Monday, May 17, 2010

Gang Graffiti Reveals Dispute Over Cottage Park In Jordan Neighborhood...

Photos and blog post by John Hoff

This weekend, I attended a party at Kip Browne's house with my son Alex, age 12, and somewhere between barbeque and toasting oversized marshmallows, Kip told me we were going on a "Kip and Johnny mission." And I was all, like, whatever. Will some of us not come back alive? Well, give me some gear and sign me up...

We walked to Cottage Park where Kip pointed out a spectacular granite table--complete with chess 'n' checker squares etched into the tabletop--which some no-account gang bangers had marred with graffiti. Like hunters who can tell what animals have passed by from the stinky spoor dropped behind, we could divine information from the graffiti: a gang which represents itself with a five-pointed star had claimed the turf as theirs. But then another gang which represents itself with a six-pointed star had crossed out the other graffiti, and marked the turf as theirs.

Kip Browne announced both gangs are wrong. The park belongs to the decent people, to the taxpayers, not to criminally inclined social misfits. The matter has, of course, been reported to 311 but it's possible folks in the neighborhood may just do something about it on their own, without waiting for permission.

JNS BLOG EDITORIAL: United States Supreme Court Says LOCK UP THE PEDOPHILE FREAKS ("Spanky" Pete Rickmyer Probably Shaking In His Shoes)

DOC mugshot, therefore in the public domain
blog post by John Hoff

It was with great excitement that I learned, today, of the Supreme Court's recent ruling saying that dangerous sexual deviants could be locked up indefinitely, click here and don't hold back with your wild cheers.

Right away my mental wheels started spinning and smoking, wondering... this could be and would be applied in North Minneapolis, where Level Three sex offenders have been dumped in our neighborhood, concentrated despite a statute to the contrary. This is, of course, a ruling which applies to the FEDERAL government, but clearly states will have additional legal leeway where such leeway didn't exist before.

JNS blog calls for an urgent and expedited review of the status of all Level Three sex offenders in North Minneapolis--including those who have gone "off paper" and completely served their parole, such as Junaid Maalik. Clearly, the status of all Level Three sex offenders in the whole STATE should be reviewed, but undoubtedly the situation in North Minneapolis is the most urgent due to the "dumping" and "clustering" issues.

And who should be at the very tippy top of that list in need of urgent review? Well, probably the guy who has done more recently to worry, alarm, and frustrate decent people in North Minneapolis than any other Level Three sex offender, and who has single-handedly managed to squander tens of thousands of dollars worth of "billing hours" by skilled attorneys who have to answer his pro se, in forma pauperis gibberish in the court system.

Yes, I'm talking about none other than "Spanky" Pete Rickmyer.

Another Benefit Of Living In NoMi--Yard Work Done CHEAP!

Photo and blog post by John Hoff

So I was away trucking for, like, I think it was three weeks. It was an epic run, the first time we'd ever used "tandem trucks" to offload cargo so one driver could stay in Dixieland and keep driving. Needless to say, my lawn grew a bit while I was gone. The city told me to cut the lawn and the city was, of course, right. Like we used to say when I was in the army, "No excuse, drill sergeant."

When I got back, I was looking around for a lawnmower I could borrow when some dude drove by in a black pickup truck, with a lawnmower in back. I made a deal from an open car window, in the middle of the street. The dude named "Jose" agreed to...

...mow my lawn for a mere $25.

As much as I am working for change and revitalization in my neighborhood, there are times when I'm glad stuff isn't changing too fast. In my 12-year-old son's affluent suburb, I doubt very much if dudes named Jose go around in banged up pickup trucks, asking residents if they need yard work done. Or, for that matter, doing it so cheaply.

The photo above shows how well Jose did my lawn. And, yes, I totally put Jose's number in my speed dial.

The Kind of Community We Have in NoMi

Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman

Readers have probably noticed the lack of content on JNS over the past few days - perhaps the longest this blog has gone without a new blog post. John has been busy and last Wednesday my grandmother Edith Kallungi passed away. I have just returned back to town after being with my family for the last several days.

