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Chapter Twenty-One: Landlord Politics

 

When I returned to Minneapolis from the prepcom for the 1995 UN Social Summit, I found my second wife trying to hold down the fort in a deteriorating situation at the apartment building. An eviction process was underway. Relatives of the evicted tenants were living there without authorization. Though the building was being treated regularly by a licensed pest-control firm, there were cockroach problems. The police had been summoned to look for a gun. A Rental Property Owners’ committee of the neighborhood group wanted to meet with me and my wife. At the meeting, I started to explain how I was evicting three related tenants in response to allegations of drug dealing. The staff person interrupted me to say that she did not want excuses but action. Specifically, she wanted me to set a date to turn over management of the building to someone else. I refused.

Two days later, a condemnation placard of the Minneapolis health department was posted on the front door of my apartment building. All tenants would have to leave within three weeks. Several days later, a letter arrived informing me that the city would do a complete “rental-license inspection” on the building while it was vacant. In other words, while I was not collecting rents for the apartments, the city would impose heavy maintenance costs upon the property. If I did not have sufficient financial resources to complete the work orders, I might have to dispose of the building. The city would decide when, if ever, to lift the condemnation.

The neighborhood “Red Guards” had another treat for me. They leafleted the neighborhood to announce a special community meeting at which my property would be discussed. Could I talk over the situation with the Neighborhood Association board, I asked? No, it was too late. I had had my chance to be cooperative. There were approximately forty persons at the meeting on Saturday, April 1, 1995. Jackie Cherryhomes, now President of the Minneapolis City Council, was among those on hand to denounce me. Like a leper, I sat by myself in the middle of the front row of chairs, surrounded by empty seats on both sides. The “neighbors” had two principal demands: (1) that the apartment building sit vacant for at least six months to give the community “a breather” from the nefarious activities occurring at my building, and (2) that I relinquish management of the property. I later learned that, had I agreed to the six months’ vacancy, that would have put my building into the “nuisance property” category and allowed the city to have it demolished at my expense.

The meeting did not go as my enemies had expected. First, I embarrassed Council member Cherryhomes before her constituents by catching her in a lie. Second, I rebutted my chief accuser among the landlord contingent by pointing out that, while she was accusing me of tolerating crime, gang graffiti spray-painted in huge red lettering had not yet been removed from her own building across the street. Third, I gave the entire group a tongue lashing for its hypocrisy in dealing with crime. I told these people that I had sent out press releases calling attention to their cowardly event. I invited any interested person to come to my home immediately after the meeting to review the facts of the case. The air went out of the room. The would-be jackals left in small, orderly groups.

I later learned that Marcia Glancy, the staff person who had orchestrated this event, was not hired as the Association’s permanent executive director. I was told she had hoped to run for political office after taking my scalp. Several weeks later, Jerry Finkelstein, the owner of the apartment building across the street whose manager had denounced me at the meeting, called me to offer to buy my apartment building for $50,000 cash. I told him I was not interested in selling. I learned there had also been other discussions in the neighborhood about who might buy me out or who might manage it under the new ownership.

Such was my introduction to being a landlord in one of Minneapolis’ poorer neighborhoods. I soon learned that the city police had little interest in helping me as a tax-paying citizen deal with criminal activities in or near my building. Under the label of “community policing”, it instead formed alliances with “crime and safety committees” of neighborhood associations such as Harrison’s ostensibly for the purpose of controlling neighborhood crime. In practice, these groups framed the discussion of crime in terms of “problem properties” whose uncaring owners did not properly screen applicants for their apartments. A common remedy was to use inspections to find code violations at targeted buildings which would allow the city to close them down. Then, presumably, the crime problems would go away.

From my point of view, Minneapolis city officials were making landlords a scapegoat for their own inability to control crime as waves of drug dealers from Chicago, Los Angeles, or Detroit exploited the lucrative drug market in the Twin Cities. Contrary to popular opinion, the “community police” were not officers who patrolled neighborhoods on foot getting to know local residents but persons who sat around the table with neighborhood activists sipping coffee and deciding that a third party, the “absentee landlord” (a.k.a. “slumlord”), was responsible for crime rather than the criminals themselves.

I once asked if the police would write me a letter telling me who was dealing the drugs, promising to evict them if they were tenants. The system did not work that way, I was told. Instead, if I encouraged tenants to call 911 whenever they spotted drug activity in my building, the police would keep count of the number of calls coming from the building and, if it exceeded a certain number, use this as evidence that my building was out of control. I would be considered a negligent landlord who had required excess police resources and deserved to be punished.

