Tuesday, December 21, 2010

JNS BLOG EDITORIAL: Wonkish Conflict Over North Minneapolis Bike Walk Center Proposals...

Stock photo, current JACC board, blog post by John Hoff

Somewhere in the dank cubicle-filled caverns far below the surface of neighborhood politics, deep in the dark background bowels where policy wonks grind away all day doing whatever it is policy wonks do, usually in monotonous obscurity, suddenly some kind of intense wonkish conflict has erupted to the surface on the topic of a North Minneapolis Bike Walk Center...who will run it, how will it be funded, what are its chances of success?

And--in what has become the latest twist on the topic--how did a proposal by the Cultural Wellness Center come to the top of the heap (only to kicked back by a City Council committee) when another proposal by a group called TREADS had the backing of seven neighborhood organizations plus (so its supporters would say) much sounder financial backing?

This blog initially broke the story about "hard questions being asked" over a Bike Walk Proposal by the Cultural Wellness Center, a South Minneapolis entity. In order to get the undiluted and unedited story out faster, we actually published all the video of the committee meeting first, click here. The Star Tribune has been much more caught up in the story of an expensive proposal to publicize biking in Minneapolis, with the Bike Walk Center more of an afterthought to that story of the expensive publicity, click here for Star Tribune article.

This blog is much more interested in the TREADS proposal versus the Cultural Wellness proposal, click here for most recent blog post which includes a very informative (though at times anonymous) discussion between backers of the Anthony Taylor/Cultural Wellness proposal versus the TREADS proposal.

Recently, sources forwarded...

...four of the reported seven letters of support from neighborhood organizations backing the TREADS proposal. The seven supporting neighborhoods are reportedly as follows: Cleveland. Victory. McKinley. Folwell. Weber-Camden. Jordan. Harrison. Hawthorne.

No mention is made in these letters of the Cultural Wellness Center proposal because, it appears, North Minneapolis neighborhood councils were simply not consulted by this other group, only by TREADS. Click here for the letters which are on the Johnny Northside PDF support site, though these are certainly not the most EXCITING documents we've ever published. (This obscure wonkish conflict reminds me of the YouTube song "Taters," click here. In this context, I think "taters" clearly stands for FINANCIAL SOUNDNESS)

Also, here is a link to the original Request For Proposal. What's interesting to me is...um, who is on the committee which approved this and sent it up to the city council? That's really not clear from the RFP.

As far as wonkish conflicts go, this one is relatively entertaining. You've got an organization from outside the neighborhood trying to perform an end run around the neighborhood (or so it appears to me and others) plus there is a discussion about who has the more financially sound proposal. Cultural Wellness Center says its proposal is financially sound, but they've had tough financial times. The TREADS proposal seems a lot more solid.

So, policy wonks, riddle me this: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Though Anthony Taylor's group is projecting confidence in the eventual success of their proposal--to the point of having a celebratory gathering on December 27 at the proposed site--even somebody who is a novice at reading political tea leaves can see success is not likely for Anthony Taylor's proposal. Seven neighborhoods backed ANOTHER proposal. Anthony Taylor, et al, are playing catch up at the neighborhood council level and (judging from the meeting in Jordan) it's not going well. Plus there are the original tough questions asked by city council members which are mostly focused on financial soundness. It's obvious Barb Johnson isn't going to back this proposal. Watch the video.

It. Is. Obvious.

But since the TREADS proposal was withdrawn, that only leaves the Anthony Taylor proposal...a proposal which is simply NOT going to fly. How is North Minneapolis going to get a Bike Walk Center or access to these federal dollars which we certainly don't want to leave twisting in the wind?

The participants in this matter...the groups behind the two proposals, the movers and shakers in the neighborhood, the city people, city council people representing North Minneapolis (Barb Johnson, Don Samuels, Diane Hofstede) NEED TO ALL SIT DOWN AND WORK OUT SOME KIND OF POLITICAL COMPROMISE which gives North Minneapolis a financially sound Bike Walk Center.


Anonymous said...

Yes, that federal money should be left twisting in the wind. From what I hear, those funds are to be used to somehow, magically, PROMOTE biking and walking in NoMi. Not to build up infrastructure, but to promote a freaking IDEA. That type of proposal is about the worst possible thing you can throw money at because at the end of the project there is rarely a measurable result.

How is one going to promote biking and walking awareness? By getting stories published in the Strib or on blogs? By getting more people to use the damn sidewalks? Or is there some way to measure how many people bike/walk before and after the implementation of funds?