My grandmother was loved by many and will be missed by all who knew her. I'm sure I will be telling stories about her life and how she has been a part of mine for some time to come. At the funeral, the church was quite literally overflowing with friends and family who came to pay their respects and show their support. A bishop from Tanzania was in attendance, and grandma's family in Finland mourned with us too.

I've often said that NoMi, and Hawthorne, are quite similar to the small, rural towns in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where I grew up. People know each other, look out for each other, lend a hand when they can, and a shoulder to cry on when that's needed too. The flowers above are an example of just that, because...

...they were given by people in the Hawthorne neighborhood when the news was heard about my grandmother. Knowing that people around me here were so supportive even without ever having met my grandmother truly did make her loss easier to bear. So thank you all.

And now, I have two requests. My first is that JNS readers NOT submit one-line comments saying only that they are sorry for my loss or something to that effect. Those will be appreciated greatly but not published, as the point of this post is not to garner more comments of that nature.

My second request is that JNS readers DO share similar stories. When have you been in need and had friends and other community members come to support you? Stories like that are the ones that show the true character of the neighborhood we're proud to call home. And those stories are what would make an 83-year-old farm wife who lived her life in a town too small to have a post office say that she knows exactly what we mean when we describe our community.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The EcoVillage Tree Nursery is Full Again!

Post and photos/images by the Hawthorne Hawkman, except where noted otherwise. Photos with me in them taken by Jill Kiener.

Yesterday morning was one of those days where I found myself thanking my lucky stars for having maybe the coolest job in the whole world. The city of Minneapolis had a surplus of trees that, without a home, would be given back to Bachman's. Instead, I met with Jill Kiener, who works with us through the city of Minneapolis and the Northside Home Fund. Several Tree Trust workers dropped off trees, and we set most of them in pots for the tree nursery.

In the first picture above, I'm emptying bags of mulch. I took a quick break to pose for a photo with Valeria though. I have to admit, there are instances where windswept hair looks a lot better than this. Oh well, at least I had someone as beautiful as Valeria in the picture too.

But let's talk about those trees. If you want one, here's how you can get it...

...the best way is to email me at my work address, The trees will be available first to Hawthorne residents on a first-come, first-served basis until June 15th. Any trees still in the nursery on that date are fair game for residents throughout NoMi.

In order to get one, you must be a property owner. If demand is high, preference will be given to owner-occupants over investors/landlords. And the city wants to track where these trees wind up and be able to contact the owners of the trees at least yearly to see how well they're doing. So I will need a name, address, email, and phone number for people who want trees.

Also, some trees are already allocated for parts of the EcoVillage, so you MUST contact me to set up a time to pick out your tree. Tree Trust was kind enough to provide us with a descriptive summary of each kind of tree.

Here's what we have:

Five Burgundy Belle Maple trees

Four Regal Prince Oaks

Nine Greenspire Lindens

Fourteen Redmond Lindens

Six Kentucky Coffeetrees. The Kentucky Coffeetrees as they stand now make Charlie Brown's Christmas tree look almost majestic. But the images below will show you what this will look like once it's grown and in bloom.

Above image from

Above image from

I predict that the next one is going to go very quickly: Three Canada red select cherry trees.

We have one Accolade Elm

We have two swamp white oak trees left. One of them brought to mind a Bob Dylan lyric from his song, "Hurricane." "Miss Patty Valentine just nodded her head/Cops said 'Wait a minute boys, this one's not dead.'" If there's anyone out there who feels like giving a tree some tender loving care and saving it from becoming mulch or kindling, here's your chance.

By the way, these oak trees are from a year, maybe two years ago. We've since figured out that most people in NoMi want trees with a smaller radius of cover when they (the trees) mature. Oak trees can grow to cover much of someone's yard in shade, but the newer trees cover a much smaller area.

