It was standing room only that spilled into the third floor hallway last night at City Hall. Big money was on the table as the 13-member Minneapolis City Council was scheduled to hash out Mayor Betsy Hodges' proposed $1.24 billion 2016 budget.
Before the politicians got to official business, the public stepped to the mic by the dozens.
It took only minutes before a dominant narrative emerged. A funding amendment added just hours earlier that would put $605,000 into fortification of the Fourth Precinct police station turned the meeting into a referendum. The Fourth Precinct station on Plymouth Avenue North was the scene of the 18-day occupation where demonstrators camped out to protest the police shooting of Jamar Clark.
Speaker after speaker — more than 60 would come forward during the three hours of testimony — warned the mayor and council that supporting the "security and accessibility improvements" police station measure would be a slap in the face to North Side residents. Moreover, they said, it would be symbolic of further city investment and support of a police state when what's needed is greater economic and social initiatives in Minneapolis' long neglected northern corridor.
It was politics at its most theatrical. Protocol was often abandoned as speakers dropped f-bombs, called the Mayor by first name, and someone even played the sounds of crickets later on in the evening on a cell phone as Hodges made a speech.
But the politicians must have listened. After the public comments concluded, the Council voted to approve a handful of new amendments, yet the Fourth Precinct proposal, sponsored by Council members Barb Johnson and Blong Yang, and supported by Mayor Hodges, was never brought up.
The political miscalculation ruled the evening, overshadowing any substantial debate on other budgetary topics. The Council approved the budget largely intact, which includes jacking the city's property tax levy by roughly 3.4 percent to bring in $297.5 million. Monies for adding two new police officers were also approved.