If we can't figure out how to measure success BEFORE we get money in our pockets, it's just going to go to some poverty pimp, and we're better off sending it back to the federal government with a "thanks, but no thanks" note.

Pond-dragon said...

For those that don't get Tax forms
~ $680,874 in salaries and professional services
~$10.5K in Travel
~$15K in phones
~$21K in Misc.
~$29K Equip Rental and Maintenance
President ~ $78K in Salary+Benefits
Not sure what the community got out of this $3/4 Mil? Anybody out there know?
Nice investigative reporting JNS.

Johnny Northside! said...

Pond Dragon is alluding to THIS tax return, accessible at this link, the 2008 tax return for Cultural Wellness Center.


If having a "tough year" means spending that much on phones...well, I just don't know.

Anonymous said...

So it looks like it provided 1 job though with a nice $78k salary. Congrats to that person. Here's an idea for promoting walking in NOMI. Shovel the damn sidewalks and curb cuts.

Mother Superior said...

They spend money almost as poorly as the neighborhood associations that are being defunded.

Anonymous said...

What I'm considered about here is the role of the city. To me it feels like they did not do their due diligence to determine if there were current plans rising out of the community for anything similar to what they were proposing. That being said, they've created a competitive and political context that doesn't need to exist.

In a perfect world, I believe that the CWC folks and the Pohlad folks should get together, screw the city, and do something collaborative. Or at the minimum work together to support the TREADS proposal w/ the strength of the the CWC group being their background in community engagement and health.

We should tell the city health department to stop trying to pit groups against each other.

Also, it is my understanding that the other reasons Pohlad had to opt out of the RFP is because their preferred site didn't meet zoning and square footage requirements of the federally mandated RFP? Is that true?

Again, I would say that we shouldn't be pitting CWC vs. Pohlad. Or even community vs. CWC. I think we should all unite to let the city know to work better and smarter in north MInneapolis.

Anonymous said...

CWC does amazing work in East St. Paul and South Minneapolis. They have some real strengths and skills that would be valuable to have in north Minneapolis.

Also, I bet you could look at the financials of a lot of nonprofit organizations who walk a very tight financial lines, year after year, but still create tremendous community impact. Sometimes that's the nature of working in the nonprofit sector.

I mean let's be honest, the JACC financials aren't the hottest either, but the work it has done has been still effective.

And if I remember correctly, JACC board members approved a fairly high salary for Jerry Moore, much more than he individually deserved or the position demanded. This was of course, before all his shenanigans, but still was approved at the beginning of his tenure.

Anonymous said...

@Anon 11:44

I wish CWC would share more of that amazing work you speak of, do they have annual reports and measurable outcomes to share?

Also, there are several nonprofits who walk a tight financial line and they continue to find a financial stream from grants etc to stay afloat. Is that was CWC will do here with Major Motion Bike Walk Center, live off of grants, I mean? Because I thought they had a business plan to turn revenue with the shop and the coffee shop etc.

As for comparing or bringing up the JACC stuff. Actually JACC's work was not effective at all. There is nothing to show for what Jerry Moore was paid in salary, he didn't do anything successful, he almost bankrupted the organization. And ever since the exact time that he was awarded that ridiculous salary, reasonable people were very disturbed and concerned and it brought him a much closer scrutiny than if he had been paid a reasonable salary. So that's just a stupid comparison in order to promote CWC's position here. It's actually an argument for folks to be concerned about the CWC proposal.

Anonymous said...

Here's a question that I haven't been able to confirm and perhaps blog readers can answer:

Is the lady who runs Cultural Wellness Center, Mary Azzahir, the mother of Anthony Taylor?

Anybody know for sure or not?

Johnny Northside! said...

Wow. Interesting question. The answer is yes.

Here is a website where it says, explicitly, that's his mother. She is ATUM Mary Azzahir.

Bios On KMOJ Website, including Anthony Taylor

Johnny Northside! said...

Is she the one making that $78k a year salary?

Here is the wording from the website, I'm going to copy and paste it here to make sure it stays in the record even if the other site changes.

Atum Mary Azzahir


ATUM AZZAHIR is the President and Executive Director of the Powderhorn/Phillips
Cultural Wellness Center, a non-profit organization. The Center is a place where people can learn their own and each other ’s cultural traditions and health practices. The mission of the
Center is to unleash the power of citizens to heal themselves and to build community. A
major goal of the Center is to be the recognized authority on cultural approaches for
preventing sickness and improving the health of individuals in a community context.