Finally, there are nine Fat Albert spruce trees. However, these ones are slated for the EcoVillage Demonstration Garden for the time being. If not all of them are used there, then they will be made available for others who want them.

And finally, after all that hard work of moving dozens of trees and laying out more mulch, Valeria came by with gifts of Polish sausage. This blog has a long-standing theory that we test from time to time: "There is no family-friendly way to pose for a picture with a Polish sausage." I thought that through some creative censorship, I'd found an exception to the rule. However, John overruled that, saying that there's no way to tell exactly what is in the bag. The theory to date remains undisputed.

If anyone wants one of the available trees shown above, contact me at

Thursday, May 13, 2010

JN-SPAN: UROC Grand Opening!

Post photos, and video by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

The University of Minnesota held its grand opening ceremonies for its Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center yesterday. Although the pomp and circumstance happened on Wednesday, the facility has been going full steam ahead since opening its doors. Over 9,000 business and community participants have been in the facility since September.

Before getting to the videos, the pictures above show how close I could get when the ribbon was cut, the leftovers of the ribbon, the band providing music, and the main conference room packed to overflowing. The event was so momentous for north Minneapolis that it was almost impossible to get a picture without also capturing several other people looking for their own photos of the day.

Bill English, co-chair of the African American Leadership Summit/Coalition of Black Churches, gave a rousing speech that I did not have a chance to record. He said that at this site, "four years ago, you could buy just about anything illegal that you this is a place where community engagement happens." He also emphatically stated that this is not just a case of the University investing in the community. We are part of a true partnership and the community is investing in the U. "The assets of this community will build the University for more years than you can imagine."

All of the speakers were asked to keep their remarks under two minutes, and most of them obliged. Also, I apologize for the shakiness of the camera. My arms were about to fall off after all the hard work I'd put in at the Hawthorne EcoVillage Tree Nursery earlier in the day. The first speaker to appear on this episode of JN-SPAN is...

...Robert J. Jones, Senior Vice President of the University of Minnesota.

Next up is Robert H. Bruininks, President of the University of Minnesota.

Representative Keith Ellison couldn't make it, but recorded this message:

State Senator Linda Higgins is our next speaker.

I've got to hurry up and get this post done before midnight so that I can say it was also a happy birthday present to the next speaker, CM Don Samuels.

And finally, Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein. Why does he always have to speak AFTER someone as energetic as Samuels? Stenglien is actually a rather engaging public speaker, but would serve better as the set-up man for Samuels to bring it all back home.

After the ceremony, I had a chance to wander through the building. It's filled with exciting pieces of art and other historical and cultural contributions. But this was by far my favorite item. First, click on the picture below for a larger view of the description of the project. Then take a look at the pictures and artwork itself.

I should also mention that through our partnership with the University of Minnesota, CURA, and UROC, we have been able to get research assistants to help north Minneapolis neighborhoods track our effectiveness in foreclosure prevention outreach. This groundbreaking research will be brought forward to the community at a formal presentation at UROC in the coming months. Even before the grand opening, they have not only opened their doors for community events, but have also collaborated in very real ways with the community. UROC, welcome to NoMi!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Level Three Sex Offender Kirk Douglas Green Will Be "Leaving Us On An Extended Prison Vacation"

This happened a couple weeks ago, but regular readers know this blog is going to beat the issue of Level Three sex offender concentration in North Minneapolis until something goes "POP!" And I don't mean "Spanky" Pete Rickmyer paddling the behind of yet another minor.

Our neighborhood is not a politically-powerless dumping ground for the refuse of society, and we don't have to keep putting up with this. But let's talk about Level Three Sex Offender Kirk Douglas Green.

Previously, I wrote about Mr. Green and how, interestingly, he was not only a sex offender but also involved in dubious mortgage activity, click here for that post. Well, not too long after I published that post, word got to the Department of Corrections that...