The idea that landlords “profited from” drug dealing in their buildings was, of course, ludicrous. Our rents were not graded by ability to pay and we would be fools to invite gun-toting thugs into our buildings. As a novice landlord, I had little idea what a drug dealer looked like. I was hoping that the police would shed some light on such questions. They were more into blame-shifting. With an annual budget of $3 to $4 million, the Minneapolis SAFE (community police) had the resources to win the public-relations battle against the city’s landlords both by hiring “crime-prevention” specialists to peddle police propaganda in the course of their work and by doling out money to obliging community groups. I as the solitary proprietor of an apartment building in a crime-ridden neighborhood was fair game to be vilified and have my property taken. It was a turkey shoot.

When a northside landlord called for a tenant reference, he told me about a group of landlords in south Minneapolis, headed by Charlie Disney, who were suing the city. One of this group, Bob Anderson, called me when he read my opinion piece on “Community Policing” in the Star Tribune. There would be a meeting of the Minneapolis City Council at a southside community center to discuss a proposed ordinance holding landlords responsible for tenant misconduct. Disney and friends would be there. So I hooked up with the group of landlords which would later become Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee.

Charlie Disney was a nine-time state table-tennis champion who had operated Disney’s Table Tennis Center on Lake Street until it closed because of neighborhood crime. In the mid 1970s he was president of the U.S. Table Tennis Association. He was present at the historic tournament in Nagano, Japan, where the U.S. team was invited to tour China in an event that became known as “ping-pong diplomacy”. In any event, Charlie Disney was a man who knew how to build an organization. Through force of personality, he presided over a biweekly gathering of disgruntled landlords who met in a real-estate office on Blaisdel Avenue. They shared “war stories” and chipped in for a class-action lawsuit filed against the city alleging improper training and supervision of city inspectors and inconsistent inspections enforcement.

I became a regular at those meetings. Disney asked the landlords each to take several pages of a printout listing the city’s rental-property owners and write letters to those people. With self-publishing experience, I convinced the group instead to do a bulk mailing. Soon memberships and money to support the lawsuit started pouring in. However, a judge dismissed our case in federal court. We continued to meet regularly to decide what to do next. I thought we should try public protests. Our first protest demonstration took place in January, 1996, in front of the Minneapolis City Hall. A reporter from the public-radio station was among those covering the event. He interviewed me on the front steps of my apartment building.

The Twin Cities Reader, an alternative weekly newspaper, did an article on Charlie Disney and Kirk Hill, head of the Minnesota Tenants Union, calling them “the odd couple”. Despite their different interests, the two were in agreement on the folly of fighting crime by targeting rental properties. Disney and others, including me, expressed our views on talk radio. We wrote letters to the editor of the Star Tribune and tried to get opinion pieces published. Disney dubbed me the group’s “chief writer”.

Members of Disney’s group attended community meetings that were concerned with housing and crime issues. When the Minneapolis City Council sponsored a “town hall” meeting to air community concerns on September 19, 1996, the first five persons signed up to speak were landlords. This prompted an angry column by the editor of the Reader, personally attacking Disney and me. We threatened to sue the newspaper when an unsigned letter in the same vein appeared, which we suspected might have been written by the editor. An apology appeared in one of the Reader’s last issues. We met with the new Minneapolis police chief and his staff to discuss landlord concerns. We met with a representative of the Star Tribune editorial board. Like gangbusters, we hit the annual meeting of the Hennepin County Board. We picketed the Fourth Precinct police station when city officials demolished an apartment building whose owner was said to be a notorious “slumlord”. Since most of that building’s “crimes” had occurred on the street, we thought that the police should accept some ownership of those problems considering that its headquarters were less than two blocks away.

A young African American woman, Helen Hughes, had been killed by gun fire as she was buying ice cream cones for her three children in front of that building at 1030 Morgan Avenue North. I knew her. I had recently given her a ride to the Dollar Store on Lowry and Penn. She and her children had stayed in my apartment building just a few months earlier. Unfortunately, she was related to the people whom the neighborhood group had accused of drug dealing. While the Mayor’s picture was on the front page of the Star Tribune compassionately hugging this woman’s mother, the city had closed down my building because I had not evicted her (the mother) and her relatives fast enough.