Atum created and led a two-year community assessment process (94-96) that is now the
foundational strategy for studying cultural knowledge that leads people to health.

Anthony Taylor


Anthony Taylor is the Founder and Chief Story-Teller of SPA O. N.E. and Simply Organic Living. Anthony Taylor has built a reputation as a “whole systems” thinker and works to reveal those connections( between nature and our nature), to strengthen the awareness of cause and effect on a personal level- and to offer choices for living life in balance. As a motivational speaker and educator, Taylor has shared his philosophies at Harvard University, The University of Minnesota, Stanford University, The Black Women ’s Expo, The Healthy Living Conference, Aveda Congress, Allina Health ’s Speaking of Women ’s Health and at Fortune 500 Companies throughout the nation.

Anthony and his mother Atum Azzahir share their expertise on Day One, addressing wellness, holistic health and healthy living. They share the lessons learned from their special relationship with a growing audience looking for hope and strategies for living life in balance.

Neeraj said...

Hey Johnny,

I think you should give Atum a call. I think she would be fabulously open to discussing with you the content of this project, the financials of her organization and the mission and values of her organization.

neeraj said...

Oh I should also state really quick, that I live in the Jordan neighborhood and am supportive of the CWC proposal.

Anonymous said...

anon 12:15

I think it's unfair to be critiquing CWC from a distance. Let's find a way to get to know them and hear exactly about their work and vision and track record before we attack them for how much they pay their executive director.

Fed Up In Hawthorne said...

When I read crap like promoting holistic cultural healing blah blah blah and that our tax dollars are going to that vs fixing and plowing roads or arresting drug dealers it makes me sick. Anyone who is sad to see NRP money gone and who supports fluff projects like that deserves exactly what they get.

Anonymous said...

"Anthony and his mother Atum Azzahir "

Oh - It's a family "business".

Anonymous said...

Neeraj, you are a well respected community member, tell us what makes you throw your support to Major Motion/CWC proposal? What did you see from them that made you so sure and confident?

Neeraj said...

I've seen their work in East St. Paul and South Minneapolis and been very impressed. In East St. Paul they have been working to build wealth and assets for African American families in a way that is relevant and effective. In South Minneapolis they are co-laborers in the Backyard Initiative with Allina Hospital and dozens of other community organizations, working hard to address the health disparities in those neighborhoods, while keeping community at the center.

I know Atum, and trust her leadership.

Also, this specific health department proposal is about health disparities. It's not just about setting up a bike shop. A new market for bike products and services must be created; and this will require behavior change. It is unlikely that merely establishing a Bike Walk Center will be sufficient, and it is unlikely that a traditional specialty bike shop or a large retail store can engage residents to change their behaviors or to create the necessary brand loyalty. The ultimate success of a Bike Walk Center will depend on developing relationships with the African American community and changing individual and family behaviors to embrace exercise as central to individual/family health and to become consumers/users of bike products. This is CWC’s strength.

To me the conversation isn't about Pohlad vs. CWC. It's too bad that it gets framed that way. In a perfect world, I wish they could work together. I believe they both have unique strengths and skills that together could maximize efficiencies and effectiveness.

Anonymous said...

So we can expect this business to operate in the red because we have a population that would prefer not to bike or walk or eat veggies? I can see you have a good heart but should we really take dollars from taxpayer A and give to taxpayer B who refuses to just do what everyone else knows is the right thing? This while we have sidewalks unshoveled because we have vacant homes, corners requiring us to climb over hills of snow. Surely this must seem like a luxury to someone besides me?

Anonymous said...

anon 7:20

you're trying to make a different point here. If you disagree with the use of federal stimulus funds, that is a debate you have to take up with the city of minneapolis or department of health. They applied for the dollars, decided on how to use on the northside, and created an RFP process. CWC just entered that process and won.

And yes, it's okay to use taxpayer a's dollar and give to taxpayer b. health disparities and place matter. poor communities suffer disproportionately from public policy decisions made over and over again to isolate and hurt communities like north minneapolis. it's going to take some systemic shifts to address the systemic injustices. It's not just about "personal choice".

Anonymous said...

Really? Perhaps we should engage Corborns Delivers to deliver quality foods to each resident to ensure they are eating properly? We could also issue each home a treadmill and stair climber as well.

Pond-dragon said...

Ok, all this great news of Wellness Center accomplishment:
Please list them off!

