit and thus overlooked:

ü      Every Minnesotan has a RIGHT TO INFORMATION  BY AND ABOUT THE GOVERNMENT.

ü      That right is stated with clarity in legislation and regulation.

ü      Responsibility for oversight is sometimes unclear, more often buried in or blurred the bureaucracy

ü      Organizations and agencies that provide services to the public have an urgent responsibility to affirm that right and to provide the tools, skills and attitudes essential to an informed citizenry.  I

ü      The priority is to affirm and internalize the fact that an understanding of access must join the roster of essentials for elected officials, bureaucracies, nonprofits, schools, communities and families.

ü      Information, alone among public goods, does not diminish but expands with use.

ü      Sound information policy, combined with attention to implementation of that policy, is not a cost but a long-term investment.

It is at our individual and political peril that we ignore the basics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open government enjoys a special place in history as a nonpartisan issue, articulated by the founding fathers as one of the fundamental tenets of the democracy.  In spite of this proud heritage open government is currently more honored in the breach than in the observance.  To a great extent it’s change rather than malicious intent that poses the threat.

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Whither Shoreham Yards – blight or boon to Northeast Minneapolis

The ongoing saga of the future of Shoreham Yards is as complex and tangled as the map of the 230 acre railroad yard that has taken up a generous expanse of Northeast Minneapolis since 1888.  In recent years Canadian Pacific Railroad has operated the sprawling train, trucking and bulk distribution site that was once the major switch point for trains headed from the grain mills on the Mississippi to the East Coast. Since the mid-1990’s the Yards have been at the center of a host of controversies involving affected neighborhood residents, the entrenched  railroad, anxious developers, concerned environmentalists, health authorities, architectural preservationists and a parade of elected officials.  Though the Yards incorporate the land from Central to University and 27th Avenue Northeast to St. Anthony Parkway much of the discussion about disposition of the area focuses on an area known as “the teardrop” and on the historic Roundhouse.

For the driver speeding past en route to elsewhere, the Yards are a passing curiosity, a maze of interlocking tracks, parking lots, some outbuildings and a neighborhood eyesore.  In fact, the Shoreham Yards represent one of the last vestiges of the prominence of Minneapolis as a transit center.  The facility once served as the primary locomotive repair and maintenance facility for the Soo Line Railroad and its predecessor, the Minneapolis, Sault Ste. Marie and Atlantic Railroad.

A unique feature of the Yards is the 48-stall Historic Roundhouse, constructed in 1887.  Preservationists are particularly concerned about the Roundhouse/ which was designated early in this century as a Minneapolis Historical Landmark. In 2003 Shoreham Yards and Roundhouse were named one of the state’s Ten Most Endangered Properties by the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota.  To this day the Roundhouse is closed to the public, visible only from a distance over a fence west of Central Avenue and 29th Avenue.  Dan Haugen, writing in the Northeaster (reprinted in the Twin Cities Daily Planet) in 2007, offers an excellent review of the history and current status of negotiations regarding the Roundhouse.

Preservation is but the tip of the controversies surrounding the future of the Yards.  A portion of Shoreham Yards is a designated Industrial Employment District in the Comprehensive Plan for Minneapolis. This designation means that the City will support redevelopment of the area for new light industrial business that provide high job density, good wages and low impact on the surrounding community The City of Minneapolis has outlined a number of potential redevelopment scenarios for the section of the 2008 Shoreham Yards, including the Roundhouse,  in the Shoreham Yards Roundhouse Reuse Study, a living document that is updated regularly on the Community Planning and Economic Development website.  An important recent development is posting of Request for Proposals for two parcels of Shoreham Yards, one including the Shoreham Roundhouse.

Much of the discussion relating to the disposition of Shoreham Yards focuses on pollution, particularly dust from activity in the Yards, as well as appearance and safety issues related to unlocked containers near public streets.  Arguments rage about the contamination of the major aquifer essential to long-term and emergency water access./ Neighbors have also complained about trash deposited on the grounds.. Health Consultation documents have been produced by the state and federal government/ These and hundreds of environment related documents are available on the Shoreham Depository document site which also provides an excellent list of state and corporate contacts.

