Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"We Need To Get That Building Down ASAP"

Photo By John Hoff

A contact who works in close conjunction with the City of Minneapolis sent me an email and explained why it is some vacant buildings--like 3119 4th Street North--fill with sewer gas. I never knew this. I'm a geek for finding his explanation so fascinating.

But here's the reason:

"When houses/buildings sit vacant, the water in the traps evaporates and allows sewer gas to enter the building."

Huh. I did not know that.

My contact added: "We need to get that building down ASAP." Of course, that's not the ONLY reason to tear it down. Missing copper, full of mold, generally decrepit, nasty and unloved...yeah, and we just recently found out it's full of ASBESTOS. The fun never ends in the Eco Village.

(The photo above is from a burned-out bar in Graceville, Minnesota. I believe the "geisha girl" wallpaper was part of the remains of the woman's bathroom)

(Do not click "Read More")

Take This Car To The Hawthorne Eco-Village!!!!!


How is the Hawthorne Eco Village like Cuba, Libya, Syria or (my personal favorite) Beirut, Lebanon? Well, it turns out the Eco Village is a desirable destination for hijackers. One hijacker, anyway...

According to the 4th Precinct Highlights, Week 554, September 16-September 22, "two 22 & 23 year old females were parked downtown when a male approached and demanded a ride at gunpoint. At the destination--which turned out to be 31st and 4th--the suspect exited and demanded purses, reached into the car and grabbed a phone, striking one of the women and causing facial scratches. The suspect then met with another male. The victims drove home to Coon Rapids and later reported the incident." (Grammar and punctuation cleaned up from original report)

This presents a fine argument for putting a police camera--mobile or otherwise--in the Eco Village.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Hawthorne Oromo Community Steps Forward To Help The Neighborhood

Photos By John Hoff

One of the most delightful and amazing parts of the September 25 Hawthorne Neighborhood Annual Meeting was the arrival of a large group of Oromo, affiliated with the Tawfiq Islamic Center, conveniently located just...

...across the street from Farview Park, where Hawthorne has so many of its various get-togethers and committee meetings.

The large contingent arrived after sundown, when they had completed their Ramadan fast. They were in support of their leader, Dr. Abdi G. Gonjobe. What happened next was complicated and interesting, and more details will hopefully be revealed as discussions take place the situation sorts itself out. But here is the important part:

The Oromo are HERE IN HAWTHORNE. They are standing up to be recognized, and stepping forward to play a larger role in making our community better. Their presence at the mosque at 2900 Lyndale Ave. N. has already improved our neighborhood and helped to drive away prostitution and drug dealing in that part of Hawthorne. Only good things will come of more participation by the Oromo community and its chosen leaders.

"We Have To Come Together For The Good Of Us All" (Ben Marcy Addresses Safety Concerns In The West Bank Area)

Flickr.com Photo

My fellow Humphrey Institute grad student Ben Marcy is a neighborhood rep in the West Bank area, and he recently addressed the growing safety concerns in that Minneapolis neighborhood due to, well...UNSOLVED MURDER.

Here are some remarks recently made by Marcy, and forwarded through one of the (infamous) Humphrey Institute listservs...

Hello Members of the Cedar Riverside Safety Committee,

As most of you are aware there was a terrible tragic murder earlier this week that took away a promising young man with deep impacts on the Somali community and the Augsburg community directly.

Tonight, I was informed that another shooting occurred near the Dar al Quba Mosque. In the recent community meeting held at the Brian Coyle, I was told by several young men that nothing would come of this meeting and someone else would be shot within the next two weeks. It has apparently taken less than that.

The Safety Committee will likely see a mass influx of interest from residents, business owners, and students after these terrible incidents. I have already begun to communicate the date of our next meeting October 7th to many interested parties and know Hani is working very hard doing outreach to bring others in as well.

I think for this next meeting we need to focus on some action items to get residents involved:

1) Reinforcement of the safety walks. This will be a key way for people to participate and build relationships between different members of our community. We have maintained good numbers over the past few months but along with recruiting new members we should also be more strategic in:

•Providing more graffiti removal products to businesses on our walks so they can be more vigilant in removing tags that could signal a safe space for criminals to come into our neighborhood.

•Walking through the Riverside Plaza property to meet residents and encourage them to join us (A remarkable piece of information that I learned this week is that there are residents who want to be active but are afraid of leaving the Plaza on their own after daylight hours. If we meet them as a group and bring them back as a group they would feel more secure) As well we can begin forming relationships with Plaza security.

2) Ride alongs. At our last meeting David Alderson suggested that we find ways to do ride alongs with members of the police. I think that is more necessary now than before. We should compile a list of interested people at our next meeting and if possible ride along in pairs. This could be effective if it were a veteran of the safety committee along with a new member that way in can be a learning process for two unfamiliar members as well between members and the police.

3) Improve communication. At the last Safety Committee meeting, I mentioned that I was working with e-democracy.org on an online neighborhood forum. In this forum, community members can communicate with each other on a message board about pertinent issues in their
neighborhood. Many of the safety committee members believed this would be a good idea to communicate beyond a format of email on a consistent basis to keep people informed about the safety concerns in our community. If you have questions about e-democracy and the possibility
of a forum please email me and I will send you materials.

4) Participating in Police programs. Amie at our last meeting talked about one such program called geoCanvas alerts. Below is more information about the program and how you can get involved through Luther Krueger. (Editor's note: this apparently refers to "hard copy" materials Marcy had with him)

I think these are good starting points. If there are any others please bring them to the next committee meeting. Let's not let our fear and disgust of what has happened hamper us from being active. We know the majority of people who live, work and study in our neighborhood are
good people. We have to come together for the good of us all.

Ben Marcy

Doing Good In The Neighborhood--Chairman Peter Teachout Stands And Delivers (A Speech, That Is, But Actually He's Been Doing All Kinds Of Good Stuff)

Photo By An Eco-Village Resident

Here is the written text of Peter Teachout's speech at the Hawthorne Annual Meeting on September 25...

Hello, I’m Peter Teachout, Chair of the Hawthorne Area Community Council. I haven’t held that position very long, so you’re in luck, that probably means a shorter speech.

I do have a year’s worth of progress to highlight and share with you, but consider for a moment why we are all here. We’re here because this neighborhood is important to us. But, really, isn’t a neighborhood only important because, underlying everything, is the fact that each of us needs a place to feel safe and call home.

So let me tell you about something that happened in my home on Monday.

My daughter, McKenna, is just learning how to walk, and took four whole steps by herself. And the way it happened was I said, “Come to Daddy.” And that didn’t really interest her. But when I held out my cell phone, McKenna was suddenly willing to walk. Actually, she almost ran.

I think our neighborhood is like my daughter who is just starting to walk. Even though there are many in this room who have lived in Hawthorne for decades, in some ways this time is the very beginning of what our neighborhood will become.

We have many empty houses. Who comes to own these houses, who comes to live in them, whether the houses are renovated or pretty much left as they are or knocked down…these next few years will determine the character of our neighborhood for a long time.

The way I look at this community could be the way my daughter looks at walking. We can’t see this neighborhood as full of obstacles. We have to look at Hawthorne as full of opportunity. We have the opportunity to change the neighborhood we live in for the better by capitalizing on our diversity and affordability.

Here in Hawthorne, we take our steps and make our progress through committees. I’m going to tell you about the progress which our four main committees have made.

This year, our Housing Committee has helped Hawthorne establish many new relationships with various city and county departments, the Northside Home Fund, the Housing Preservation Project, and many partner organizations that form the Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition.