The Treads folks have:
Glen gale Park
Cottage Park
A couple dozen house numbers up and down James, Irving and Tangle town, including the II's residence.
"They know Nomi,they have a record in Nomi, they have investment, blood, sweat, and community skin in NoMi"
Show NoMi why we should believe in the wellness center.
Using my departed pappies favorite saying, "talk is cheap, it takes money to buy whiskey!" Show NoMi the Whiskey.
Sorry this wellness thing sounds to much like a J.M. PTP pitch.

If you are seeing this level of resistance from the activists in NoMi who is going to support this wellness boondoggle?

Anonymous said...

you guys. this is madness. we can fix this all up. in spite of bad/good grammar or otherwise. as a kid who was born and believes in NOMI(wow!) and has committed my life to it, I we can think redo this thing...actually. (Not a point of weakness here.) We actually can.

Happy Holidays. And I mean that.

Anonymous said...

Pond Dragon,

By activists, we should clarify you're talking about the 7-10 white people in Jordan who read and comment on this blog right?

ps. Don Samuels is for the proposal. Does that say anything?

NoMi Passenger said...

@Anon 9:43pm,

Please, help us understand WHY folks are supporting this (Major Motion) proposal. We are just asking . Isn't that a good thing? A lot of us were not familiar with it at all, weren't/aren't familiar with the organizations involved. The selection process seemed a little secretive and opaque; questions weren't/aren't being answered, so we are just trying to understand why.

Can you help spread the word this proposal is the strongest?

Pond-dragon said...

To: Anon 12/24/10 9:43

We've been hearing that "Same old crowd" for years, well perhaps seeing that "new crowd" would be interesting, where are you, who are you, and what have you been doing?

Haven't read opinions on JACC Yahoo, haven't heard or seen you doing anything in the streets, perhaps you can list all the volunteer work that appears to go un-noticed. It is easy to say just you 7-10 when reality is more like 50-60 ++, from this perspective you may be only "1" that lives in Hopkins, Colombia Heights, or S. Mpls. or for all we know the Sponsor of the plan!

If Don is for this proposal, evidently you have inside information,or is this a tactic for a political ploy to drive a wedge issue? In either case: Lay out the facts and drop the rhetorical BS. Or does the Truth hurt too much?

As noted earlier by NoMi Passenger, "the facts please no more BS" Why is this supposed to be a better plan?
Many of us already know the Treads facts, we have been grass rooting with them for going on years, lots & lots of "UNPAID" collaborative and cooperative Volunteer hours! We know where some of the fodder came from for this idea, US!

Anon said...

We need to increase the amount of taxes that are going to the Pohlads so they have the resources they need to fund these proposals.

Small Government without Poverty Pimps said...

At some point people in north Minneapolis will have to learn that government programs and non-profits only work to fund themselves. Without focus on business and economic development, north Minneapolis remains doomed.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, since jobs are what is needed in NOMI we probably shouldn't even use an existing building. I think any new non-profit business should first be built from the ground up on one of the many vacant lots. It could be built by work crews formed by the unemployed in a 4 block radius. Then the resulting business run by another group of the unemployed and the builders go off to do another. We really do need more jobs programs in NOMI.

Neeraj said...

For what it's worth in this continuing dialogue, here are more of my thoughts:

1. Why are people not trusting the City's Dept. of Health process, and the recommendation by the review panel that the CWC proposal was better than the TREADS proposal?

2. Has anyone seen the Bourne series, isn't in one of the movies "TREADS" used as the name of some underground project? Or was it TREADSTONE? (just trying to throw some humour in!)

3. I'm not concerned about financial viability or work of CWC or Emerge. I know both organizations and their leaders well. I understand that folks have a concern about an organization they don't well. But is it better to attack them or to get to know them? At the same time I know Pond Dragon and Nomi-Passenger, and I know they care about our neighborhood, and I respect their tenure here. I'm just wondering if there is another way to go about it?

4. As for people's concern with Emerge. Again, I trust them and their record. I just sat on a review panel that was reviewing applications for allocation of federal Social Innovation Funds into the Twin Cities. As a panel we recommended Emerge for $150,000 grant to help families in north Minneapolis build more wealth and assets. On that panel were staff from two of the largest grant makers in the Twin Cities, both of whom had the utmost confidence in Emerge's capacity, as do I.

5. I appreciate the work of the Pohlad Foundation. And I am glad they are committed to my neighborhood. I can only imagine how hard it must be to put in the work they have, and then something like this RFP comes up and adds a whole new dynamic to the mix.