An important player in the deliberations is the Shoreham Area Advisory Committee (SAAC) formed in 1998 as part of the court settlement between the city of Minneapolis and the Canadian Pacific Railway, an agreement that related generally to demolition of various Shoreham buildings.  The SAAC which meets monthly includes city, railroad, neighborhood organization, business and community members.  Notes of SAAC’s activities over the past dozen years present a vivid record of the work SAAC has done to explore economic, environmental, preservation and other issues.  A 2008 note reports that “Shoreham on Central and Roundhouse is listed as a ‘transformational, once-in-a-generation’ opportunity in the city’s Small Area Plan.”  \

One recent initiative of the SAAC is the Nine Lives Project.   Artist Foster Willey has created one of his “Made in Minnesota” posters featuring icons of the historic Shoreham Roundhouse.  Tax deductible purchases of the Nine Lives Project poster support the work of SAAC.

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The Eastside Food Co-op is taking affirmative action by providing an open forum on Shoreham Yards for the community.  The Other Side of the Tracks is the topic of EFC’s December Network. It’s Thursday, December 9, 7:30 a.m. in the Granite Room at the Co-op,  2551 Central Avenue Northeast, just North of Lowry.  It’s free and open. Good Parking.  MTC #10.

Residents, policy-makers and others concerned about the process, proposed plans and potential problems may wish to consult some of the key online resources linked here or join the exchange on  E-Democracy* (http://forums.e-democracy.org/groups/mpls-ne).   Each presents a unique perspective on a complex issue that has profound long-term consequences for Northeast Minneapolis.

Beltrami – explorer, county, neighborhood and now a soup

Giacomo Constantino Beltrami has entered my consciousness and thus my life.  Over the years I’ve wondered why my nearby neighborhood is called Beltrami, a name shared with a county in Northern Minnesota.  My curiosity was piqued, mostly because I’m generally curious about neighborhood names.  So I was at the ready when I heard Cathy Wurzer on MPR this morning interviewing  Kay Mack, Beltrami County Auditor-Treasurer.  Describing how her county is preparing for a possible gubernatorial recount Mack indicated she would be pulling out her “2008 Recount Soup”, an Italian delicacy popularly known as Count Beltrami Recount Soup.  Ms Mack not only manages the recount but supplies the soup – and the recipe. (below)

The Count would be so pleased, I thought, as I dug for my modest research on the 19th Century author and explorer, best known in these parts for his claim to have discovered the source of the Mississippi in 1823.

Though it’s a mere glimpse of the story of this fascinating man, my surface research has divulged a good deal about Beltrami: Born in 1779 in Bergamo, Italy, Beltrami spent his early professional life in the Napoleonic judicial system where he established both a sizeable fortune and a liberal world view.  With the downfall of Napoleon Beltrami retreated to his farm where his liberal thoughts soon put him at odds with the paper government.  Tired of the scrutiny and accusations, Beltrami, basically in exile, embraced a life of adventure on the Continent and in the new world.

Beltrami hit his adventuresome stride as an intrepid explorer of foreign lands, their botanical and literary treasures.  He visited most if not all of the European nations as well as Mexico, Haiti, and of most interest of Minnesotans, the headwaters of the Mississippi.  As curious as he was fearless, Beltrami took time to study the locales he explored and to chronicle his findings for posterity.  His voluminous writings, banned in Italy, are readily accessible in libraries and archives today.  Among other chronicles Beltrami collected botanical and geological samples and is responsible for the discovery of the only existing texts to provide Latinate translations from the Aztec language.”

As the story goes, Beltrami landed in Philadelphia on December 20, 1822, after what must have been a treacherous Atlantic crossing.  From there he set out for Louisville and St. Louis where he encountered American Indians for the first time.  In April 1823 he set out for Fort St. Anthony.  Spurred by a vivid imagination and a vision of making history by discovering the source of the Mississippi Beltrami ventured solo up river, slowed but not discouraged by the fact that he was unable to balance himself in a birch bark canoe which he eventually decided to tow.  His quest led him to a small lake which he called Lake Julia and which Beltrami was convinced was the source of both the Mississippi and the Red rivers.  Though he wasn’t quite accurate in claiming the discovery, he deserves credit for a mighty effort.

In time Beltrami retired to his farm in Italy where he died in 1855, just five years short of the creation of the Italian nation.  Though he never saw any of his works published in Italy modern scholars continue to pore over the volumes.  Of particular interest to today’s scholars are Beltrami’s writings about American Indians he encountered in his travels.