At the urging of group members, I filed a lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis, the two city inspectors, and the City Council member alleging that abuse of process had taken place when my building was condemned. The city had used its power to inspect buildings, presumably for health and safety purposes, for unrelated purposes such as crime control. Unfortunately, the facade of official secrecy surrounding the incident yielded little hard evidence. Andy Ellis, a retired housing inspector belonging to the group, assured me that that to condemn a building for cockroach infestation when it was under the care of a licensed pest-control firm was not standard practice. Even so, the courts give cities broad discretion in regulatory matters. I abandoned the case when I learned that it would cost me more than $20,000 in attorney fees to take it to court. Being now without a job, I could not afford to jeopardize my future to finance a test case.

On Labor Day weekend,1996, our landlord group set up a card table on the corner of 19th and Portland, said to be the site of the worst drug dealing in town, and held a news conference. We pointed out the obvious fact that, while city officials were punishing landlords for failure to control drug dealing in their buildings, a flourishing “open air drug market” was taking place out on the street as police squad cars whizzed by. This was our first big event. Camera crews from three television stations and the Star Tribune’s ace City Hall reporter, Kevin Diaz, covered it. (Diaz was a fearless reporter who even knocked on the front door of a suspected drug dealer’s house in pursuit of an interview.) Adding to the excitement, Diaz’s article reported that “just before 2 p.m., what sounded like a gunshot rang out ... from the direction of Portland and Franklin Avenues. It was widely assumed to be a sign of the neighborhood’s illegal drug trade.”

The crime problem in Minneapolis - a.k.a. “Murderapolis” - had gotten to be so bad that the Governor of Minnesota ordered National Guard helicopters to fly over parts of the city and shine spotlights down on the streets. While many liberals scoffed, we publicly applauded the Governor’s action. In response, I received a letter from Governor Arne Carlson, dated September 20, 1996, which read in part: “I commend the Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee and its proposed agenda for addressing criminal behavior within the City of Minneapolis. It is concern and commitment such as that which is being demonstrated by your organization that is important in confronting criminal and anti-social behavior.”

Charlie Disney regularly accused the Minneapolis police of ignoring street crime in the Phillips neighborhood, which he called “a crime containment zone.” Several of us testified before the Hennepin County Commission in favor of building the new jail. Our agitation seemed to have little effect on city officials. To turn up the heat a few notches, Disney and Mel Gregerson, owner of an apartment building on Park Avenue, began conducting what were called “Minneapolis crack tours”. A block club in Phillips had actually printed a brochure for these “tours”. Charlie and Mel drove a large van through Phillips streets, the scene of intense drug dealing, posing as suburban drug customers while important government officials sat in the back seat. Mel and Charlie would arrange to buy cocaine for their mysterious guests, but, of course, the deal would fall through at the last moment. More than twenty of these “tours” took place; it’s lucky no one got shot. We even offered to conduct crack tours for members of the Democratic National Committee who were considering Minneapolis as a site for its 2000 convention.

Needless to say, the city’s political establishment hated us. A human-rights attorney posted a notice on the city-issues email discussion group that the crack tours showed the “racist” nature of our organization. We were making fun of the mostly black drug dealers. In response, I argued that the crack tours were intended mainly to put pressure on the police. But, I wrote, “if you are determined to find racism, I’m sure you will succeed.” For that comment, I received a warning from the discussion-group host not to post personal attacks in the future.

This went on for the better part of five years. To say the least, Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee was not a “team player” on the local political scene. Through our actions we did, however, manage gradually to persuade the community that buildings do not cause crime; people do. The city police, not landlords, were the community’s main crime fighters. Particular neighborhoods such as Phillips should not be used as “jail substitutes”. Police should arrest criminals and judges should issue meaningful sentences.

Against our own economic interest as landlords, we also argued that the city should not demolish structurally sound buildings. We picketed two sites of such buildings scheduled to be demolished. A triplex at 3330 Chicago Avenue South, owned by the Minneapolis Community Development Agency, was bulldozed even as our protest was taking place. We made sure that members of the Minnesota legislature learned how state tax dollars for Minneapolis community development were being spent. We also held a rally in front of a building at 2727 Portland Avenue South near the Honeywell headquarters. By then, our group was equipped with bull horns and satirical sheet music. We were regularly able to turn out a crowd of twenty to thirty activists to put the spotlight on bad city practices. When the “affordable housing” crisis became a cause celebre in 2000 and 2001, the landlords could honestly say: We told you so.