Kirk Douglas Green wasn't living where he was registered to live. Here's how MPD Crime Prevention Specialist Tim Hammett phrased it in a widely-circulated email:

Kirk Douglas Green

Previous to this date, the above level 3 was registered to 2311 Sheridan Ave. No. in Willard-Hay. As of Friday, 04/09, he was determined to be living at 3844 1st Ave. So. As a result, Mr. Green was arrested and placed in HCJ. He is currently charged with 3 Felony warrants ( Non sex related). Mr. Green will be leaving us on an extended prison vacation.
This email presents another good argument for publishing the addresses of serious sex offenders, like MORE THAN HALF OF THE STATES IN AMERICA ALREADY DO. If they're not living where they're supposed to be living, word will get back to the Department of Corrections much faster. (Very interesting how this MPD official went ahead and published the specific addresses in his email. I guess they can do that. I wish they'd go ahead and publish ALL the addresses or, you know, if somebody could just kick the info my me, it will hit the internet in three beats of a human heart)

But let's look a bit at the ownership of the two places where sex offender Kirk Douglas Green found shelter, shall we? Who, exactly, was putting this guy up?

According to Minneapolis property records--which are notoriously out-of-date, by the way--here are the owners of the two properties in question:

2311 Sheridan Ave. N:

Ronald D Johnson
2311 Sheridan Ave N Minneapolis Mn 55411

3844 First Ave. S:

Palladium Holdings Llc 301 Clifton Ave S #2h Minneapolis Mn 55403

Oh, I just love printing information about Level Three sex offenders and the folks who put them up in my neighborhood or, in this case, while they are REGISTERED in my neighborhood. If you are a Level Three sex offender and you move to North Minneapolis, my blog will find out where you live and will publish your address plus other relevant details I can dig up. Count on it. And I'll get away with it, because there's nothing illegal about it.

If you are a slumlord who rents to sex offenders, and you put them up in my neighborhood, my blog will find out that fact, and publish it, and other relevant details about who you are and the nice house where you live out in the suburbs. Count on it. And I'll get away with it, because there's nothing illegal about it.

Oh, it's good to be back from my long three-week trucking journey and back in the swing of blogging.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What A Turtle Reveals About The State Of The Minneapolis School System...

Photo and blog post by John Hoff

I recently came into possession of a common eastern box turtle, which I named "Reggie" for reasons nobody really needs to know. Reggie is a miraculous survivor whose shell was cracked and then completely healed, presumably in a close encounter of the automotive kind.

What does Reggie eat? Well, after spending a number of days with him, I can tell you what he does NOT eat: dead bugs scraped off the radiator of a vehicle. Shrimp from a Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet. Lettuce, tomato, lychee fruit and mandarin oranges from that same buffet. A live bumble bee that stunned itself on a plate glass window and was laying on the sidewalk, legs churning ineffectually. And, incredibly, Reggie doesn't seem to care much for so-called "turtle food" which has a picture of a turtle on the container which could be Reggie's twin.

But he must have been eating SOMETHING because...

...he's still alive, unless he can just live for days on bathtub water and rock and roll from a radio. When I got to Minneapolis, I gave Reggie to Jordan Neighborhood resident Tyrone Jaramillo, though Tyrone actually doesn't care for turtles or lizards and was just accepting Reggie on behalf of Tyrone's wife, Alexandra, whose love of reptiles more than balances out Tyrone's lack of affection for cold-blooded creatures.

When I gave Reggie to Tyrone, the turtle was in his red canvas "Reggie pouch," which used to hold my shaving cream, razors and whatnot. Chatting with Tyone, we talked about Alexandra's plans for the turtle. She had made a yard enclosure, so Reggie would have plenty of room to romp around during the temperate well as turtles can romp, anyway. I told Tyrone I should get a few more box turtles and we could have turtle races during our famous North Minneapolis backyard barbeques.

Tyrone mentioned, casually, that Alexandra brings her reptiles around for students to learn about animals. Then Tryone mentioned how it was odd, the schools don't seem to have live animals where students can check out rats, lizards, a live anaconda eating (the horror!) an albino mouse.