Count Giacomo Constantino Beltrami, like his name, is bigger than life, an untapped reservoir of imagination, scholarship and energy.  He is the only adventurer of record for whom a staple of Minnesota’s electoral process is named.  The recipe for Count Beltrami Recount Soup, as supplied by Beltrami County Auditor-Treasurer Kay Mack, is irresistible on this or any wintry day.  It would seem just right if the residents of Beltrami neighborhood in Northeast Minneapolis stirred up a pot of soup in solidarity with the voters of Beltrami County.

Count Beltrami Recount Soup

1 lb. ground Italian sausage – hot, mild or a mix.

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

3 leaves fresh basil

1 15 can butter beans

1 15 oz can black beans

1 15 oz can diced tomatoes

2 cups beef broth

Grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

Cook sausage until done, add garlic and basil. Saute 4 minutes

Add beans, tomato, broth. Cover and simmer 10-15 minutes.

Sprinkle with cheese.

Serve with Italian or garlic bread or Panini.

 

 


Kudos to The Uptake

Kudos to The Uptake.  As some 42,000 contributed $8 million to Minnesota nonprofits, the Uptake covered it all – not the dollars but the stories of the nonprofits that will use those $8 million to improve the lives of Minnesotans.  Hour after hour nonprofit representatives described their organization, the services, the needs, and the specific ways in which the contributed dollars will make a difference. The result was a powerful – and persuasive — parade of needs and of capable and committed community leaders with ideas, energy and focus.  Totally hooked on the audio stream, I listened to dozens of interviews, many with leaders of organizations of which I knew little or nothing. Though technological gaffes probably left the crews with headaches I found them charming and humanizing.

 

My sole regret as I listened to one after another interview and organizational promo was that I’d tapped out my ability to send another donation.  Still, The Uptake’s coverage expands my awareness of the depth and breadth of the resources we have, as told by the people who spot the needs, design the strategies and do the work in the field.  That includes The Uptake, a unique player in Minnesota’s panoply of nonprofits.

Library Friends sponsor book sale

No excuse for readers in Northeast Minneapolis to run short of books this winter!  Friends of the Northeast Library are arranging truck routes, sort plans and volunteer work schedules for the celebratory book sale set for December 10th and 11th at the Eastside Food Co-op, 2551 Central Avenue Northeast.  The book sale celebrates – and will help to fund — the Spring 2011 re-opening of the Northeast Library which is currently being renovated and generously expanded.  Northeast Library is part of the Hennepin County Library System.

 

The book sale begins with a preview sale for members of the Friends, the Library Foundation or Eastside Co-op on Friday, December 10, 2:00-8:00 p.m.  The general sale is Saturday, December 11, 10:00-5:00 p.m.  On Saturday book buyers will have a chance to participate in another celebration, the 7th anniversary of the Eastside Food Co-op, replete with entertainment and taste treats.

 

Friends of the Northeast Library is one of several Friends groups that has received organizing assistance from the Library Foundation of Hennepin County which has much to celebrate itself. Recently the Otto Bremer Foundation has awarded the Library Foundation of Hennepin County Library a grant of $50,000 to support local Library Friends groups.  The Professional Librarians Union of Minneapolis (PLUM) has also voted to give slightly over $83,000 to the Library Foundation of Hennepin County.  A portion of that gift is specifically given to support formation of Friends groups for community libraries.

 

For more information about donating gently-used books or to volunteer to help with the sale contact northeast@supporthclib.org.

Recognizing children’s rights

Attention to the rights of children of youth as an issue, much less a movement, is of recent vintage.  This vague reality has become immensely clear to me as I have learned about the Orphan Train Riders and about how their treatment, which seems incredible today, was at the outset a well-intended effort to address the dilemma of children left on the streets of New York in the early 20th Century.  The story of those children, several of whom are still living, is a stark reminder of what even one day set aside as Universal Children’s Day deserves our collective attention.  We celebrate Universal Children’s Day each year on November 20.

 

The fundamental focus of Universal Children’s Day is the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, a name given to a series of children’s rights proclamations that date back to the 1923 adoption of the International Save the Children Union, endorsed in 1024 as the World Child Welfare Charter.  This nascent document and the supporting organizations mophed in time into the United Nations where work with children, particularly children who were victims of war, led to adoption of the World Child Welfare Charter.

 

On November 20, 1959, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child that specified ten principles.  Universal Children’s Day is set for November 20 to recognize that significant date and the basic unalienable  rights to which every child is entitled as a human being.  The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child passed by the UN General Assembly affirms and further explicates the rights.

