Civil Disobedience

Don't want to play by the city's rules? No problem, if you're Dayton Hudson

Nonsense, countered Judge Steven Lange. In 1983, the ordinance had been rewritten specifically to allow the commission to make such decisions following a hearing. The city should remember that, Lange noted, because that's what it argued in 1984 when Dayton Hudson unsuccessfully appealed its debarment.

Next, the city argued that the debarment didn't apply because Minneapolis was practically begging Dayton Hudson to take its money. "It's my opinion--and it has been my opinion for some time--that there should be nothing that prevents the city of Minneapolis from pursuing our objectives to bring a Target onto the Nicollet Mall," Sayles Belton testified during the Opus suit. "The issue of debarment, real or perceived, should not prevent us from meeting that objective."

In January 1998, Judge Lange threw out most of Opus's complaints about the project, but agreed that the city couldn't ignore Dayton Hudson's debarment. Still, since the deal with Dayton Hudson had yet to be inked, Lange said he couldn't stop the city from taking Opus's land.

By the time the issue made it to the City Council Ways and Means Committee last week, the attorneys had formulated a new argument: Not only should the City Council reserve veto power over debarments, they said, Minneapolis also should quit demanding an affirmative action plan for an entire corporation, rather than just the divisions with which it wants to do business. "As a practical matter, the city wants to have as broad an impact as possible," city attorney Norton told the council members. "But I think you've reached both the practical and the legal limits of your authority."

Council member Steve Minn challenged the attorneys, noting that cities throughout the nation stopped doing business with South Africa during the Apartheid era. "If you don't comply outside our boundaries," he said, "we won't provide aid within our boundaries." And while Dayton Hudson has argued that creating a company-wide affirmative action plan would cost it millions, critics note that other large corporations--such as telecommunications giant AT&T, which recently filed its national plan with the city--seem to have no such misgivings.

Dayton Hudson officials have argued that the company's record shows that it doesn't need a formal affirmative action plan to achieve results. "One-third of our employees nationwide are minorities," notes Dayton Hudson senior vice president Jim Hale. "Even in the Twin Cities market, with its low minority population, more than 13 percent of our workforce are people of color. As a company, we do not tolerate discrimination." Hall says Dayton Hudson is planning to file an affirmative action plan for the downtown store once it actually signs a development agreement with the city and Ryan. (At the Ways and Means Committee hearing, council members and city attorneys said the debarment issue never came up in connection with Target's three existing Minneapolis locations, and that at least one of those stores rents space from a city-subsidized development.)

Meanwhile, the City Council is continuing to search for a face-saving way out of its legal tangle. Acknowledging that the situation was politically uncomfortable, council members at last week's meeting suggested that the Civil Rights Commission could continue deciding debarments, while the council could either "ratify" the findings or serve as an appeals board. The practical implications may be minimal, given that the Dayton Hudson debarment is the only one the city has issued in 18 years. But as a matter of principle, says council member Brian Herron, discussions on the future of the civil rights code should be separated from deliberations on the Target impasse. "This is bigger than Dayton Hudson," he told fellow committee members. "To me it's troubling at best to spend public money on a corporation that has trouble coming in and filing an affirmative action plan."

News intern Dan Gearino contributed to this story.

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