Hawthorne is a founding member of the NCRC, which has been engaging banks and financial institutions around the issue of the foreclosure crisis. (Would any Housing Committee members who are here please stand and be recognized?)

You hear about the foreclosure crisis all the time. And it is indeed a crisis as people are in danger of losing their homes. Hawthorne has worked through its partnership with NCRC to prevent foreclosures.

The tireless and passionate work of Housing Director Jeff Skrenes must be credited, here. Jeff is constantly plotting even more ways to reach out to people and prevent foreclosure, and keep people in Hawthorne from losing their property. When you’re talking to Jeff, even casual conversations often turn to in-depth discussion of mortgage issues.

Jeff lives, breathes, eats and sleeps mortgages and our neighborhood has benefited from that kind of focus. National publications like USA TODAY have taken note of Jeff’s work in conjunction with the CitiMortgage lawsuit.

I’ll be saying a bit at the end about that lawsuit. The good news is we sued and we got a settlement and people all over the nation took notice.

I’d like to take a moment to ask Jeff to stand up and be recognized for his heroic efforts on behalf of the Hawthorne neighborhood. Also, Mark Ireland, would you please stand? Mark is the attorney who helped us bring about this victory. (Editor's note: During the actual speech, Teachout made note of the fact Ireland was not present, but acknowledged Ireland along with Skrenes)

I look back on this year and I can hardly believe all this happened in the span of just one year.

In the last year, the Crime and Safety Committee worked with the Police Buy Back Program to help place more police where they are needed. This committee worked to coordinate National Night Out efforts and the Mobile Block Party to help neighbors connect and discuss their concerns for the development of the neighborhood.

All those in the Crime and Safety Committee? Would you please stand and be

This year, we helped shut down open air drug markets at certain intersections. We have much work left to do and need help from our city officials. They’ve been helping us and we are very thankful. All those who work for the City of Minneapolis, if you could please stand and be

The Crime and Safety Committee is also committed to providing support to community activities and projects like the Hawthorne Clean Sweep. Another innovative project has been the Hawthorne Can-Do Bookaway. This program gives away free books to children and families to nourish and strengthen the young minds in our community.

Bryan Thoa Worra has been a driving force behind this endeavor. Bryan? Could you please stand?

Moving on from the Crime and Safety Committee…and I know it’s hard to move on from that, since these issues are so often on the front burner.

But focusing now on the Environment Committee, this committee continued to do work to promote bike lanes and rainwater gardens and encourage high standards for Hawthorne’s environmental safety for residents. Could the members of the Environmental Committee stand?

This is an extremely active committee. They’re very active with Clean Sweep.

I hope every time I say the words “clean sweep,” people are filled a desire to take charge of cleaning up their block. Clean Sweep is a lot of fun. How often can you take a trophy photo with a blown out tire and some yellow bags of litter?

Of course, one way to be an environmentalist is to use a home that’s already built, instead of going out and building another one. This year, several old and existing homes in our neighborhood were part of the St. Paul and Minneapolis Home Tours, and were promoted as examples of the best in Minneapolis.

Here in Hawthorne, we have houses. We have affordable housing stock everywhere. Tell all your friends. Get them to look around Hawthorne and buy into our neighborhood.

But we have some troublesome properties. Fortunately, this year Hawthorne was able to arrange for the demolition of some of those.

The role of business is essential to our progress. This year, the Hawthorne Business Committee has worked to build connections with the business leaders of the Hawthorne Neighborhood.

We plan to bring more regional and national attention to many of the amazing businesses we have, ranging from the world’s largest lutefisk factory to companies such as Kemps and Diamond Vogel paints and emerging businesses such as Taylor Sound that are working to revitalize our

The Business Committee has worked hard to establish a new fa├žade improvement program to assist our businesses in providing a great impression for visitors and residents. (Would the member of the Business Committee please stand?)

The Hawthorne Neighborhood Council has continued to support key efforts such as the Hawthorne Huddle with partners like General Mills. We love our partner, General Mills. I have three children and they love their breakfast cereal, and General Mills makes a lot of that stuff. General Mills brings you products like Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Wheaties. When you’re shopping in the store, please remember who our corporate friends are.

Another of our valuable friends is Farview Park. We are enjoying their facilities right now, as we enjoy them many times a year. These facilities help us connect residents and community leaders with each other, where we can discuss issues ranging from education to youth mentoring, to working with the media to the role of the arts and emergency preparedness.

Paul Jaeger has been the force that keeps Farview Park such a useful
resource. Thank you, Paul Jaeger.

While you work and play and enjoy your homes, your Hawthorne Neighborhood Council represents you at key meetings and events, such as the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition—including the West Broadway Alive! Program—and the Northside Marketing Task Force and testimony before the Third Ward CARE meetings and the Minneapolis City Council on key issues ranging from problem properties to the effectiveness of the neighborhood revitalization program.

None of the things I’ve highlighted would have been possible this year, or any other year, without the support of amazing volunteers and community members like those in the audience tonight. Whether this is your first Hawthorne neighborhood event, or your 400th, we need your continued support as we face the challenges ahead.

In closing, I’d like to highlight a challenge we overcome. We filed a lawsuit against CitiMortgage for predatory lending. The lawsuit was unique in the nation. But it was based on established legal precedent about negligent lending.

The suit was recently settled and, as the Star Tribune said on Monday, we made CitiMortgage eat a $200,000 mortgage and we got a piece of property needed for the Eco-Village development for just $18,500, basically the cost of the lot.

I want to point out CitiMortgage has admitted no wrongdoing. But draw your own conclusions about who came out on top.

The Hawthorne Neighborhood took a few baby steps, and a scary giant fled in fear. Can you imagine what our future holds? We could become the place everybody wants to move, and people will wish they had bought property here when prices were so low.

We can do it, working together. This is only the beginning. We are still growing.

It is an honor to be your chair, and to present the highlights of the progress we have made together in the last year.

And now I’d like to introduce Laban Ohito.

What Next At 3119 4th Street N.? A Rain Of Toads And Blood?

Photo By John Hoff

Word reaches me from "Patty Cake" in the Eco-Village of a disturbing new problem with 3119 4th Street N., which sits empty and awaiting demolition...

"Patty" emails me today as follows:

I called 911 yesterday on 3119 4th (St. N.). I smelled a natural gas smell coming from the apartment windows. I came to find out it isn't natural gas but SEWER GAS.

The fire department called the gas company and then told me the gas was already shut off. I was told there was nothing they could do about the sewer smell and only a SLIGHT possibility the sewer gas would build up enough to BLOW UP.

In a follow-up phone conversation, I learned from "Patty" that one of the guys bidding on the demolition reports the building is full of asbestos, which will make demolition a lot more complicated and costly. And fun, of course. Don't forget fun. Ooooooh, moon suits. I love moon suits.

In the meantime, now is the perfect time to talk about an itsy bitsy foray into 3119 4th St. N. which happened more than a month ago. See, "Patty Cake" is very allergic to mold, and due to water gushing inside and flooding the basement after copper pipes were stolen, the building has become Mold-O-Topia...to the point mold could be strongly smelled outside the building, and "Patty Cake" had to take a sick day at work from breathing that (expletive) in.

Right after "Patty" took a sick day, I went to "3119"...and I may have had my friends with cameras along with, who knows? And acting under the broad and sensible "adopt houses" mandate, I went inside and secured as many wide-open windows as I could, to keep the mold spore contained inside to keep "Patty" from getting sick. Sicker.