"Like, when I was in school," Tyrone said, swigging on a beer. "We always had a place where you could see stuff like that. Why don't they have that here? That's messed up."

Let's keep in mind Tyrone's observation is merely ANECDOTAL. I don't know if, in fact, schools in Minneapolis (or, more likely, just North Minneapolis) lack the biological science resources of other schools...namely, cool live animals. But it was interesting to me, how a random turtle with a cracked and healed up shell might reveal something which (if true) is very politically interesting.

Oh, by the way, Alexandra got Reggie to eat. Wax worms. He likes wax worms.

Property Investors Mark the High Point of the Hawkman's Weekend

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

About a year ago, Connie Nompelis and I spoke to a group of investors about what the real estate market in NoMi was like at the time. We also told them how our community had been burned by predatory investors. I remained on someone's mailing list from that event, and had received invitations to go on "foreclosure bus tours." This weekend, I finally did go on such a tour, led by the High Point Group. The pictures above come from my Blackberry and are of an interior of one property we toured.

I was skeptical before I even got to the event. For one thing some emails said that they would be willing to write up offers as soon as the bus tour was over. This kind of (potential) buying almost sight-unseen brought to mind recent mortgage activity in the EcoVillage. I expected one of two things from this tour. I'd either remain silent, taking copious notes in anticipation of a scandalous - albeit mortgage geeky - tell-all blog post, or I'd call out the scuzzy, slummy behavior that was harming our communities and be such a killjoy that the investors would drop me off at a gas station and make me find my own way home.

What I DIDN'T expect, and what REALLY happened, was...

...that I was rather impressed with what I saw.

This is a partial post, due to the technical difficulties with the JNS pdf support site. I consider the pdf documents from the event to be crucial to this post, but can't sit on it any longer.

Let's get what I DID NOT like out of the way first, shall we? I still prefer to view houses as HOMES and not as vehicles for investment opportunities. Too much of the latter is exactly what got this country into a mortgage crisis, and north Minneapolis was suffering from such irresponsible behavior long before it caught on nationwide.

Group leaders explained in great detail how they recommend purchasing properties where the loan-to-value ratio is low enough to allow them to pull their cash out using a commercial line of credit. Then, with that property "cash flowing," they can use the proceeds to pick up another property or few, and repeat as needed. While this may be a sound business strategy, we've seen it explode on us here in NoMi all too often. So I remain cautious at best regarding High Point.

But the first house on the tour, 922 Minnehaha Ave E in St. Paul began to put me at ease. First off, what do we have here?


I wasn't taking many pictures at this point because I was still thinking I'd be "under cover." As we drove to this house, I looked at the High Point Group's analysis of the property. They claimed that there were five bedrooms, even though the MLS listing said there were seven. Once we arrived, it was clear that there was no way this house had seven real bedrooms. The exterior needs some touching up, as the place is full of "kludges." But there were hardwood floors throughout much of the place, and once the makeshift closets were removed from living room areas, the house would be quite appealing.

The leader of the tour, Michael Mangan, was asked if he would put carpet down, and said "absolutely not." He might give his tenants a carpet allowance for area rugs, but he would keep the hardwood floors. They're a better investment and tenants tend to mess up carpeting when moving in or out. Furthermore, as the investment analysis indicated, he said he would pare down the number of bedrooms because some spaces clearly were not meant to be used that way.

It's not clear if the investors on the tour agreed with him entirely, but I was thrilled to hear these things being articulated. Other conversations around specific rehab options, while perhaps not optimal, were far better than the kind of work we've seen from the likes of Paul Koenig, Mahmood Khan, Bashir Moghul, and even better than the "not the best, not the worst" line we get from time to time.

It was around this time that Michael recognized me from last year's presentation. Seeing as how my cover was blown, I was now free to take pictures at other properties.