 

A quick read of the rights is a reminder that our challenge is formidable – not only on the world stage but in our own nation.  UNICEF spearheads the recognition of Universal Children’s Day – and the resources are abundant from UNICEF and a host of advocacy organizations.  The Human Rights Education Association offers a very helpful listing of resources related to University Children’s Day which includes materials appropriate for children’s own understanding of their rights.

Eastside Food Co-op Celebrates Success

 

 

For years I’ve made regular stops at my neighborhood coop, the Eastside Food Co-op (EFC). It’s a bustling place, filled with parents toting kids in strollers, fresh produce, organic food staples, herbs and spices, and shelves filled with aids to health and beauty far beyond my ken.  Usually I have a cup of free trade coffee, read the well-stocked bulletin board, and marvel at the world around me.  In recent times, I’ve had several reasons to pay closer attention – mostly because I’m on a quest to learn more about my neighborhood.  (Northeast icon Jeanette May recently advised me that the more I learn about Northeast the more I will love Northeast!)

 

My reading of the latest EFC newsletter clued me into the fact that my slow learning curve coincides with the 7th anniversary of the opening of the EFC, to be celebrated with a neighborhood party on Saturday, December 11.  It’s time to explore the wonders of the EFC.

 

A visit to the EFC website gave me a great start.  Local resident Ginny Sutton was an early supporter who worked tirelessly to create “the little co-op that could.”  The appellation refers to the fact that the common acceptance of the fact that co-ops work in upscale neighborhoods, not in less affluent ethnic neighborhoods such as Central Avenue.  Ginny wrote a fascinating article published in the March-April 2004 issue of Cooperative Grocer in which she describes in historic detail the politics of bringing together the 13 neighborhood associations in Northeast, the Neighborhood Revitalization and other political forces with the financial expertise and resources in Northeast.  It’s a great read and a tribute to persistence and collaboration.

 

More recently, Leslie Watson, President of the EFC Board expands on that history, with insights including reflections on the exploits of the EFC Precision Shopping Cart Drill Team that marched in the 2004 Northeast Parade.  She also provides expanded details about the governance structure, politics and updated history of the EFC.  Watson reports that, as of September 2009, over 2800 member households owned the Eastside Food Co-op. Today, there are nearly 3500 members.

 

EFC is indeed a community hub.  The food shelves are just the surface of a beehive of activities. Today EFC serves an ethnic community that includes a large Mexican population, Somalis, many Ecuadorians (the Ecuadorian consulate is in the neighborhood) as well as the rich heritage of Eastern European and other ethnic communities long identified with Northeast. EFC promotional materials are published in Hmong, Arabic, Somali and Spanish, grocery shelves feature ethnic foods and programs to address community priorities are omnipresent.

 

As the vital community served by EFC evolves, so have the programs and resources of EFC.  The calendar of events overflows with ongoing and special events.  For example, third Thursdays are Co-op Movie Nights – first-rate movies with popcorn and beverages.  Or there’s the NE Network, second Thursdays, featuring free and open discussions of community issues (December 9 it’s “The Other Side of the Tracks: Future of Shoreham Yards).  There are cooking classes, wellness programs, a yoga studio, arts and crafts exhibits and demonstrations, the well-known spring plant sale, seasonal programs and a new winter farmer’s market every second Saturday morning.  Increasingly neighborhood organizations are meeting in the newly-opened granite studio.  EFC has ongoing programs going with Edison High School (you’ll find Tommie paraphernalia on the EFC shelves), with community education, the public library and nonprofits that serve the community.

 

Best of all, EFC is on firm financial footing, looking to and planning for a bright future.  Assistant Manager Kristina Gronquist observes that in these tough times, when for-profits are struggling and failing, EFC is a “smashing economic success” – no small feat for a member-owned organization that plans to start paying dividends to its members in the near future.

 

The EFC website offers an amazing pot pourri of events, services and ideas plus details about staff, facilities, membership and more.  The EFC newsletter carries news about the neighborhood and the community as well as the Co-op.  There’s a regular email newsletter with the latest from EFC.

 

Plan to join with the over 3000 member households who are members and owners of EFC in the celebratory events on December 11 – enjoy the music, raffles, door prizes, fabulous baked treats, the winter farmer’s market, even a book sale sponsored by the Friends of the Northeast Library which just happens to be going on at the same time at the Co-op.

 

Add ECF to the unique treasures of Northeast.