And, in fact, during Mayor Rybak's visit to the tree nursery, I told him quite openly about this little adventure...and Peter Teachout told him, at the same time, about taking shoes off power lines.

And with the cameras rolling and everything, nobody said "Don't do that" and so I figured, hey, it's coooool, so I decided I wouldn't have to write up my little They-Came-From-Planet-Mold adventure using the literary artifice of "The Ghost of Uncle Jack" to talk about who it was, exactly, who secured that building to trap The Spore. (I did, in fact, use some of Uncle Jack's nails which "Patty Cake" gave me. Uncle Jack is the relative who build the house in which "Patty" now resides. Uncle Jack still resides there too, kind of, heh heh)

Anyway, closing off the windows made things better as far as the mold spore issue, but after a while "Patty" noticed I'd either missed a couple windows or somebody had gotten inside and opened one of the windows, possibly even a city worker; since "Patty" had been making calls about the uber-toxic "Mold-O-Topia" situation next door, and its impact on her quality of life. And I meant to write about my little mold-containment foray but, good lord, I can hardly keep up with everything.

Mold is a very primitive life form. Mold can wait its turn in line while I write about life forms like gangsters with digital cameras. (Click here)

I kept meaning to get inside "3119" again and close those windows, really, but now it turns out it's a good thing I didn't...I mean, in light of the sewer gas.

Did I say LIGHT? No, I didn't mean that. Please, don't light anything.

Well, at least "3119" has a few windows to vent from, while the mold spore is still mostly contained. These are the kind of desperate "life in a lifeboat" issues we deal with in the Eco-Village:

Scary Mold Spore Mutant Attack or Revenge of the Sewer Gas.

Pick yer poison.

Flipper Hurts Her Flipper (Get Well Soon And Just Blame T.J. Waconia)

Flickr.com photo

First of all, there's nothing funny about hand injuries, which are extremely painful due to the enormous number of nerve endings in the fingers. Ever notice a cut to your hand hurts a lot, but the same kind of cut to your leg hurts much less? Nerve endings.

Don't get me started about the enormous number of small blood vessels in the face. Some subjects put me into "army medic mode."

Anyway, right after I wrote those last three blog posts about the flipper who bought that (former) T.J. Waconia property, I got the following report from my real estate friend, Jeanie Hoholik, who tells this...

"My flipper girl was working with her contractor today to take down the awning at (3306) James (Ave. N.) and it slipped as she grabbed it. She tore off her finger tips and, by the sounds of it, will no longer have finger prints. Yowser! Funny, her manicure was still intact."

This picture of flowers, from Flickr.com, is my "virtual" get well soon card. Here's wishing "flipper girl" a speedy recovery, from Johnny Northside Dot Com.

P.S. Some folks might look at not having fingerprints as a good thing, but guess what? Those folks no longer own 3306 James Ave. N.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

How A High Paid Executive Became A Flipper In North Minneapolis, The Inside Story

Photos By Jeanie Hoholink

Jeanie Hoholik of Keller Williams told me this story, and if you go to this link you can get another account--from Hoholik's blog--about one of the houses flipped by her client.

The flipper in question was a high-paid executive for a well-known corporation, which just so happens to have its corporate headquarters here in Minnesota. She was making good money, and her job involved going to various branches of the business to figure out what was wrong and make it right. She was good at her job, but longed to take a new life and career direction.

Her new career direction happened because of watching a-few-too-many episodes of television shows about house flipping. She thought, "I totally could do that!"

So she took fate in her hands and bought a house in North Minneapolis, at 2319 West Broadway, to be specific. The house was listed at $74,900 but the would-be flipper got the house for $62,000. After improving the house, she sold it for $139,000, though it was originally listed at less--$133,900.

Well, I know the feeling, kind of. Once you taste the intoxicating nectar of profitable flipping, it's hard to stop.

Gangsters Mess Up Her Goals

The flipper next bought a house at a location I will not disclose on Irving Ave. N. She bought the house for $70,000 though it was listed at $74,000. This time, she didn't have such good luck, mostly because "gangsters" right across the street were doing their (expletive) (expletive) drug deals and generally making life (expletive).

(Those are my expletives, not hers. For the record)

The flipper managed to find a buyer, a tough old veteran of the armed forces who works at Fort Snelling Cemetery. He wasn't scared of the so-called "gangsters." He bought the house for $95,000 and moved in.

Back On Her Feet, Applying Lessons Learned

The flipper was now determined to limit her house purchases to certain areas within North Minneapolis, and avoid "gangster territory." She learned to do more neighborhood research, such as looking at crime maps...

Her next deal at 3323 Morgan Ave. N. went a lot better. The house was originally listed at $79,900 but the flipper got it for $49,500. She sold it for $137,000. Life was good again. She could make a living like this, despite mistakes with the last property.

The flipper next purchased 3346 Girard Ave. N., originally listed at $83,500. She got the house for a mere $49,000, roughly what she'd paid for the previous house on Morgan Ave. N.


By this time, the flipper had a posse; a trusted group of contractors who performed work well and charged reasonable prices. Of course, the flipper knew how to perform some of the renovations herself, and all the time she was learning.

The flipper and her "contractor posse" poured their efforts into 3346 Girard Ave. N.

The house is now ready. The photos show what it has become. If you want to buy the house, it is listed by Jeanie Hoholik of Keller Williams.

The Mess T.J. Waconia Left Behind At 3306 James Ave. N. Fortunately Falls Into The Right Hands

First Amendment Comment And Criticism

As discussed in my previous post, an intrepid and rare breed of "benevolent flipper" managed to buy a T.J. Waconia house at 3306 James Ave. N., jumping through what turned out to be relatively minor bureaucratic hoops....

However--and I should point this out--it may have been so much easier because this buyer has a well-documented history of renovating houses and selling the properties to homeowners, not slumlords.

In any case, the house at 3306 James Ave. N. recently changed hands, and these informative pictures show what T.J. Waconia left behind. Multiply this by 140, approximately.

However, even though there's a lot of work to be done, the place isn't THAT BAD. It's a solid house with character, and it shows serious potential to become a very nice home in the hands of a skilled flipper with a proven history...plus a concern for the neighborhood! (Come down to Hawthorne, girl, we'll treat you right)

Also, the house is developing an interesting history, part of it documented right here. This could make for some great conversations during a house-warming party.

To my "fellow benevolent flipper" I say:

You go, girl. You keep flipping them North Minneapolis houses.

Overcoming Obstacles, A "Benevolent Flipper" Buys A T.J. Waconia House And Works To Revitalize North Minneapolis

Photo By Jeanie Hoholik

I have developed a new source, Jeanie Hoholik of Keller Williams Classic Realty, (click for her website) and then click here for her blog. She is telling me the ins and outs of helping one of her clients to buy a T.J. Waconia house.

Why? To flip it, of course! But in a good way! Just look at the photo above to see the kind of work this flipper has done, with all her sales to homeowners, not slumlords. If you like the photo above, that house is 3346 Girard Ave. N. and it's for sale right now, listed at $150,000.

Yes, these are the kind of "flippers" we need in North Minneapolis. I've invented the term "benevolent flipper" to describe a kind of flipper who considers impact on the neighborhood, and not just the financial bottom line.

A Messy Back Story

As most regular readers know, T.J. Waconia was a high-profile mortgage fraud controversy involving Thomas Balko and Jon Helgason, who ultimately pleaded out to mere "mail fraud" charges, but...

