Category Archives: Minnesota

MGDPA and MN DPS

Ever tried to file a Minnesota Government Data Practices Act Request with the MN Department of Public Safety? I just did, and it’s impossible to find the email address of the Responsible Authority for the request. I’m sure this is for good reason: once you start publishing email addresses for people who respond to data practices requests, people start requesting data!

Anyway, save yourself some time and send those data request emails to mona.dohman at state dot mn dot us, and cc joseph.newton at state dot mn dot us. Mona Dohman responded to my email and said my request would be taken care of.

On the seriousness of car-bike accidents

This morning, I got hit by a car while biking northbound down Hennepin toward Loring Park.  Residents in my neighborhood will surely recognize this craptastic intersection:

Hennepin and Oak Grove

It was lightly raining, so I was going slower than usual and had my lights on.  I was actually feeling good because unlike most mornings, there weren’t any cars inching forward into the crosswalk (the green stripe in the above photo, which of course is now faded), which means it’s easy to get onto the ramp and into Loring Park.  There was no traffic in either of the two lanes on my left as I approached the intersection, so everything seemed fine.

Then, out of my peripheral vision, I see a car on my left speeding ahead, and I can see that it’s signaling for a right turn – right into where I’m about to be.  I didn’t have even close to enough time to brake (even if it weren’t raining, but especially because it was), and considering how fast they were going, this person was clearly intending to take that corner as fast as they could before I made it into the intersection.

They weren’t fast enough, and so as I’m yelling at the top of my lungs, my bike clips their rear quarter panel and I’m sent sprawling into the street.  She drives off, pretending not to have heard either me or the loud thump when my bike hit her car.

So I’m not hurt too bad (of course I’m wearing a helmet and decided to put on gloves before I left too), but I decide to call the cops to at least report the accident, seeing as it’s a hit-and-run.  I give dispatch my location and a description of the car and which way it was headed.

While I’m waiting for the cops to show up, apparently some City of Minneapolis van which was behind her manages to track her down and “inform” her of what happened.  So this young woman walks over to the intersection a few seconds before the cops show up and tells me that she was the one who hit me and that she’s really sorry.

So an officer shows up, and I explain what happened and he basically tells me that I need to be more careful because it’s raining.  Thanks!  Meanwhile, the girl who drove off after the accident but who returned to the scene after being “busted” by a city employee – the officer doesn’t even ask her name, and her car is parked way up the road, so he sure isn’t getting her license plate info either.  The cop asks her what happened first, and she says “I didn’t see him!”  After I explain my version of events, this changes a bit to “I was trying to speed up to get around him!”

But the officer doesn’t really care either way.  Which is fine for her because she needs to get going because she’s “late for an appointment.”  So the twenty-something blonde (EDIT: I used those words to inform the reader of potential bias, not to myself be sexist/blonde-ist/etc.) just leaves, while the driver of the van tries to explain to the officer that indeed *I* was somehow at fault.  He thinks that cyclists are supposed to follow the crosswalk signs, and because it was flashing orange (according to him, anyway – I distinctly remember it being white for “walk”), I shouldn’t have been in the intersection, and this whole thing is my fault.  The officer nods his head in approval and I decide to leave rather than argue.  Hopefully that city employee is not a transportation engineer.

So anyway, the moral of the story is apparently this: if you are involved in a hit-and-run with a cyclist and someone catches you, just return to the scene of the crime.  This time around, no police report was written with anyone’s name in it, she got no ticket and can continue to drive recklessly.   And if she hits another cyclist and speeds off, no one will be the wiser.

UPDATE (10/2): I went down to City Hall to find a copy of the police report that was filed for this.  There was none filed – apparently cars running over cyclists is not a serious enough incident to warrant a report.  So I filed a complaint against the officer.  Here’s the text of my complaint:

On the morning of October 1, 2014, I was travelling via bicycle in the bike lane northbound on Hennepin Avenue approaching Oak Grove Street. As I approached the intersection, a car behind me sped up to overtake me and to take a right-hand turn onto Oak Grove. The car entered the intersection at the same time that I did. I struck the rear quarter panel of the car and was thrown off my bike, sustaining minor injuries.

The car did not stop. I called 911 to report a hit-and-run. Another driver (driving a city of Minneapolis van) who was travelling northbound on Hennepin witnessed the event and pursued the driver involved in the accident. The driver who was involved in the accident walked back to the scene (after presumably being “informed” of the accident by the van driver), where she said that she was the one who hit me, and if she could do anything to help.

Moments later, Officer Collier arrived on the scene. He asked what happened and the woman who hit me said that she did not see me as she was turning. I also gave my version of events, which were largely the same, after which the woman claimed that she did see me but was speeding up to get around me. After this brief interaction, the woman was allowed to leave without offering her name, license, or license plate information, let alone be given a ticket for reckless driving or leaving the scene of an accident.

