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Community Aims to Rename Garden After Slain Neighbor Robert Skafte

Plus Longfellow gets a new newsletter, MnDOT sicks to its dad jokes, and an Alpha News grant upsets orgs in today's Flyover news roundup.

5:48 PM CST on January 17, 2024

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Robert Howard Skafte

Welcome back to The Flyover, your daily midday digest of what local media outlets and Twitter-ers are gabbing about.

The Movement To Rename Park Gains Traction

On December 8, community gardener and professional dancer Robert Skafte was killed while working at Oak Grove Grocery in the Loring Park neighborhood of Minneapolis. “Everybody on the street knows Robert,” a friend of Skafte told Racket in December. “Somebody walks in and they can't afford coffee, he’ll just pour them a cup.” Now friends, neighbors, and City Council members are working to rename Overlook Gardens, which Skafte helped maintain daily, in honor of his memory. The Stephens Square space, which features plants native to Minnesota and views of downtown Minneapolis, runs along 17th Street S. between Second Avenue S. and Stevens Avenue.

While the property is owned by MnDOT, a resolution has been submitted by Minneapolis Park Board Commissioner Elizabeth Shaffer to obtain a limited use permit that would allow the park to add and maintain things like signage and a park bench with Skafke’s name. City Council Members Katie Cashman and Jamal Osman have also signed a letter in support. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Skafte’s accused killer was found mentally incompetent to stand trial

MnDOT Vows to Keep Goofing, Responsibly

Speaking of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, some folks in town are concerned that new national guidelines could soon stop the department from making “zany” jokes via road signage. In late December, the Federal Highway Administration released a new 1,000+ page standards manual, where it states that traffic safety messages be "simple, direct, brief, and clear." (Because no one wants to admit they caused a wreck while trying to understand a Taylor Swift reference, right?) But fear not! MnDOT officials say they plan to keep on making dad jokes on the roads. "[MnDOT] does NOT anticipate [changing the way it] shares creative highway safety messages," a spokesperson tells Kyle Stokes of Axios. Comedy isn’t dead, folks!

Coming Soon: Longfellow Whatever, a New Neighborhood Newsletter

Hyperlocal neighborhood news sources? We love ‘em here at Racket! So we were excited to see that a new emailer, Longfellow Whatever, is launching on March 1. The project is helmed by Trevor Born, a former AP reporter and freelancer (including here at Racket) who has lived in the area for 16 years. He, along with a group of contributors, plan to cover local businesses, historic oddities, crime trends, neighborhood personalities, and other stuff. According to the site, folks who sign up for $10 a month will receive “brief updates delivered to their inbox in a tone somewhere between a local newspaper and texts from an in-the-know friend.” Longfellow Whatever will be in good company; area residents can also find neighborhood news via Longfellow Nokomis Messenger, the 39-year-old monthly newspaper.

Watchdog Group Not Cool With Alpha News Getting Grant Money

Over the last two years, Alpha News has received $20,000 in grants from donors via the Minneapolis Foundation. Now watchdog group Communities United Against Police Brutality wants the community foundation to take some of that money back. "If a donor wanted you to direct funds to the Proud Boys, would you abide by such a request?" writes CUAPB President Michelle Gross in a letter also signed by Black Lives Matter Minnesota and the Racial Justice Network. 

For those blessedly unfamiliar, Alpha News is a far-right nonprofit news site launched in 2015 by a group of (mostly unnamed) Tea Party Republicans. Alpha also dabbles in cinema; its 2023 doc The Fall of Minneapolis has been criticized for glossing over things like George Floyd’s autopsy findings and this harrowing DOJ report to curate a pro-cop, anti-victim narrative. (Be sure to check out this bruising review from Deena Winter at Minnesota Reformer). 

Each year, the Minneapolis Foundation gives out around $100 million in grants. While the foundation offers recs on how to award grants, it doesn't control where the money flowing through donor-advised funds ultimately ends up. The Minneapolis Foundation said in a recent statement that it does review those funds, but it didn't specifically address CUAPB's demands to rescind the ones awarded to Alpha News.

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