...sentencing has not yet taken place. Latest word from the T.J. Waconia Victims Blog is that sentencing "might take place some time in December" but that is "not definite." (Note to readers: wear an asbestos suit if you want to participate in that blog, things get incredibly hot, there!) My position on the matter continues to be "let the punishment fit the crime." Balko and Helgason should serve their sentence under "house arrest" in one of their own properties in North Minneapolis.

Meanwhile, there has been a lot of speculation and worry about what is going to happen with the 140 approx. houses which bear the black mark of T.J. Waconia. (For a convenient but possibly not complete list of those houses, click here)

Life After T.J. Waconia

The question is: can people buy these houses? Is it possible to get a good deal? Is buying one of the T.J. Waconia houses really complicated? How can they be purchased at all? What is the process? The most up-to-date information (until this blog post) could be found in a September 9 blog post about investment property, click here, about how T.J. Waconia's "legacy" still haunts North Minneapolis

Attentive readers will note Jeanie Hoholik posted a comment on that blog post, saying she was regretfully steering clients away from the T.J. Waconia houses because of the complications. But Hoholik's position on the matter has now changed. She has figured out it is indeed possible to buy these houses and jump through the necessary hoops, which aren't even that bad. There is some minor bureaucracy involved, but Hoholik tells me the authorities at the Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation are "approachable" and "easy to work with." She would even go so far as to say "nice."

In conversing with Hoholik the other day at the Loring Pasta Bar (where they have an excellent "salad au savage") I pointed out a contradiction to her: if she had developed some specialized expertise in getting these houses sold, she might be better off keeping such knowledge to herself and, that way, capture a bigger piece of the real estate market. Hoholik said she understood that, but like her client--the "benevolent flipper"--Hoholik weighs "the greater good" into her calculations, and not just pure financial self-interest.

The sale of a T.J. Waconia house at 3306 James Ave. N. to Jeanie Hoholik's client is the first such sale I've heard about since these houses came under at least PARTIAL city control due to their former association with T.J. Waconia prior to foreclosure. This is unconfirmed, but it might be the first such sale, PERIOD, and thus a lot can be gleaned from revelations about the process. That knowledge can be applied to the remaining 140 or 139 or however many houses remain on the infamous "T.J. Waconia list."

Sucked Into The T.J. Waconia Controversy

It was my own crazy and merely momentary idea--back in about January of this year--that I might be able to get a really good "fire sale" price and buy one of those T.J. Waconia houses. Though life turned out to be a lot more complicated than my naive initial notion, in doing my research and making queries I was pulled ever deeper into the fascinating story of T.J. Waconia, and I haven't left it--NOR BEEN FREAKING ABLE TO LEAVE IT--ever since.

Now along comes Hoholik, furthering my entanglement in the T.J. Waconia saga. Here is Hoholik's story, which arrived in an email today.

My client and I were able to get around the TJ Waconia holding-houses-hostage debacle. We put in an offer to the listing agent on the property at 3306 James Ave. N. that was listed on the MLS on August 8. The house was bank owned, so we knew that it would take some time to get a response. When we did get a response, we were told there was another offer on the table so make it our best offer.

We held fast and were told a few days later the bank wanted to negotiate with us. We didn't budge in our asking price so the bank eventually turned us down on August 13.
We kept watching the house activity on the MLS and decided to put in another offer on September 2. The bank came back and said, "What can I say? Persistence pays!" We got the house. We even got the bank to pay for the $6,000 code compliance fee assessed by the City of Minneapolis. I called my client right away and told her the good news. We were high-fiving it over the phone.

It wasn't five minutes later that the listing agent called back to say we couldn't buy the house because it was in the hands of the Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation. They are overseeing all of the TJ Waconia owned properties. I called them (GMHC) to see if I could get my hands on a clean list.

(Comment by Johnny Northside: A "dirty" list might be easier and a lot shorter. Start with this one, click here)

Before we ever got that far, we had a very nice conversation about the houses which my client has purchased and rehabbed over the last two years. I sent the nice lady at GMHC, Stephanie Gruver, "before" and "after" pictures of the homes that my client has refurbished. Gruver was very impressed. She said she would take the information and go over it with the powers-that-be and let me know if maybe they could let us buy the house even though it's on "the list."

She called me back in a couple of days and told us that, yes, we could.
We signed an agreement with them to promise to put the home back into good condition. I had the pleasure of calling the listing agent to let them know that we could indeed buy the house. They were surprised and delighted. We signed the purchase agreement with the bannk and we closed on September 25.

A great story, Jeanie, and a very socially useful one to share.

My next blog post will show the house at 3306 James Ave. N., and what kind of condition it was left in. Hoholik's client will be turning that house around, baby. Hey, after all, she signed a promise...and that still means something to SOME people.

My blog post after that will have pictures showing some of the spectacular renovation work which Jeanie's client has performed, and tell the story of how she left a high-paying job as a business executive to live the uncertain, but highly-rewarding life of a flipper. (I would like to think the life of a "benevolent flipper" is even MORE rewarding)

"This Neighborhood Has Thrown Out Prostitutes And Drug Dealers"

Photo By John Hoff

City Council Member Diane Hofstede came to the Hawthorne Annual Meeting, and in a short but lively speech told the crowd that our neighborhood had been standing up to prostitutes and drug dealers...

And showing them the door. Hofestede asked for continued support in the struggle to get such things as buses, and emphasized the need to create "green jobs."

Lisa Mitchell Must Be Eating Her Wheaties!

Photo By John Hoff

When I first met Lisa Mitchell, we went out to pick up litter together during the Hawthorne Clean Sweep. But these days... Lisa is working for General Mills, a wonderful corporation which provides a lot of support to the Hawthorne neighborhood. Gee, Lisa is really moving up in the world. What accounts for this? Eating her Wheaties, I guess.

Lisa is pictured, below, with her daughter "Sisi." (See-see)

(Do not click "Read More")

What Accounted For The Heavy Annual Meeting Turnout? (We're Still Wondering!)

Photos By John Hoff

The turnout for the Annual Meeting was heavy. The board votes looked like a precinct caucus, even with a lot of candidates going for seats unopposed. After the incredible meeting, I met at Broadway Pizza with Jeff Skrenes, Bryan Thao Worra, and Peter Teachout. We speculated about what had caused the heavy turnout.

One theory was the recent lawsuit settlement with CitiMortgage, and lingering excitement in the neighborhood. Another theory was simply a lot of effort put into going door-to-door and passing out fliers. My own theory: the invitations had a right-to-the-point phrase which I've seen make all the difference in a CAMPUS environment: FREE FOOD.

Below, Brian R. came all the way from the Homewood neighborhood of Willard-Hay after I invited him by email. Brian sees the struggles in Hawthorne as connected to the fate of his own neighborhood and the reputation of North Minneapolis.

Above, "Likable" Larry Rosenthal, one of the new owners of 3000 Lyndale Ave. N., came in response to a flyer I left stuck in his fence gate. The young woman is his niece.

(Do not click "Read More")

A Miracle Of Biblical Proportions At The Hawthorne Annual Meeting

Photo By John Hoff

This little boy is named Joshua. Just to keep him entertained for a moment, I started singing that old song from Sunday school: "Joshua fought the battle of Jerico, Jericho, Jericho." Well, little Josh liked it and thus I was compelled to sing the song more. I may have met the one person in the world who likes my singing.

Oh, wait. I think Joshua just knows and likes THE SONG.

(Do not click "Read More")

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Music To Meet And Greet By

Photo By John Hoff

See that window behind the musicians? Yeah, that's where I got some pictures for this other post, click here. But in regard to the music...

