In Search of a Good Plumber
EMBARRASSED BY A City Pages story on the Minneapolis Fire Department's trouble figuring out which firefighters are Native American, the City Attorney's Office has launched a probe seeking the identity of the Deep Throat who leaked key information to the paper. The city is understandably touchy about the subject: Fire department officials--under court order for the past 27 years to integrate their staff--have faced charges that they violated their own hiring regulations on the matter several times in years past. The rookie at the center of the current dispute, James Rodger Jr., is the son of Deputy Chief James Rodger Sr., who himself made headlines in 1994 when the city counted him as Native American even though he didn't have the proof that personnel rules require. Shortly after City Pages broke the news of the latest controversy (in a story, "Smoke Screen," first published online on November 5), the City Attorney's Office wrote to Rick Macpherson, the lawyer representing the would-be minority applicants, demanding that he fess up to whatever he knew about the leak. Macpherson responded that he had no idea who the paper's source was but didn't intend to let that point cloud the larger dispute: "While the disclosure of confidential information is a serious matter and needs to be resolved," he wrote, "resolution of the Native American identification issues is also a serious matter that needs to be resolved." He and other members of the panel that oversees the department's integration efforts didn't get any satisfaction at their regular meeting, held last Friday: City representatives all happened to have previous commitments. On Monday Assistant City Attorney Burt Osborne told Off Beat he's still trying to figure out who released the information. "I trust the steering committee and I trust [Macpherson], and I'm always hopeful we can resolve this without running back to the judge," he says. "But if people have signed confidentiality agreements and they've breached those--those are some unpleasant conversations that have to take place."
There's Always Dolphin Staffing
OFF BEAT JUST about choked on our Tootsie Roll last week while loafing around its favorite online hangout, the discussion group Mpls-issues. There, in the middle of a thread in which posters railed against the Star Tribune's city hall coverage, was a lengthy screed from Strib neighborhoods reporter Steve Brandt defending colleague Kevin Diaz. After praising the city hall reporter's "great street instincts," Brandt got down to business: On November 19, he wrote, Diaz would be leaving to become a staff writer for City Paper, a weekly alternative in Washington, D.C. But while Strib editors had known of Diaz's plans for months, he added, "as of now, the job hasn't been posted to allow people to apply either internally or from the outside." Management, he added, was "rethinking how city hall is covered" and pondering whether the budget (see "Buckling Down," left) had room for a new hire. In the meantime, Brandt continued, other reporters from the paper's metro team would have to fill in at city hall--reporters who could not "do as well, or be as motivated, as someone who knows the beat is theirs. Those are the reasons that I'm going to use the right that's in my union contract to withhold my byline whenever I'm asked to sub at city hall until Kevin's replacement is named. I hope that my colleagues would do the same." (Brandt confirms that he took his name off one story this week; so far none of his colleagues has followed suit.) The day after Brandt's item hit cyberspace, Strib editor Tim McGuire told Off Beat that he'd known of Diaz's plans for some time, but hadn't had an actual letter of resignation in hand. He also assured us that the job would be posted "in the next couple of days." Asked whether going public may have forced his employer's hand, Brandt says the e-mail was "one of a number of factors" that also included complaints from vocal metro reporters such as columnist Doug Grow. Observes Grow: "What's kind of surprising is that if we have an opening for a Vikings or a Twins writer, it's an emergency. When it's city hall, though, we just kind of whistle our way down the street as we try to figure it out." Given the historically glacial pace of the Strib's human resources department, the metro team might well be whistling into the millennium.
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