Zerby slides toward sunset

Outgoing MPLS CM honored by community group

Paul Zerby, the Minneapolis City Council's Second Ward rep, is counting down his final days in office. He did not seek re-election this year, which, in many ways, is a loss for the city.

Zerby, who is 73, did indeed have a grandfatherly presence on the council, which sometimes made him seem like a dotard. But appearances can be deceiving, and despite long-winded lines of questioning and soliloquies, close observers could see that Zerby was often asking the tough questions that no one else wanted to ask--and certainly didn't want to answer.

Unlike many of his colleagues on the council, Zerby was never one to rubber-stamp any policy piece, no matter how seemingly trivial. He was especially dogged in trying to hammer out the details of the city's deal with Clear Channel, which effectively gave the entertainment behemoth control of the State, Pantages and Orpheum theaters. And any line items on the budget were usually given the thrice-over.

This is not to say Zerby was perfect--many landlords in his ward, especially around the U of M campus, were angry at him for pushing for tougher, more frequent inspections after a fire damaged a rental house. And students themselves harbored ill will toward the council member.

But it should be said that Zerby perhaps did more for police-community relations in Minneapolis the last four years than any other elected official in the city. Zerby was tireless in his pursuit of many details in drafts of a federal mediation agreement broked by the Department of Justice. He often spoke with a sensitivity toward and understanding of communities of color that few of the white power brokers in City Hall share. And after the agreement was signed by the police, city and community leaders nearly three years ago, Zerby took his place as a city rep on something called the Police Community Relations Council.

At the PCRC's regular monthly meeting Wednesday night at the Urban League on the north side, Zerby's work was acknowledged.

With some 15 PCRC members looking on, the Rev. Ian Bethel presented Zerby with a "distinctive service award." Bethel, the co-chair of the group, acknowledged that the community and the city has had some "ups and downs" over how best to adhere to the agreeement that purports to overhaul many of the MPD's policing practices. Still, he noted, that "Paul Zerby has been in the process from day one.

"He always brought a dignified manner," Bethel continued. "And it is with mixed emotions that we see you leaving the city."

Zerby joined Bethel to accept the plaque with a certain humility. "It is with very mixed emotions that I leave the job I'm in," he said. "One of the things I'm most proud of is my work with this group of people."

Zerby went on to note that the PCRC, made up of community reps, police brass, the police union and at least one city official, was at a "turning point." The PCRC is struggling right now over how to correct the MPD's lack of diversity within its ranks as new hires are set to come on board in 2006. Zerby noted the importance of the community's pusuit of more officers of color.

"I'm not good at saying goodbye," Zerby concluded. "I count you all as friends, and I'll see you sometime."

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