Minneapolis steps closer to instant runoff

Steve Brandt // Published April 18, 2008 in Star Tribune
The Minneapolis City Council geared up for future instant-runoff voting, decreed a brick exterior for a pending development and revoked the license of a troublesome North Side bar on Friday.

The council approved 9-4 an ordinance that sets a framework for operating the new system for city elections, approved by voters in 2006. It also voted 12-1 to seek voting equipment for the new system. Barbara Johnson voted against both proposals; Lisa Goodman, Diane Hofstede and Sandra Colvin Roy opposed the ordinance.

Instant-runoff voting asks voters to rank several candidates for an office in order of preference, with second- and third-place choices sometimes determining who wins.

The council is under a voter mandate to attempt to launch the new voting system in next year's elections. Elections Director Cindy Reichert has said that she doesn't think that equipment needed to count voter choices will be available in time for 2009 voting. If not, the council could choose to conduct instant-runoff voting by a hand count, meaning results could be delayed for several days.

The council also rejected an appeal from Lake Street area developer Basim Sabri from a condition placed on his new Pleasant Avenue housing development.

The Planning Commission had adopted a proposal by Council Member Gary Schiff that new construction for Sabri's planned 77-unit Karmel Village project be all brick. The development combines an old brick industrial building with a four-story addition.

Sabri had planned to leave the best brick exposed on the old building but to use a combination of siding and masonry coating over the new portion and over what he called unattractive painted brick on much of the old building. Sabri called the city's requirement arbitrary and said he plans to sue.

The council also revoked the liquor and tobacco licenses for Johnny A's, at 200 W. Broadway. It found that the bar had repeatedly violated state liquor purchase law, didn't pay a citation or its license fee on time, and had "numerous, repeated, severe and continuing instances of criminal and nuisance activity," including drug dealing.

"We're obviously disappointed with the city's decision but we will probably abide by it," said Tom Kelly, lawyer for bar owner John Alexander. "It's a huge financial loss for an individual who invested his life savings in the business."

Council Member Don Samuels, who is black, took issue with those who suggest that the action was motivated by the bar's black patronage, saying that everyone must be held accountable for following the law, regardless of race.