Another Day, Another Lawsuit

Business as Usual at the Minneapolis City Hall

THE CITY OF Minneapolis appears on the verge of two more potentially costly civil rights lawsuits: one from within the ranks of the Fire Department, and another in the Police Department.

The Fire Department suit stems from the firing late last year of a number of members of the fire cadet program, allegedly because they failed the department's psychological profiling tests. Fire Chief Tom Dickinson subsequently implied that the department might be letting in gang members. The firing raised questions of prejudice and propriety in department procedures that have proven explosive at City Hall; affirmative action director Larry Blackwell stepped down last week from investigating a complaint related to the incident after his supervisor, Ann Eilbracht, reportedly questioned his impartiality in the matter. (Blackwell is friends with Ron Edwards, who chairs a court-appointed committee on minority hiring in the Fire Department.) Blackwell, in turn, reportedly questioned the impartiality of Eilbracht, who is named in a separate complaint pertaining to the matter that was filed by Legal Aid in December.

The pending litigation at the MPD involves members of the Minneapolis Black Police Officers Association, on whose behalf a citizen liaison committee was appointed to meet with Chief Robert Olson last year. Ron Edwards, who is likewise a member of that citizens' panel, says the group has advised the black officers to sue, and that they are currently talking with attorneys.

"It's an ironic thing that this is happening in a city with an African-American mayor," says Edwards. "And it's ironic that in both these cases, the parties went to the mayor for relief. And her inaction has been a key part of bringing these issues to the stage where the city's likely to be sued."

MEDIJUANA IN MINNESOTA?

A CANNABIS BUYERS' Club probably won't be opening at the Mall of America anytime soon, but advocates are hoping to get a bill legalizing prescription pot debated at the Legislature this session. Last year, such a bill passed the House Health and Human Services Committee, but never got to a floor vote. The bill would have transferred various THC compounds to the list of "Schedule II" drugs physicians may prescribe to select groups of patients--which, in the case of marijuana, may include those suffering from glaucoma, AIDS, and certain cancers. It also would have asked the University of Minnesota to start a "pilot program to provide medical quality marijuana," satisfying, of course, "any federal quality control requirements." State Sen. Linda Berglin, one of last year's sponsors, says she doesn't know yet whether she'll bring the legislation back this year.

THREE STRIKES, YOU'RE POSTURING

DESPITE GOV. ARNE Carlson's rear-guard move to fill the streets of Minneapolis with state troopers during Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton's absence last summer, any local respite from crime appears to have been short-lived. Rather than waiting around for liberals to do something, City Council member Dennis Schulstad says that he and other Council members are backing a "three strikes" proposal being sent the Legislature. "Decent, hardworking people think that if they commit a crime, they will go to jail, while felons are walking around without any fear," he says. To instill fear into the hearts of the lawless, Schulstad and Co.--who, coincidentally, face re-election this year--propose that the state imposes a minimum sentence of 15 years for a third violent felony conviction.

Schulstad maintains that hardened criminals are flocking to Minnesota in droves because of the state's reputation for being "lax" on incarceration. "Five years ago I met with Chicago's Chief of Police, and he named at least 15 of that town's worst criminals that had moved to Minneapolis." (Illinois's three strikes law requires that a third-time felon gets an additional 20 years tacked on to their sentence.) While Schulstad maintains that he isn't exactly certain of which Council members are endorsing his proposal, he nonetheless acknowledges one adversary, Joan Campbell.

"These kinds of measures don't work," she says. "They're costly and the don't keep criminals from reoffending." To support her case, she cites recent developments in California, where judges have been refusing to impose the mandatory life sentence for a third-time offender because of the astronomical costs and its lack of impact in curbing crime. CP

PUBLICDOMAIN

One of the charming conventions of children's
literature involves one-sentence plot summaries provided along with author, title and the like under the heading: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA. Stripped of their poetry and devoid of pictures, the summaries provide an interesting and amusing glimpse into the world of kids' reading--and authorial intent:

Baby Wants the Moon by Salvatore Murdocca: Sonny worries about how much his baby sister will grow, especially when she seems to eat all the time.

The Berenstain Bears' Trouble With Money by Stan and Jan Berenstain: Brother and Sister Bear learn some important lessons about earning and spending money.

Burton and Dudley by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat: Burton Possum loves to walk. Dudley Possum hates it. A long hike reveals a surprising contradiction in their personalities.

Edward Unready for School by Rosemary Wells: Edward, a shy young bear unready for play school, feels out of place surrounded by students who are ready, busy, and happy.

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