Neeraj said...


6. In my optimistic idealism, I hope that regardless of the outcome, that those of us who care deeply about north Minneapolis, as residents or non-residents, government or philanthropy can find a way to support an idea and an initiative that we all agree is important to North Minneapolis. I'll be the first to throw my hat in the ring to help find ways for us to avoid divisiveness and promote work togetherness!

7. The council vote will be either thumbs up or thumbs down. If they vote thumbs down, the dollars go away and are not available for investment in north Minneapolis. That's a hard reality that I'm wrestling with.

8. If someone knows that CM Samuels is for the proposal, it would be great to hear his voice and perspective in the conversation.

9. My favorite christmas gift I got was a hand knit and then felted lunch bag from wife. What was yours?

10. If I had to guess why the CWC proposal came ahead of the Treads proposal, probably has to do with the fact that this is a grant focused on addressing health disparities. It's about changing attitudes about biking and walking and it will take lots of community engagement and outreach and education to a broad set of residents in north Minneapolis. CWC has proven experience in this. I don't really know much about the Treads proposal, but from what I heard, the idea mostly centered on being a bike shop and have youth engagement and employment aspects to it, and less about addressing health disparities. So maybe that's why they didn't get selected? Just conjecture, though...?

11. I heart north Minneapolis.

Anonymous said...

Look - Bottom line is that this Bike/Walk/Coffee Shop was not proposed under the guise to do any holistic cultural healing.

It was proposed to be a profitable business to jump start commercial infill along Lowry.

The fact that they are competing for that space with another private small business and they need an extraordinary amount of public funding to make it through the first year indicates that it is a risky proposition that is failing to get public support.

No one is saying that CWC can't build a Bike/Walk/Coffee shop, but they may have to dig into that $78,000 a year salary to fund it.

My guess would be that the real life accomplishments of the organization do not quite live up to all the rhetoric published and they are forced to seek new sources of income to maintain the organizations top heavy administration.

Anonymous said...

$78,000 is not that big of a salary for an executive director. Do some research.

Johnny Northside! said...

Here is the word I'm getting about the process.

First, there may have been two layers of review. The names below were on the city's website at some early point in the process, but I'm not sure if these names were in upon the complete process. Staff from the Department of Health would also have been involved.

Anyway, here's the names.

Patty Bowler – City of Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support

Erik Hansen – City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development

Don Pflaum – City of Minneapolis Public Works

Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson – North side community resident

Steve Sanders – University of Minnesota

Dan Breva – Nice Ride MN

Paul Bauknight – North side community resident and small business owner

Tammy Dickinson – City of Minneapolis Employment and Training Program

Pond-dragon said...

To Anon 12/28/10 1:02PM
Research in court case Testimony from an NRP Director "Browne vs Brown suggests you are off by at least$13K (For a superior ED) and probably closer to $30-40K for a regular ED.
And your source is? JM?

Anonymous said...

you're kidding right pond dragon?

i don't know a single executive direct of a nonprofit organization in the twin cities that makes less than $65,000.

get a clue. since you're so good at looking up 990's on this blog, why don't you look up nonprofits in the twin cities and see. and oh, i wonder what the folks at pohlad make, easily over $100,000 guaranteed.

Johnny Northside said...

I think one should make a distinction between executive directors whose income mostly comes from public monies--such as NRP--versus executive directors whose money comes from private foundations.

It doesn't matter what the Pohlad people make. It's the choice of the Pohlad's to pay them. Executive directors in neighborhood associations, on the other hand, may be living off tax dollars to a very significant degree.

Anonymous said...

But cwc gets most of it's money from private funds, so why do we care if their ED makes $78,000. ?

Pond-dragon said...

To Anon 12/29/2010 8:27 PM
You Rec'd the court case (Located on this Blog) where those numbers came from, and are now in the public domain. (Those are Facts in a documented court case)
Your response: The P-D should go prove your case! Not only are your counter arguments misdirected BS but totally unsupported. You do not have what it takes to discuss intelligently with the P-D and are not worth any more of the P-D's time, go find a frog to croak at, perhaps you can out-croak it!

Pond-dragon said...

To Anon 12/30/10 8:55
Where do you think this $375K is coming from? It is a Federal grant: Jane/Joe Taxpayer and Uncle Sam's Credit card!

You can not decipher from the Tax statement the source of their funds (Unless you are on the inside, we can't tell with what we have)