I was disappointed in this response by Officer Collier, who also informed me that I was actually the one who needed to be more careful. I know exactly how careful I need to be, as I bike through this intersection almost every day. It is because of reckless drivers like the one who hit me that I exercise extreme caution. That no ticket was given for endangering my life indicates that MPD approves of the status quo: drivers are free to do what they want, and that cyclists need to figure out how to stay out of the way. My views on this were reinforced by the officer’s unwillingess to question why the driver was fled the scene – I find it difficult to understand how someone could just continue driving after hearing an object strike their car.

It has also come to my attention that no police report has been filed in this matter. I think a police report should be filed when cars strike cyclists or pedestrians. I also do not think it’s wise policy to allow hit-and-run drivers to go free without consequences, even if they later return to the scene of the crime. If it weren’t for the motorist who tracked her down, she would have gotten away without consequences. (Though in this case, even after returning to the accident scene, she was able to avoid any consequences.)

I live less than one block away from where a cyclist was struck and killed earlier this year. The ghost bike memorial there is a daily reminder of the fragile nature of riding a bike alongside cars and trucks. I would like the Minneapolis Police Department to show better judgment and impose serious penalties for reckless drivers when responding to car-bike and car-pedestrian accidents.

Open Letter to Katie Sieben on Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV)

I wrote an email to Senate Subcommittee Chair on Elections Katie Sieben (sen.katie.sieben at senate dot mn), and I encourage you to do the same if you want to encourage the possibility of ranked-choice voting in cities across Minnesota:

I was disappointed to read your quote in the Star Tribune editorial about ranked-choice voting.  Obviously your position means more than more others, as you are the Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Elections.  Ranking preferences of candidates is not “too complicated” for voters.  In fact, it’s much easier than deciding whether to vote for the candidate I really want, or to vote for the candidate who is most likely to defeat someone I want out of office.  *That* creates a much more complicated scenario than it needs to be!

All cities in Minnesota should at least have the option of exploring whether RCV would work for them.  There must be a stronger argument against RCV than “it’s too complicated” and I would like to hear it.  Even grade schoolers know how to rank things.

One reason I am writing this letter today is the dismal turnout (six percent) at yesterday’s primary for Hennepin County Commissioner.  While it will always be challenging to encourage turnout at off-year primaries for special elections, RCV would eliminate the primary and allow Minnesotans to vote just once for important positions.  Minneapolis proved last year that RCV is a smart way to handle elections when many candidates are seeking office.

Please reconsider your position on ranked-choice voting.

Quick rant on state-issued IDs

Just in case I forgot how easily and subtly the deck can be stacked against certain groups of people, I had to go to the DMV to get my license renewed recently.  It was fairly slow in there, so I was chatting with the nice woman who was processing my paperwork and learned some interesting things.

Apparently you’re supposed to have your driver’s license or ID renewed any time you move.  I knew that you were supposed to, but I’d never personally done that before.  That’s $15.75 (currently) every time you move.  I’ve lived in 9 different places since moving to Minneapolis, so technically I should be out at least $140, not even counting the cost to renew an expiring license, which is $26.25.

So I asked the clerk if anyone actually did that, and she said people do it all the time.  I was skeptical, so I asked her why – pretty sure none of my friends bothered to go to the DMV every time they moved.  As it turns out, if you’re stopped by a police officer and give an ID that lists an incorrect address (more than 30 days after you’ve moved), you can be fined $200.  (So the correct answer to the officer is always “I *just* moved last week”)

If I were some Republican strategist making this an issue, I’d call it a Moving Tax.  Couldn’t make your rent and had to move back in with your parents? That’ll be $15, please.  Finally got a job and moved out of a homeless shelter and into your first apartment?  That’ll cost you another $15.

On a side note, while I was at the counter another man (likely homeless and perhaps mentally ill) needed a new ID issued.  He didn’t have the $15 to pay for it, so was instructed to wait until Friday and to go to 17th and Chicago to get a voucher (apparently Friday is ID voucher day at Catholic Charities).  This guy had trouble moving from his seat to the counter.  I couldn’t imagine him spending the better part of his Friday getting to 17th and Chicago, then waiting to get a voucher, then traveling back across town to the Government Center, so I paid for him.  I didn’t stick around to see what he listed on the address line.

Following the money on Mark Dayton

As an equal-opportunity opponent of institutionalized corruption current campaign finance law, I’ll take a look at the biggest fish in the gubernatorial pond, incumbent Mark Dayton.  Dayton has raised a total of $1,086,739.75 for his 2014 campaign, a number which dwarfs that of the highest GOP fundraiser, Scott Honour.

