Money Pit

Ten years, $200 million, and one heck of a political headache: Minneapolisís grand plan for neighborhood revitalization enters the home stretch.

Counters Miller: "I don't really see myself as pitting the neighborhoods against the city." If politicians argue that the program's agenda should be in line with the city's, he notes, "I could argue that the city's goals should be more in line with the neighborhoods' goals."

 

Despite the grumbling about what Miller has or hasn't done, he and the policy board seem irrevocably wedded to each other. Former and current board members say that there has never been any serious move afoot to oust Miller. "They all like to carp a lot, but nobody wants to pull the string," says McDonald. Behind the scenes, some whisper, Cherryhomes once tested the waters for a bid to orchestrate his ouster; Cherryhomes professes that she has never been a part of any such effort.

"He has certain critics out there," says current policy board chair Stenglein, "but if you think of the kind of tightrope he's walking, he does a very, very effective job." He jokingly adds, "I just wish he would wear a tie."

Miller, whose annual salary is about $90,000, is reviewed annually by the personnel committee of the policy board. According to his most recent evaluation, during the 12-month period ending June 30, 1999 he met the bulk of the objectives outlined for him by the policy board. On a scale from 1 ("unsatisfactory") to 5 ("superior"), Miller got an overall rating of 3.125, a shade above "meets expectations." That was up from 2.94 from the year before.

The review committee also urged Miller to "do a better job reaching out to the communities of color" ("That's one I don't disagree with," Miller says); to "provide active leadership in aligning NRP activities with city goals and objectives"; and to "make a more concerted effort to provide information that is consistent, neutral, and unbiased."

"It's kind of a way to say, 'Get back in line,'" says Miller. "[The review] is a way people can keep me in check. I do push the envelope a lot. I believe that's what I'm supposed to do. I'm not the easiest person to work with in the world."

Miller's style has sometimes gotten him into trouble. He confirms that a few years ago he underwent "sensitivity training" for a remark he made to a co-worker. A staffer he valued was talking about leaving the program, he recalls. "I said, 'Geez, if you leave I'm going to break both your legs,' and she took it to be a serious threat. I shouldn't have said it."

Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, who chairs the personnel committee, says the rating is not influenced by politics. "We're not measuring him on any of the intrigue," she insists. "Bob's reviews have always been good. For the most part he is getting what I would call an average rating." She adds that the policy board unanimously approved his last review.

And no wonder, says former policy board member Ann Berget: It would be hard to find another "masochist" to run the program. Miller keeps an intense, meeting-riddled, arguably workaholic schedule. He returns one phone call regarding this story at close to midnight, after getting out of a neighborhood meeting. Another night he calls at 7:30 p.m., this time between meetings.

In addition to the board's evaluations, Miller currently faces another assessment: In December 1997, the policy board commissioned a study of the NRP from the San Francisco-based consulting firm Teamworks. The report--whose price tag now stands at close to $278,000, paid for by the NRP as well as various government agencies and foundations--is expected to be released in June. A draft of the report has been circulating around city hall; City Coordinator Kathy O'Brien says that "it's not going to be a Good Housekeepingstamp of approval or an indictment." Offers Miller: "I have not been allowed to see it...I normally expect to get beaten up. My hope is that it will be fair."

Whatever the bottom line of the Teamworks study, Miller says disagreements between him and the policymakers have more to do with the structure of the program than with him personally. "The first three or four years, it was like a war," he recalls. "There wasn't a lot of collaboration between the government agencies and the neighborhoods. It was seen as an us-versus-them situation." Many in government, he adds, "were antagonistic to the program from the very beginning."

Miller says he survived the war by carefully picking his battles. "I can appear to be off the wall," he allows. "[But] there aren't a lot of things that I do that aren't calculated to some extent."

 

On February 8 the battle laid out way back at the Northeast Armory came to a head--after a fashion. The occasion was the official meeting to discuss Phase II, the one sponsored by the city council and the policy board. The NRP Phase II Steering Committee had proposed five options for the program. Four of them called for a substantial share of the money--up to 60 percent--to be set aside for "citywide priorities," chiefly affordable housing.

Many neighborhood activists present at the meeting bristled at the idea of any city mandates. By the end of the night, one of them had conducted an admittedly unscientific straw poll. Of 146 people who cast ballots, 50.7 percent favored keeping the status quo.

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