It was good but not overwhelming...music to meet and greet by, I guess you would call it.

Julie Johnson is seated to the left (flute) and Steve Haskins to the right (guitar). They were nice enough to donate one of their CDs to the door prize giveaway.

Here is Julie's website, click here.

Scenes From The Hawthorne Annual Meeting

Photos By John Hoff

Top, Peter Teachout, Jr. selected a book from the Great Hawthorne CanDo Bookaway! about Abraham Lincoln. Peter already had a six-year-old's grasp of history as he asked me, "Abraham Lincoln got shot in the head, right?"

Second from top, the sign in process was very important because board voting was done by quadrants.

Third from Top, Rose Teachout poses with some decorations. I heard somebody ask how Joy Teachout came to take on so much responsibility for decorating and catering. Somebody answered Joy's husband was the chairman, so it was "like being the pastor's wife." Nobody was complaining. Everybody was glad somebody was doing it. Just getting all the board positions filled is a challenge, let alone getting work done.

Below, Hawthorne was giving away the "old stlye" shirts to anybody who wanted one. Since there were no years on the shirts, I figured it was like the "old model" mattresses. Honestly, can you really tell a 2007 from a 2008?

There is one important distinction, however. HACC applied to be called HNA, and the change apparently was allowed...so I'll be saying Hawthorne Neighborhood Association from this blog post forward. I still hear plenty of people saying "hack" however, which rolls off the tongue easier than "HNA."

(Do not click "Read More")

Bashir Moghul Makes An Appearance

Photo By John Hoff

I saw a guy standing in the hallway whose name tag said "Bashir," and I thought "how many Bashirs can there be in Hawthorne?" I asked if he was Bashir Moghul, and he was. Yes, the former owner of...

409 31st Ave. N., the address which Jeff Skrenes uses as an example of "one transaction flipping." Of course, that was two transactions removed from Bashir's ownership of the place. Bashir doesn't have a problem with 409 31st Ave. N. It's out of his hands. But the folks who bought it from the people who bought it from Bashir...well, um, that's a mess. Federal tax liens. Mortgage fraud. Quite a mess.

It was good to meet Bashir and shake his hand. I told Bashir there was somebody he should meet, and made a point of introducing him to Chairman Peter Teachout, but I'm sure Jeff Skrenes already knew Bashir due to Jeff's all-consuming interest in mortgage issues.

Minnesota House Of Representatives Candidate Yoman Brunson (Republican) Asked To Leave Hawthorne Annual Meeting (And Then He Gets SCHOOLED)

Photo By John Hoff

Shortly before the annual meeting, Minnesota House of Representatives candidate Yoman Brunson arrived, and began passing out fliers.

I spoke to him briefly and...

...found him quite pleasant. When he handed me his flier, I was looking for one thing: Brunson's party affiliation.

Candidate? Or "Mystery Can?"

I looked. I looked. I flipped the flier over. I looked again. Was I missing it?

"So," I asked. "Are you a Democrat? A Republican? A Green?"

He'd have my vote if he were a green. Any Green party candidate would have to get up early Monday morning and work hard until late Sunday night, messing up, before they'd lose my vote.

"I'm a Republican," he answered, right away.

"Where is your party affiliation on this flier?" I asked, a wee bit accusatory. Yeah, like leaving off "REPUBLICAN" was an accident in a district where, historically, Republicans fare poorly during elections. (Brunson's own blog points to 60 years of DFL control)

"It's not on there," he answered.

"Gee, don't you think that's KIND OF IMPORTANT?" I asked.

He told me it was the MESSAGE which mattered. I was all, like, if it's the MESSAGE that matters, why bother having political parties at all? Let's let everybody run on their own message and have to explain what they stand for from Square One. Heck, let's stop labeling food in packaging. Let everything be a SURPRISE like the "Mystery Cans" my family used to dive out of dumpsters.

(OK, I didn't actually say all that during our brief conversation, but I'm saying it NOW)

Seems Nice (As Evidenced By Smile)

I didn't want to argue. Brunson seemed quite sincere and the fact he was emphasizing GET MORE POLICE OFFICERS caught my riveting attention immediately. Yes, I want more cops. I want sting operations in North Minneapolis, not just South Minneapolis. I want enough cops to sit in one place long enough to bust the open air drug markets. I could go along with what he was saying. I'd prefer to compare it to what his opponent was saying, of course.

I took his picture and promised to write about him on my blog. I WAS NOT THE ONE WHO COMPLAINED ABOUT HIM PASSING OUT FLIERS. I just want to make that clear. If it were me, I'd be bragging about it. In the back of my mind, I thought his campaigning at the meeting might not be welcomed, but I was a lot more concerned about the drug dealing I photographed right outside the window or daring daylight raids on the buffet table by unaccompanied minors than I was about Yoman Brunson.

A short while later, though, I saw one of the folks in charge speaking to Brunson and telling him this was our ANNUAL MEETING, and not really a time and place for people running for office to show up and campaign. (For one thing--and I'm just adding this on my own--we were having an election in that very room in a few hours)

Brunson was cool about it. He smiled and left right away. Heck, he never STOPPED smiling. His smile is perpetual.

Grading Brunson's Website: B Plus.

Here is Brunson's website, click here. First, let me critique the website before I address the guy's platform. I'm going to pretend Brunson is one of my students fromt the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and this was an assignment we gave him...only I'd probably dial back the critique quite a bit for students. Well, except during the first couple weeks of the semester. Duh!

First of all, Brunson's website doesn't have enough content. Content, all the time, something new every day if possible, students. Yeah, I sometimes don't follow that suggestion myself...but then I make up for it by racking up more than a hundred posts in a month, so it more than averages out.

If worse comes to worse, put up some pictures. People love to see themselves (if it's a complimentary likeness) and see folks they know (whether it's a good picture or not).

So, yeah, as a WEBSITE Brunson's blog needs more daily content. But if you wanted to go there one time and browse around for info about Brunson and what he stands for...well, it's quite adequate as a source of information.

However, the blog could use a proofreader who paid more attention in English class than Brunson apparently did. The guy's not half bad, but there's quite a few glaring errors...leading me to wonder if Brunson has ANYBODY working daily on his behalf except Brunson, himself.

OK, for example...Brunson is really emphasizing that "more cops, more public safety" thing, calculating (quite smartly, I think) North Minneapolis residents are so fed up with crime they'd vote for somebody promising more cops and ignore party labels...especially when Brunson is going out of his way to soft-pedal or even CONCEAL his own party affiliation.

In any case...let me point out the messy errors and sloppy communication in one small piece of Brunson text. (The Latin word "sic" stands for "thus," and when inserted into text draws attention to an error quoted verbatim in the original text)

We Have Some Work To Do!
There have been many success (sic) in the Northside, but we continue to face the same problems. Today, I was door-knocking in our neighborhoods, and there were many things that I am not pleased with. As I was door knocking, I noticed many illegal activities taking place. Namely, selling drugs in our neighborhoods. I do not appreciate this activity in our neighborhoods, during the middle of the day, in front of children, and 2 inches away from myself.

(Paragraph break not in original text)

As I continued to make my way through our neighborhoods, and spoke to more neighbors, some indicating they are feed up (sic) and are waiting to move away from our district. Now is not the time to turn our backs on our district. Like I say, working together, there is nothing we cannot achieve. We must work together to take back our streets and neighborhoods. A change is not going to occur overnight however, showing everyone the unity of our community will have lasting effects. I will not stand by and allow my community to slip backwards, and I know many of you in our community will not let that happen as well. Let's work together to make a real impact, and make this the best district in Minnesota!

