BY ED FELIEN
In ancient China, the state apparatus was 3,000 years old when the student revolts on May 4, 1919, began the Nationalist revolution that eventually overthrew the emperor. The bureaucracy was so far removed from the people that they spoke a different language. They had contempt for the needs of the average Chinese. They prided themselves on being out of touch and removed. The government was run from behind a walled compound forbidden to ordinary people.
Is that what is happening to Minneapolis in 2020?
Is our government so removed from the public that it is impenetrable?
Mayor Jacob Frey has said, “Transparency and accountability are of the highest priority for Chief Arradondo and me.”
I have asked for years to see a line-item budget for the Minneapolis Police Department so that we, the taxpayers of Minneapolis who pay for all those salaries and benefits, can see how our money is being spent. I have asked and my answer has been the stone walls of silence and indifference—like the stone walls surrounding the Forbidden City in Beijing.
To give you a better idea of the mask of secrecy the city pulls over its questionable acts, I wrote the following to David M Rubedor, assistant city coordinator and Neighborhood Community Relations (NCR) director, who heads a burgeoning bureaucracy of 19:
“I would appreciate your assistance in solving the mystery of some budget items in the 2020 Budget for the Nokomis East Neighborhood Association.
“I’ve written to Becky Timm, the executive director: ‘Please send how you spent the $211,733’ allocated for staff. There are, according the NENA website, just two staff members, Becky and Karla Arredondo. After a week of meeting Becky’s stonewall, I wrote to your neighborhood support specialist, Ethrophic Burnett:
‘We are doing an article for Southside Pride on the upcoming cuts to the budgets of neighborhood organizations. I am puzzled by the budget for NENA that spends $211,000 on staff out of a total budget of $353,000. Could I see a breakdown of that budget item. As I understand it, NENA has two staff: an executive director and a community organizer.
‘I would appreciate any help you could give in understanding this problem.
“She told me her supervisor, Karen Moe, would contact me. I waited a couple of days and then wrote to Karen:
‘I have been trying for almost a week to get information about the budget for the Nokomis East Neighborhood Association. I would like an explanation of the staff budget item of $211,733 for 2020. The staff, according to their website, includes Becky Timm, executive director, and Karla Arredondo, community organizer. Is that the budget allocation for those two positions? Is that their combined salaries?
‘We understand that the mayor is proposing reducing the budgets of neighborhood organizations, and, in order to appreciate the effects of these cuts, it is essential for our readers to fully understand how their tax money has been spent up to now.
‘We would appreciate your assistance in helping us understand this problem by showing us a line-item budget for this organization.’
“That was last week. I have received no answer. So, finally, I have arrived at your doorstep. My question is a simple one: How did NENA spend the $211,773 allocated for staff salaries?
“Your assistance in this matter would be greatly appreciated.
I received this response from David Rubedor:
“I received your request as well as know you have emailed others at the City.
“As you are probably aware, media requests are coordinated through our Communications department. I’ve been in contact with them this morning and you should be hearing from them shortly.
“Let me know if you need further assistance.
“David M Rubedor”
After this article was published in the Powderhorn edition, Casper Hill of the Communications Department contacted me:
“Regarding your questions about the Nokomis East Neighborhood Association’s budget, the City can provide tax filing information. According to its 2018 Form 990, the NENA ED [Executive Director] made $72,840 along with other compensation of $8,354. From the budget submitted to NCR, in 2019, staff salaries were just over $199,300.”
But the bureaucracy of the NCR pales in comparison to the bloated bureaucracy of the Planning Department. Compared to 19 people in NCR, the Community Planning and Economic Development Organizational Chart (updated Nov. 9, 2020) lists 242 staff people, plus 14 vacancies. And what does the Planning Department plan? For one thing, they have planned the extinction of small auto repair shops like Ira Azhakh’s place on Lake Street (see Kay Schroven’s piece “The battleground that is Lake Street” from page 1).
Oscar Wilde once said, “America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.”