The city of Minneapolis was tearing down buildings to appease neighborhood groups that wanted the land for public gardens and side yards. Sometimes individuals sitting on their housing committees arranged to acquire these properties, fix-up grants, or other benefits for themselves. When David Sundberg, a landlord, told me how a committee of the Central Neighborhood Improvement Association was arranging sweetheart deals for its members, I went to the next meeting under cover. There I learned that the committee was recommending to the city that it demolish three buildings in the neighborhood because an appraiser had estimated that the cost of repairing the buildings was more than their worth. Furthermore, the owners could not be located.

I managed to locate the owner of one building who said she had arranged with a contractor to renovate the building for a price far less than what the appraiser had estimated would be needed. We staged a demonstration at this building with the owner and her son. Reporter Lou Harvin covered it for the public-television station, KTCA. This incident illustrated how city-approved appraisers justified building demolitions by the use of questionable formulae. We also upset the committee members when our cable-television show producer, Bryan Olson, set up his camera equipment at one of their meetings and, despite objections, recorded the proceedings.

When Ann Prazniac’s decomposing body was found stuffed inside a cardboard box in an apartment building, the city blamed the owner of the building for the tragedy. At a public gathering, City Council member Jim Niland vowed that the city would “descend like a ton of bricks” on the property owner if he did not fix the problem soon. Television news programs reported that inspectors had spotted rats near the building - a sure sign of impending problems with the city. Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee swung into action. Over the weekend, Charlie Disney and several others interrogated the man who until two weeks earlier had owned the building. Were the locks functioning? Was maintenance being kept up? Did he carefully screen applicants for the apartments?

Satisfied that the landlord was not at fault, the Property Rights group sent out a press release that it would hold a public meeting on the Prazniak murder in the Minneapolis mayor’s office. The release stated that this group had five-hundred members. Some media reported that five-hundred landlords would be gathering in the mayor’s office. About fifty of us were there. The mayor graciously let us use her anteroom for the meeting. Charlie Disney led the building’s previous owner through a set of questions that were intended to show his innocence. A battery of television cameras recorded the event.

It soon became apparent that the mayor, Council member Niland, and other city officials, as well as the media people, did not much care for the process that we had devised. Niland read a statement from a community-police officer to the effect that the apartment owner was a bad landlord. The mayor asked for permission to speak. Eyeing a good sound bite, she gave a five-minute talk about how we all ought to work together to solve crime problems, how the city was ready to work with landlords to deal with problem tenants, etc. I stood up to reply. The Prazniak murder, I said, was not caused by negligent landlords or misbehaving tenants but by drug-addicted thugs who had broken into the building from the street. Turning around to Jim Niland, I said, “Don’t ask landlords to solve the city’s crime problem, Mr. Niland. That’s the responsibility of the police.”

There was thunderous applause. Then, one after another, the mostly minority tenants of the troubled apartment building who were in the audience came up to the front table to denounce city officials for wanting to toss innocent people out on the street. The mayor and Council member beat a hasty retreat. The mayor’s assistant, listening to this angry talk, promised that the mayor would visit the apartment building at 1818 Park on the following day to listen to tenants’ concerns and propose solutions to their housing needs. This event made all the local news programs and was the subject of a front-page story in the Star Tribune written by Kevin Diaz.

The other high (or low) point in the group’s activist history was an incident that took place on the Friday before the general election in November 1998. The city was proposing the revoke the rental license of a five-unit apartment building owned by a man named Russ Erkkila who had just put $100,000 of his own money into renovations. The community police (CCP-SAFE) had orchestrated this move. Erkkila had received his third warning letter in a year which, according to the ordinance, triggered a license review by the City Council. I interviewed Erkkila. None of the incidents associated with the three letters seemed to me to be a legitimate cause of revoking his license. Either Erkkila had dealt promptly with the situation, he did not receive the letter, or he had done nothing which met the statutory definition of landlord neglect.

Nevertheless, a City Council committee headed by Joe Biernat, the Council’s vice president, had approved the revocation. Biernat remarked at the hearing that he seldom went against the recommendation of a SAFE officer, adding infamously that, in this case, the officer was a “goddess”. I wrote up a summary of Erkkila’s case and sent copies to each of the City Council members. Then we sent a letter to the goddess-like officer, Hillary Freeman, telling her to be in her office on Friday morning at 9 o-clock sharp since we wanted to talk with her about the Erkkila situation.