Sigh. OK, this might hurt a little. First I'd lavish praise on the student about what I see as strong CONTENT. Brunson, you're out there pounding the sidewalks and you're inches from drug dealers. You want MORE COPS. Very good and basic, especially when you have to keep it simple because this is a flier, after all. But you've got a bunch of technical errors.

First, you need to fix the obvious typos designated by "sic." Did you proofread? Well, then it may be necessary to proofread TWICE, Mr. Brunson. Citizens are "feed up?" Sir, your opponents will have a field day with that, even if it's behind your back.

Moving on...in the second and third sentences, you repeat the "I was doorknocking" thought twice. Repeating ideas with very similar wording causes readers to tune out. So find a way to phrase it in a fresh way. How about, "As I walked the sidewalks between the houses of residents"?

OK, now note how you used the word "namely." It's not really used correctly. If you said, "I saw a prominent drug dealer, namely Khameron Lake" then you'd be using the word correctly. I think you were going for a word like "specifically." Oooh, that's a good word. Without using it TOO MUCH, you may want to sprinkle that word around, so folks in the district will say stuff like "He doesn't talk in vague generalities, but gets down to the SPECIFIC details."

Now then, in the last sentence of your first paragraph--and yes, I gave you some paragraph breaks. People DO NOT LIKE thick text. Their eyes need a break. But in the last sentence, it's not clear whether you're being a little humorous of if you're actually suggesting reform measures like...get the drug dealers to only deal at night, so children getting off the bus don't see it.

Why not go right after your opponent's jugular here, Mr. Brunson? Say something like "Sixty years of DFL leadership in this district have not changed daily reality in North Minneapolis: drug dealers who peddle their poison in the middle of the day, in front of children getting off the school bus, inches away from decent citizens?"

You like that? Oh, you like that A LOT? Well, you may have it, Mr. Brunson, because I'm playing the role of an editor, here, but in future assignments I want to see content that sizzles. You're holding back, afraid to make a mistake. You're walking when I want to see you run.

Moving on to your second paragraph...have you counted how many times you say "neighborhoods" and "neighbors?" Well, it's repetitive.

Your first sentence in the second paragraph is not a sentence at all. It's a very long sentence fragment or a mechanically flawed sentence in need of revision.

Here, try this: change it to "some residents indicated." That fixes the whole problem.

You still don't understand why that's not a sentence the way you had it before? Well, it reads like a very long introductory phrase to...something.

Read it aloud Mr. Brunson. Tiffany--I see you're just waiting in line, so would you mind being Mr. Brunson's audience? Mr. Brunson, read that portion the way you have it. Read it to Tiffany and see how it sounds to HER ear.

(Looking at the clock on the wall while Brunson reads it aloud. Tiffany--who can be depended on for this kind of thing--agrees vigorously with my assessment)

Ah, now you hear it, too, don't you? It's like part of a song hanging in the air, waiting for more notes.

OK, we've got more students in line, here--thank you, Tiffany--so let's forge our way to the end.

I'll skip over the awkward "feed up" thing. We all make mistakes, just let it go.

I think you need to put the word "however" in front of that NEXT sentence. Try it. Just see how it reads. Note how it softens the argument, the contradiction between those two sentences? You use the word "however" later, but replace it with "but" and drop the comma.

Your phrase here concerns me: "Like I say." Seriously, you're quoting yourself in your own flier? Lose that phrase. 'Nuff said.

In regard to your final sentence...eh, "best district in Minnesota?" You really think people have that kind of DISTRICT loyalty like they have strong attachment to their neighborhood, their street, their town? Honestly, many of them will find it a revelation to learn they live in District 58B. Don't take your own feelings about District 58B and get 'em all confused with your CONSTITUENTS' feelings. (By the way, how come your website URL says "58" instead of "58B?" Were you confused about the name of the district? Well...never mind)

You need another sentence at the end to give your conclusion more "Oomph." No, sir, I'm not going to give it to you, I gave you plenty already. Struggle with it. Show me something creative. AMAZE ME, MR. BRUNSON.

Very good. NEXT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Teaching Assistant Needs A Drink

That evening, in the teacher's lounge, I would pop an Advil, slam it down with Diet Coke, and (very properly and legally) confide in one of my fellow instructors about the painful "they are feed up" error I saw in one of my student papers.

But don't worry, I would jokingly assure my comrade--and I'd dig around in "the stack" for Brunson's paper so I could read aloud from it--no, don't be concerned because "there have been many success in the Northside."

To hammer the point home about how BAD the paper was, I'd say, "That's the FIRST sentence. The LEAD sentence." There have been many success in the Northside.

"God help us," my fellow instructor would say, or something like that. Then he'd ask me about the grade.

"B plus," I'd answer. "Gotta inflate it a little bit. Do you think I want to spend half an hour in the professor's office listening to a sermon about Brunson's precious self-esteem and then see the grade revised upward, anyway? Besides, I think Brunson's problem is he doesn't proofread. It's hard to break some people of the habit of refusing to be introspective..."

(Now I'm pontificating, but my co-worker wouldn't mind...since I'm always willing to switch roles and listen to HIM pontificate)

Better Luck Next Election, Brunson

"...and there's a basic 'politician personality' which is like that. They're a painted facade, hiding a bunch of pain behind a smile, a chameleon-like personality. It's too painful to look inside, to have the obvious flaws pointed out, even by oneself. ESPECIALLY by oneself. The only way to help young Brunson is to show him that his opponents WILL SEE HIS ERRORS and will GLEEFULLY SEIZE UPON THE ERRORS. So Brunson needs to root out the errors himself if he wants to win...next time."

Here's The Cherry Of Rich Irony Atop The Political Ice Cream Sundae

Brunson's flier includes the following suggestion for schools: "Focus on the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic in our schools. Make our schools accountable for meeting these standards." He also wants to "ensure school choice" by such things as "school vouchers, home schooling, public and charter schools."

I wonder...what must have happened in his own schooling experience to make Brunson so "feed up" with the public education system?

I'm reminded of what (Brunson's fellow Republican) President George Bush said: "Is our children learning?"

How Would You Like Your Bread Cut? In Pieces!!!!

Photo By John Hoff

During preparations for the Annual Dinner, there was a silly little in-joke floating around in the kitchen.

Q: How would you like your bread cut?
A: In pieces.

Well, the bread got cut. It got cut GOOD.

(Photo By John Hoff)

For All That We Have Achieved (The Speech Of Executive Director Laban Ohito)

Photo By An Eco-Village Resident

At the Annual Meeting our new Executive Director, Laban Ohito, delivered his speech in formal attire, of course! But the photo above...

...shows him as we so often see him...digging into the messy details, pitching in, not afraid to get his hands dirty. This photo was taken by Pam Patrek during a "Rebuilding Together" event in the Eco-Village.

Here is the text of Director Ohito's prepared remarks delivered September 25.

I want to welcome you all to our Annual Dinner for the year 2008. This is a time for us to celebrate the achievements we have made for the last one year.

For all that we have achieved, we are indebted to all those individuals who dedicated themselves to improving the lives of people who reside in our neighborhood and bettering our community.

They deserve recognition and our lasting thanks for the contribution they made toward improving life for all of us right from the day of our organization's inception. Our special gratitude goes to:

* The City of Minneapolis for funding us through NRP.

* General Mills for continuous assistance.

* Home Depot.

* The McKnight Foundation.