So where does that money comes from?  A few of Minnesota’s key political families play a big role.  Followers of MN politics will probably recognize the last names of Borman, Cowles, Dayton, Messinger, Pohlad, and Sieben – combined they donated $130,600, which is over 12 percent of Dayton’s total.  Those families each donated between $12,000 and $20,000 except for the Dayton family, who donated $54,750 in total.

Continuing the focus on big-money donors, let’s look at those who contributed the maximum amount of $4,000.  There were 106 such donors contributing to the 2014 cycle, a number which includes contributions from political committees (22 total) and registered lobbyists (11 total).  That means max donors accounted for almost 40 percent of Dayton’s fundraising total.

Looking further at those same max donors, there were 14 instances where 2 donors at the same residence donated the maximum amount – a fairly common tactic to maximize political influence. There was also one instance of three max donors using the same PO Box (the above-referenced Messinger family).

I was planning on going further in-depth on Dayton’s fundraising, but there are a handful of other projects I need to tackle this week, so I’m cutting this one short – I just don’t have the bandwidth to give this the attention it deserves. I’ll write more on the influence of money as we get closer to the election. I’ll leave you with this short speech from Senator Wellstone on the realities of political corruption:

 

Following the money on Scott Honour

Every year before an election, candidates for state office are required to file with the MN Campaign Finance and Disclosure Board.  And every year, intrepid reporters dig through those disclosure forms, creating pretty graphs or writing interesting stories about numbers.

I like to dig through those reports too, though my approach is less methodical in some ways (and moreso in others).  I don’t know the candidates very well, and I find campaign rhetoric to be quite tedious, so I focus on the process.  For the record, I don’t hate all the players, but I sincerely hate the game – when money mixes with politics, democracy always loses.

I was able to extract some text from the online filings (despite them being “copy-protected” which renders the copy-paste function on some PDF readers unusable) and was able to glean a little bit of interesting information from it.  Let’s kick things off with our top moneymakin’ challenger Scott Honour!

Scott Honour had itemized contributions from approximately 309 donors in 2013, and raised a total of $596,680.  Not too shabby! 16 current employees of the Gores Group (based in Los Angeles, and where Honour was once senior managing director) contributed $21,250, not including spouses, who kicked roughly an additional $10,000.  Not to be outdone, 11 employees of Moelis & Company chipped in $26,750 (their spouses gave an additional estimated $13,250).  So employees (and spouses) of just two companies account for over 10 percent of Honour’s total fundraising!

Also interesting was that of those 309 total donors, approximately 91 were from California – a close second to Minnesota, which had 134 donors.  So less than half of Honour’s donors live in MN – in fact, one $4K donor (the maximum amount allowable) lives in Singapore!

Speaking of max donors, there were a total of 58 individuals who donated the $4,000 max to Honour’s campaign in 2013 – that’s over $250K!  How many of these folks are connected with good ol’ Minnesota businesses?  Well, not too many – here are their employers (number in front is how many $4,000 donors that employer accounts for):

1 API Group
1 ATEK Companies
1 Bijan
1 BreitBurn Mgt Co.
1 Dalton Capital
1 ELO Touch Solutions
1 GTL
1 Gold Mine
1 Golden Gate Capital
1 Gravitas Development Group
1 Legendary Media
1 Macquarie
1 Meagher & Geer PLLP
1 Medtox Scientific
1 Miller Barondess LLP
1 Mount Yale
1 Northern Pacific Group
1 Norwest Equity Partners
1 Overbrook Capital
1 Palisades Ventures
1 Sagent Advisors
1 Self-employed actress
1 Self-employed entrepreneur
1 Skadden Arps
1 Superior Edge
1 TCF Bank
1 Top Hat
1 UCLA
1 Weil Gotshal
2 Self-employed Investor
3 The Gores Group
5 Moelis & Co.
6 Retired
13 Homemaker

Most of those are investment groups of some form or another, so I’m not really sure what they do.  Though judging by their contributions, an ally in office must be vital to their success – I suppose they are allowed a bigger say in who gets elected since they’re the ones that will eventually profit from it.  I’ll admit I was curious about the “self-employed actress” that could afford to give $4,000 to Mr. Honour – maybe it’s a celebrity! It turns out she’s just good pals with the Gores Group folks.

Is this the kind of candidate Minnesotans are willing to get behind?  Is an important factor in choosing a governor is to know how many friends they have in the financial services sector?

Anyway, the above information probably isn’t a surprise to those who follow politics closely.  But I hold Minnesota Republicans to a higher standard than their national counterparts and they should be wary of thinking a professional money man is palatable to the voters of this great state.

(And yes, while this post is focused on a Republican, Mark Dayton’s filing is even more interesting and some data from that will be detailed in a future post.)