Equipped with placards, a bull horn, American flag, and other protest paraphernalia, thirty people gathered outside the SAFE headquarters downtown. Besides members of our group and my brother and his wife, the protesters included candidates for state-wide office from several minor parties. Hillary Freeman was, of course, on vacation. We talked instead with a Lieutenant Diaz. Upon hearing that the City Council had already voted to revoke Erkkila’s license, our group headed over to the Council chambers a block away. A meeting was in progress.

We first sat obediently in the benches. Then Charlie Disney rose to get things started. We began circling the spectator area of the Council chambers carrying our picket signs. The City Council members sat stone-faced conducting their business. Then, one of our group, Keith Reitman, shouted, “Hey, there’s a demonstration going on here.” Jackie Cherryhomes, the Council President, banged her gavel. “This is our meeting, sit down,” she said. “No it isn’t,” replied Bob Anderson, an ex-cop; “It’s our meeting.”

All hell broke loose as members of our group began shouting at the Council members. We had a camcorder to record the event. “Legalized extortion! You people ought to be put in prison!,” yelled a former landlord who had lost his triplex to the MCDA. The City Council members huddled in small groups to decide what action to take next. Evidently because a mass arrest might affect the election next week, the Council leadership decided to ride out the storm. Joe Biernat made a brief statement. His insulting remarks only brought more shouts from our side. We left after half an hour. The article in next morning’s Star Tribune called it the worst disturbance at City Hall in over twenty years.

We also took on the poverty group ACORN and the Legal Aid society when they tried to harass landlords. On November 18, 2000, ACORN conducted a “slumlord tour” for the media, taking a bus to three sites. We also climbed aboard. The first “slumlord” was one of our own members, a man with a reputation for keeping his place in good repair. A tenant who had put a pizza box in the oven was claiming that the landlord had ignored calls for maintenance on this appliance. Unfortunately for ACORN, another tenant told the television crew that this apartment was the best one where he had ever lived. The second site also did not seem to be in “slum” condition. It was the third one, however, which really caught our attention.

A tenant had accused the landlord, a pregnant Hmong woman, of neglecting maintenance on the roof. She also said the building had no heat. When we arrived at the apartment, the hallway seemed well heated. The tenant claimed there was no heat in her apartment unit but would not let anyone enter to verify that fact. In an empty unit, work was being done on the ceiling. We later learned that the landlady had repeatedly tried to get the roofing contractor to come back to repair a defective installation. There was ice buildup. Water would trickle through the ceilings when the ice thawed. During one such incident, while she was set to deliver her baby and in no condition to respond, a legal paraprofessional was at the building gathering evidence of the landlady’s negligence. My caretaker and I went over to repair a ruptured ceiling in the complainant’s apartment so that the evidence of negligence would be removed. Infuriated, the legal note taker tried to find out my name from my caretaker but he wouldn’t tell.

The Legal Aid Society of Hennepin County did learn all our names a bit later when several of us landlords went to the County Commission to testify in favor of cutting its budget. I wrote a letter to the Commissioners pointing out that the Legal Aid Society was threatening to break the Hmong landlady financially by imposing heavy legal costs if she did not settle on their terms. As a condition of settlement, she was required to lie to prospective landlords who might later be interviewing her former tenants for an apartment. The landlady had been told that some of those tenants were using drugs. And here Legal Aid was trying to keep the tenants in her building while extorting several months of free rent. During my own testimony to the Commission, I turned to the head of Legal Aid, seated next to me, and blasted him for the stipulation about lying. Maybe that’s how you do it in the courtroom, I said, but not in my neighborhood. Others from our group also denounced Legal Aid and its tactics. We later received letters from a Commissioner saying how glad she was that we had showed up to testify. Usually it was those on the other side who appeared at Commission hearings.

Oddly enough, our group’s main activity was not public testimony or protest demonstrations but producing a cable-television show. Back in December 1996, a member named Mike Wisniewski persuaded Disney that it might be worthwhile to videotape our meetings and show them on public-access television. With our expanding membership, we moved the meetings to a community room at a Minneapolis city park. The two-hour meetings were divided into two one-hour segments to fit into available television time slots. Eventually, a freelance video cameraman and producer active in Reform Party politics, Bryan Olson, took over production of the show. It aired on the regional cable-television station, Channel 6, and on MTN, the Minneapolis cable-access station.