It is with great pleasure that I take this opportunity to let you know that we have a plan to unveil a new strategy for developing the Hawthorne community. The four major goals identified by our Board include:

Affordable Housing--Maintain and expand the supply of safe, affordable housing throughout the community.

Business Development--Help businesses grow in ways which create employment opportunities for lower income persons.

Environmental Conservation.

Safety and Security of the Neighborhood--Help law enforcement agencies in their spirited fight to reduce crime.

Strengthening the Hawthorne Neighborhood is our ultimate objective. We want to continue to expand opportunities that promote neighborhood cohesion, stability, and sustainable development.

Our community development strategy has five inter-related core elements:

* Redevelopment of pivotal properties in target areas within the neighborhood.

* Increasing home ownership: Investing in first time home buyers.

* Strengthening neighborhood organizations. Developing leadership and empowering the neighborhood residents.

* Forging strategic partnerships.

* Making the neighborhood green. Developing pathways and bicycle routes to ensure the safety of our road users.

To achieve these objectives we need to restructure our organization to respond to the current community needs. We are in the process of making the necessary structural changes in the organization.

We have advertised the job of Assistant Director of Community Affairs. Specific Duties and Responsibilities will include:

* Assessing and evaluating community assets and strengths.

* Designing and developing community participation processes.

We want a qualified individual who understands community organizing as a bigger picture, i.e. as a practice that refers to the entire process of organizing relationships, identifying issues, mobilizing around those issues, and maintaining an enduring organization.

Enforcing the law is a tedious process. But enforcing the law in North Minneapolis is a daunting task. In this community, we are lucky to have Inspector Martin who not only loves what he does in the community but is also very passionate about his duties and responsibilities.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming our guest speaker tonight: Inspector Martin.

Was It The Annual Meeting Or The Annual DINNER?

Photos By John Hoff, September 25

Though the September 25 event was billed as the "Annual Meeting," the food almost stole the show. In fact, the food would have easily stolen the show if not for...

...the fact there was such an exciting and participatory election.

But let's get back to the food. A lot of the food was provided by For All Occasions Catering. ("Considerate People...Considerate Service...Consider It Done.") Their baked chicken was so delicious that Executive Director Laban Ohito expressed an interest in getting the recipe.

Other great food was provided by Bangkok Market and Deli, located in our own neighborhood. Some of their food included an exotic "shredded papaya salad" which was delicious. The owner of Bangkok Market is in the bottom picture.

(If you're wondering about the guy in the gas mask, well, this is something he does to deal with his incredibly severe allergies)

Scam Email Takes A Disturbing New Twist In Light Of The Mortgage Crisis

Photo By John Hoff, September 25

HACC Housing Director Jeff Skrenes is so completely obsessed with mortgages, that sometimes he will say, "Let me show you something funny!" And then he'll share a snippet of audio from the Onion website, or some cheeky parody article...but the subject is still MORTGAGES, MORTGAGES, MORTGAGES.

Well, Jeff was being "classic Jeff" again when he sent me this...

Bearing the subject line "Important Request," the email reads as follows:

I need to request your assistance with transfer of funds of great importance and magnitude. I am minister of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisisis (sic) that caused need for a large transfer of funds of $800 billion dollars US.

I cannot say with certainty which lobbyist will replace me on 20 January 2009, which is the reason I must need that you place the $800 billion dollars US in your bank account until such a time is complete. This transaction is 100 percent safe and of no risk to you!

We cannot transfer funds directly due to large media attention and current unforeseen government oversight, due to which we are now under constant surveylance. (sic) My family lawyer instructed me to find a trustworthy taxpayer in which we may place utmost confidence.

Please respond with your Social Security number and account numbers for all banking, retirement and college savings accounts, as well as where in house all emergency cash-on-hand may be, furthermore similar information for all children or grandchildren, and be willing to waive all legal rights and oversight for $800 billion dollars US.

Upon receive of these information (sic) I will send you instructions of safeguards to guarantee your commission for assistance.


Minster of Treasury Henry Paulson

(Oh, by the way, check out this cool website dedicated to messing with the heads of the "Nigerian bank scammers." (Click here) I confess I've done more than my fair share of this kind of thing...in fact, I once managed to "take out" a fax machine operated by some of the scammers by sending an extraordinarily long document late at night, running the machine out of paper for several hours.

These days, I don't really have time to mess with the Nigerian bank scammers as much as I would like, (I'm hoping to train in my 11-year-old computer geek in the near future) but I still make a point of answering email solicitations by saying stuff like, "Wait, explain more...I'm confused...who are you, send me some proof, blah blah blah.")

Anonymous Source Also Spills The Goods About Mobile Surveillance Cameras

Photo By John Hoff, September 25

This post being a kind of continuation of the previous...during the Hawthorne Annual Dinner, my new friend/source "Municipal Diamond" quietly spoke to me about the subject of mobile surveillance cameras...

And I'll have to give a little context about how the subject came up in the first place. Inspector Martin, the Fourth Precinct Commander, was the guest speaker at the Hawthorne Annual Meeting on September 25, and he took some questions at the end of his speech.

I don't know if Martin was planning to take those questions, but he did, and it was quite a back-and-forth.

I took the opportunity to ask a question about surveillance cameras. I said the surveillance cameras currently in place were cutting into drug dealing in a significant way, but I was wondering about the possibility of MOBILE surveillance cameras which could be put somewhere for a while, but then moved around. I said there were some addresses I could name (but wouldn't, just then) where it would be handy to have something like that.

So what was the deal?

Martin answered there were a few cameras like that, but they were expensive and much in-demand for certain long-term investigations. He talked about how useful the cameras were, and how he saw them as a cost-saving measure. By his calculations (I didn't know if these were exact or a rough estimate) using the mobile surveillance cams was capable of saving approximately $30,000 in man hours as an alternative to putting police officers in place to perform long-term observation.

But...well, money was tight. There had been cutbacks in funding. It wasn't always possible to get as many police, as much equipment as he (Martin) would like to have, though he was always being the "squeaky wheel" to get what he felt was needed for the 4th Precinct.

I followed up on my question, asking Martin to name the public official who was responsible, who was not givign Martin the stuff he needed but wasn't getting. Martin wouldn't do it. He said the buck stopped with him. Blame him.

Brave Inspector Martin...taking a political bullet like that to protect our city's leaders.

But anyway, quite a while later "Municipal Diamond" spoke with me, and made reference to my question about the mobile surveillance cameras. "Diamond" was aware of the use of mobile cameras deployed during RNC 2008.

"Really?" I asked. "Well, Minneapolis got all kinds of stuff in preparation for that. So did we get some more mobile cameras? Did we get some cameras we could use up here in the Fourth Precinct?"

Diamond either didn't know or couldn't tell me more. But Diamond could tell me this much: mobile cameras of the very type I had asked about were deployed during RNC 2008.

That, I told Diamond, was just freaking lovely. Yes, keep track of all the marchers and protesters. Meanwhile, we've drug houses operating quite openly in North Minneapolis, and so much could be accomplished by just plunking down a camera in front of those houses for a few weeks or a couple months.

(In the photo above, a Park Police officer searches the ground after arresting three young men for apparent drug dealing in Farview Park. The arrests took place a few hours before Inspector Martin spoke. The photo above was taken with a telephoto function just a few feet from the spot where the Fourth Precinct Commander stood to make his speech)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Anonymous Source Spills The Goods About A Restricted City Database

Photos By John Hoff

No, don't blame my friend Dave Arbit of CPED. He wasn't at the Hawthorne Annual Meeting, where somebody sidled up to me (this happens a lot) spoke in a quiet tone of voice, and started spilling useful nuggets of information...

