Off Beat

The Paper Chase

STILL REELING FROM the Brian Herron extortion scandal, Off Beat wandered down to city hall last week to do some sleuthing. We weren't alone. News outlets from all over town have submitted requests for information, and a table at the Minneapolis city clerk's office was teeming with documents. City staffers were grumbling that they've had some trouble keeping pace with the paper chase, noting that they've managed to fulfill just 20 of 33 media requests made in the past three weeks. More problematic, they groused, is a July 25 subpoena from federal investigators that must be honored by August 20. The subpoena asks for documents concerning several branches of the city's Department of Regulatory Services, including the inspections and licensing divisions. "We are swamped," notes Jim Moore, an assistant city attorney who says the subpoena represents the most extensive document request in his 11 years on the job . "We figure inspections searches alone will take about 1,900 staff hours." To illustrate how painstaking the process is, Moore cites a search of the e-mail accounts of 60 current and former city council members and their aides, as well as a recipient list of some 700 people seeking license approvals. And that's the easy part. Before it's all over, some 29,000 files will have to be pulled and manually searched. "If there is a 'While You Were Out' note or a Post-it note that got thrown into a file somewhere, we have to find it," he explains. One school of thought is that the feds are conducting a broad search so they won't tip anyone off to what they are really looking for. Does Moore have any idea who or what the investigators are after? "No, I don't," he sighs. "I'm just trying to focus and find the information they requested."

The Right to be Heard

WHEN CITY PAGES last left Mary Fletcher ("A Matter of Principle," August 8), she and her lawyers were nervously waiting to see if U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank would toss out their race-discrimination lawsuit against the Tom Thumb convenience-store chain and the City of Minneapolis. On the day the story hit the streets, attorneys Jill Clark and Jill Waite held an afternoon press conference to announce that the suit would proceed. The claim, brought by Fletcher and her daughter Jean Teamah, alleges that a Tom Thumb manager refused to sell the women lottery tickets because they were black--and one of those tickets bore the winning numbers that would have guaranteed $1,000 a week for life. The lawsuit further states that by failing to investigate the women's claims, the Minneapolis police participated in the discrimination. Sweating under the sweltering sun on the steps of Minneapolis City Hall, Clark told a sparse gathering of reporters that by refusing the defendants' motions to dismiss the racism charges, Judge Frank had opened the door to a precedent-setting lawsuit that could force "retailers and police departments to reevaluate how they deal with blacks." The ruling was not a total win for the plaintiffs; charges of aiding and abetting, false imprisonment, and conspiracy were dismissed, as were charges against two Minneapolis police officers and a 911 operator. Still, if the case isn't settled, a jury will decide whether Tom Thumb and the City of Minneapolis violated state and federal laws prohibiting race and national origin discrimination. "It's very easy to say you're against racism," Waite told the media. "It's very hard to do something about it."

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