The once freewheeling landlord “gripe sessions” turned into a staged discussion. Charlie Disney was the moderator. The program featured experts on housing and crime issues, along with politicians. At the same time, it was an audience-participation show at which members of the audience were free to speak out or ask questions. I used to describe our event as “a cross between a public-policy discussion and the Jerry Springer show.” If audience members did not throw chairs or expose themselves, they certainly used politically incorrect language. Even so, we found that the show could attract serious guests. It attracted a growing audience and was watched at City Hall.

Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton was the guest of honor at our June 2000 meeting. We tried to treat the mayor respectfully without giving her such an easy time as to create a publicity windfall. At the meeting, the mayor agreed to begin a serious dialogue with our group; hopefully, this would usher in a new era of cooperation between landlords and city government. Part of the process was to develop lists of issues that were of mutual concern. I was the group’s point man in that endeavor. We held meetings to refine our issues. I met with the mayor’s representative to review each point. The idea was that the mayor’s office would formulate a response. Out of this might come some proposals for change, we hoped.

After the one face-to-face meeting, I checked in periodically to see what progress was being made. There was no progress. Inconclusive discussions were still being held within the city bureaucracy. After several months of this, we began to play a little game on our television show. I would pretend to be the eternal optimist still waiting for the mayor’s office to come through with a good proposal. Another man, Jim Swartwood, would call me a “Neville Chamberlain” who favored appeasing the mayor. Long after it was clear that our “dialogue” was a political charade, we kept up this game. Finally, in the spring of 2001, when the mayor announced her plans to run for reelection, we learned that her main housing proposal consisted of expunging Unlawful Detainer records - making it more difficult for landlords to learn if an applicant for an apartment had previously been evicted. Yes, we had indeed been had. We began discussing the possibility of Charlie Disney’s running for mayor.

Our group had been active in the previous city election. The election of 1997 pitted the incumbent mayor, Sharon Sayles Belton, against Barbara Carlson, hostess of a radio talk show (and also the Governor’s ex-wife). I announced that I would run for mayor that year but bowed out to support Carlson. The landlord group formed what we called our “political committee” to support favored candidates. Members of this committee tended to be landlords not active in our group. We in the regular group were dismayed to learn that the political committee was positioning itself as a committee of “responsible landlords”(as opposed to the irresponsible ones in our group) and developing criteria for membership. Since the committee had been formed with our money and membership lists, that stance seemed ungrateful. Another problem was that the committee, meeting once a week, spent all its time debating policy statements. By the late summer, little or nothing had yet been done to help candidates.

Meanwhile, Charlie Disney and friends were out in the campaign trenches. Our hand-lettered signs, exhibited at a mayoral debate at Lucille’s Kitchen, nearly precipitated a race riot. One sign read: “A vote for Sharon is a vote for crime.” A white woman carrying that sign was physically assaulted by a black woman. When the first woman’s husband pulled up in a car trying to rescue her, the mayor’s personal bodyguard fired a shot at his car as it sped away. This could have been a major political embarrassment for Sayles Belton had Carlson not taken the “high road” and joined in the mayor’s plea for racial harmony. I was not in town at the time. Neither was our “political committee” involved in any of this. While it had endorsed several candidates (most of whom lost), this group was still debating resolutions and policy statements two months before the election.

The main landlord group offered its membership list so that the political committee could telephone landlords to ask for lawnsign locations. Instead, it voted to wait another month before taking action. At this point, I took it upon myself to gather up all the copies of our membership list and tell the committee to fend for itself. That caused hard feelings. After the umbilical cord with its parent had been severed, the political committee became defunct.

This experience caused me to think about what kind of a group Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee was. It was not democratic. It did not pass resolutions or take votes. The group’s leadership was unelected. Yet, more than most groups involved in politics, it got things done. It was not like our own “political committee” or most neighborhood groups whose members just sit around talking and taking votes. This was an action committee. We all looked to Charlie Disney for leadership in organizing the action. While Charlie had his critics, he was by far the group’s most hard-working member. He was its communication center, on the telephone for hours on end. He was the one who knew all the people both inside our organization and out. We trusted Charlie’s judgment in deciding group affairs.

Democracy, I thought, is not all it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes, the best kind of organization is one which acts by consensus and takes direction from a recognized leader, even someone who was never elected to that position. When Charlie Disney resigned from the leadership of our organization in the summer of 2001, his departure put that theory to the test.

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