Next, we went to 1807 Reaney Ave E, in St. Paul. This was a small crackerbox of a house, and so nondescript that I didn't even bother with pictures. I did, however, remember in great detail a few of the conversations I had with Mangan and others.

Mangan said that he prefers section 8 tenants because he has their section 8 eligibility as leverage over them. If the tenants are damaging the property, causing problems in the neighborhood, or otherwise being a nuisance, he can contact their case worker and perhaps have their section 8 eligibility revoked. I have no proof of how he manages his properties and tenants, but this is the first time I'd heard a landlord/property manager talk about section 8 as anything but a means to produce a steady income stream.

I also spoke with one of Michael's co-workers who said that High Point has properties in the Hawthorne neighborhood. I invited her to come to our next housing committee meeting to get to know the residents, and she accepted the invitation.

Another woman talked to me about she prefers to buy homes and sell them on contract for deed. In NoMi and other parts of Minneapolis, we've seen landlords employ this tactic as a way to get around the rental licensing and inspections requirements. Instead, this woman said she used the contract for deed as a way to give her renters/clients/tenants a vested interest in the property. She selected only people that had a realistic chance of refinancing, and set up the contract terms in a way that encouraged success. In her experience, this was the best way to make sure she got good tenants.

Mangan also strongly advocated against buying and quickly turning the property for a profit. Instead, he recommended carefully selecting which properties to buy and hold over the long term.

Our third and final house was 277 Annapolis St E, in St. Paul. The pictures before the jump were of the woodwork inside and the foolishness of the previous owners, who covered the hardwood floor with cheap tile.

Do you ever wonder what it would look like if a rainbow ceiling fan were to somehow explode and cover a room in hideous combinations of every color imaginable? Well, wonder no more.

Pretty much every room in this house looked like that.

The other conversation of note that took place at this property was when one of the investors asked Mangan if he would convert anything into more bedroom space. The basement was already partially split up in the middle of an attempt to do just that. The response was, "This house is solid as a three-bedroom home. Why try to make it something that it's not?" Music to my ears.

High Point also provided a list of their "Metro 100" properties they felt were good potential investments. Once the pdf site memory issue is fixed, that list will be posted. I'll use my special Hawkman vision to look for mortgage and real estate connections that are invisible to the untrained eye. The third pdf addition will be High Point's "best buy list," in which they explain in detail what kinds of returns can be expected from specific investments. No addresses are attached to that list, presumably so that investors will go through High Point for those services.

When slumlords have been profiled on JNS, the question has often been asked, "When are you going to profile the GOOD landlords?" Based on much of what was SAID during this tour, High Point Worldwide may give us a chance to do just that. I've said from day one as housing director that it's simply not realistic to think we'll get out of this housing crisis without landlords and other investors. I've also said that I hope landlords and investors who do right by my neighborhood find ways to be incredibly profitable.

(That being said, I'd rather have a good owner-occupant in a single-family house instead of having more places be investor-owned.)

But the proof of whether High Point fits that profile depends not on what they say, but on what they do. So we'll put them under the microscope here on JNS and hopefully we like what we see. More posts are forthcoming as pdf site issues get resolved.

Monday, May 10, 2010

JNS Calls for Compostable Cheetos Wrappers!

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

In anticipation of another round of trees in the Hawthorne EcoVillage Tree Nursery, I went and cleaned almost forty of the pots where the trees will go. This blog has repeatedly called for police tape to be made from biodegradable corn starch polymer. We've also celebrated the fact that cups, plates, and utensils at EcoVillage gatherings are made from compostable materials.

But the mulch and moist dirt that accumulated over the winter and spring in the tree nursery pots seems to be the natural habitat for earthworms, beetles, and 99-cent Cheetos wrappers. So, why can't we make those biodegradable as well? It's not like those things have much of a shelf life. Think of how much cleaner our neighborhood would be if the Cheetos wrappers just kind of...went away. And if we can get THAT changed, then next up: Honey Buns.