In the past, I have griped VERY SPECIFICALLY about how city and county data regarding property ownership is cumbersome for citizens to use and provides maddeningly incomplete data. My main beef: ordinary citizens can't search these databases using something like a surname to find out, for example, how many properties a particular slumlord owns. You can't use a term like "Savage" to pull up Minneapolis property owned by individuals in Savage, Minnesota. There's all kinds of useful stuff you can't do with this cumbersome data base.

According to this source--who I will nickname "Municipal Diamond"--there is indeed a city database accessible to city employees which allows the user to instantly pull up stuff like the number and nature of 911 calls to a particular property. It also allows the user to search using the name of a property owner as a search term.

So here we are in North Minneapolis...fighting a battle to turn our neighborhoods around...and we can't get access to a useful database to figure out which slumlord, which small fry mortgage fraudster, which Level 3 Sex Offender, which felon drug dealer owns what properties. If we knew the freaking address already, we wouldn't need to look it up, NOW WOULD WE?

Somebody who might want to--oh, gee!--move to North Minneapolis has no adequate way to research a particular property to find out how many 911 calls were made to the crappy-looking house next door in the last month.

So what should you do? Maybe just go with your "feelings" about how quiet and safe the block seems during a brief visit?


Oh, yes, by way of explanation: Top photo, FRUSTRATED citizen who can't get the information he needs. Below, modest reform to city database brings about HAPPY citizen.

(Yeah, actually it's my son while we were house-sitting at Peter Teachout's residence a few months back, but same difference)

CPED Takes Note Of High Profile Hawthorne Victory

Photo By John Hoff, 415 31st Ave. N.

David Arbit, a Humphrey Institute classmate who works for CPED, went out of his way to pass on congratulations to Hawthorne on our "fight against blight" victory, as trumpeted in a recent Star Tribune article about the settlement with CitiMortgage.

It appears that within CPED, emails periodically go out with links to "CPED in the news." Naturally, the "fight against blight" article made the list.

Hey, how about putting blog-o-sphere news in those informative emails, as well? For one thing, my links last longer than the Star Tribune's.

Truuuuuuuuuuuuuuue faaaaaaaaaaaaaaact.

(Do not click "Read More")

Hawthorne Annual Meeting (Just A Wee Bit On The Frugal Side)

Photo By John Hoff

Hawthorne is a frugal place. We used last year's sign placard, simply changing the year with Whiteout and Sharpie, plus sawing off the bottom; which had the name of last year's guest speaker. Some...

...decorative leaves spread about, a few eye-catching little scarecrow men, and nobody was the wiser. Until now! The inside dope revealed, right here, baby.

Note how one of the scarecrow men is pointing to the placard, providing useful information. The other scarecrow stands prepared to physically intervene if trouble should arise.

He looks ready to tell some criminal to hit the road...Hawthorne is re-vitalizing, baby!

This meeting was packed with people, and this year's board vote had the excitement and energy of a precinct caucus. I'm told the turnout was much more than last year.

Because Readers DEMAND It (More "Gangster Cam" Photos)

Photos By Unknown

OK, somebody asked and I want to please my readers...well, most of 'em, anyway. So here are more "gangster cam" images which were left on the camera I purchased at the pawn shop to replace my other camera, damaged in the melee in front of the Greyhound bus station during RNC 2008.

Really, not much has changed. Check out the photos in the post below. The camera STILL takes pictures of "gangsters."

OK, no more of these photos. For one thing, there are little kids in many or even most of the pics--no, none of them appear to be abused or neglected--but I won't use any of those images of little children. All done. All done gangster cam. Gangster cam go "bye bye" now.

Readers with an enthusiasm for this kind of thing can go to pawn shops, look through the secondhand cameras and get your own "gangster cam" if you just gotta have more random pics of somebody else's "thug life."

(Do not click "Read More")

Three Arrested In Farview Park Before Hawthorne Neighborhood Annual Meeting

Photos By John Hoff

At approximately 4:30 PM yesterday, right before the Hawthorne Neighborhood Annual Meeting was scheduled to start in the nearby park pavilion, three young black males were frisked and placed in the back of a squad car by a member of the Minneapolis Park Police...

The officer was seen to take something from a pockets of one of the individuals and place it on the hood of his vehicle. The object appeared to be a white baggie of an unknown substance.

All three suspects appeared very cooperative with the arrest as they were searched and placed in the back of the squad car one by one. Some bystanders watched for a few moments, but then moved on. The officer carefully searched the ground around the squad car and the area where the suspects had been.

The arrests were visible from the nearby park pavilion building, where preparations where being made for the Hawthorne Annual Meeting, including a speech by the Fourth Precinct Commander, Inspector Mike Martin. The photos above were taken with a telephoto lens while standing just a few feet from the spot where Martin gave his speech.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Elite Shoe Patrol Unit Gets Recognition For Meritorious Service

Photo By John Hoff

A blog dedicated to the mystery of shoes dangling on power lines took note of my recent "shoe patrol" posting. If you are...

...obsessed with the deepest shades of meaning associated with footwear dangling off power lines, you might want to check out the blog. WORD ON THE STREET is that Ed Kohler of The Deets has a fascination with this particular issue.

"Don't All Stampede At Once" North Minneapolis Column Controversy Reheated And Rehashed

Photo By John Hoff

When I first started this blog, during the time I was also writing for the Minnesota Daily, I wrote a column about North Minneapolis called "Don't all stampede at once" which set off a flurry of letters and heated discussion...

I'd just about forgotten it, but I have a blog reader who was apparently determined to read EVERY LAST POST in an effort to learn everything he can about North Minneapolis. Well, after reading the back-and-forth surrounding "Don't all stampede at once," he sent me his views, as follows:

I had to laugh when I saw the names of the respondents who let you have it with both barrels. Michelle Lewis. Rich Bergeron. Janna Krawczyk. Vanessa Handler. What do they all have in common? They're all from Homewood. They're all college educated. They're all homeowners. They're all white. And they are all desperate to divorce perceptions of THEIR neighborhoods from stereotypes of the greater Northside. Can you blame the Handlers? They paid $293,000 for their place...and on those blocks closest to Wirth Park, that may actually have been a bargain at the time.

At the 27th and Penn Cookout, several of us had a great discussion of the mainstream media's tendency to only identify Minneapolis neighborhoods during non-Northside crime reports. When something happens elsewhere, it's a "shooting in Cedar-Riverside" or a "hit and run in Seward." Over North, it's always "the latest murder/robbery/home explosion on the Northside."

To this I reply: it may be partly due to reporters who are more familiar with certain neighborhoods but tend to mentally lump all of North Minneapolis together.

Or there may be a subtle editorial agenda at play. Always saying "North Minneapolis" may be a way of editorializing, a way of saying, in effect, "(Expletive) North Minneapolis, when are you going to get your act together and stop the shootings, the open air drug markets, the prostitution so the rest of the city doesn't have to read about this horrible (expletive?)"

And it's a fair question. How is it situations which would never be allowed in other Minneapolis neighborhoods are allowed to fester in North Minneapolis? Crack is dealt out of certain houses. Neighbors KNOW which houses. Yet the situation drags on for years, even decades.

We can blame the media for a lot of things...including the Star Tribune creating links that go dead after a certain period of time, so I just REFUSE to use their links...but the media also says good things about our neighborhoods when we do actually come together, struggle, and win. Monday's article about Hawthorne's settlement with CitiMortgage is a good example.