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Mystery Benches Appear Downtown

Plus a contemptible MN city, a slain lizard, and the Minnesota Voters Alliance rides again in today's Flyover news roundup.

Minneapolis Public Seating Authority|

You could sit here.

Welcome back to The Flyover, your daily digest of important, overlooked, and/or interesting Minnesota news stories.

Take a Seat, Minneapolis

The downtown Minneapolis booster club wants your ass back to work, but doesn’t seem worried about the area’s lack of green space and lack of toilets, as outlined in our extensive guide to possible fixes. Something we didn’t touch on: Beyond the presence of outwardly hostile architecture, there just aren’t many great places to pop a squat. (As Monty Burns himself once said, “Oh, yes, sitting. The great leveler. From the mightiest Pharaoh to the lowliest peasant, who doesn’t enjoy a good sit?”) A mysterious semi-solution is popping up, seemingly at random: homemade wooden benches created by a group calling itself the Minneapolis Public Seating Authority.

In reality MPSA is more or less Seward resident Tom Saunders, reports Brianna Kelly of Downtown Voices. He says he remembers a time when downtown had more public seating and, inspired by online chatter and similar efforts in other cities, he began handcrafting benches from reclaimed wood.

“The main idea is just to bring awareness to the lack of friendly space downtown, specifically seating, but also restrooms. Obviously, I can’t change that by myself, but I can put out a few benches to start discussion around the topic,” says Saunders, who has thus far plopped three benches around town, each with a sweet little inspirational carved into ‘em. Think of him as the Johnny Appleseed of benches—Tommy Benchy... seed?

Kelly hints at some reactionary opposition to public seating (wild thoughts of benches inspiring loitering and drug dealing), but gives one of the last words to a fellow resident who’s happy to see MSPA plugging away, even if the group is just a fancy-sounding way to say Tom Saunders. “[We need] seating that is available for everyone,” Amity Foster says.

Proctor and Shambles

In what Christa Lawler at the Star Tribune calls an "unprecedented tangle," the northern Minnesota city of Proctor has landed itself in contempt of court over the building of a Public Works garage. (Did you know cities could find themselves in contempt of court? I didn't!)

The gist is this: Proctor sought bids for the garage last March, receiving five, but then went with the second-lowest bid rather than the lowest—the first time it has ever done so, according to court documents. The company with the lowest bid, Carlton-based Nordic, filed a lawsuit that included a request for a work stoppage, which was granted... but then Proctor tapped RRI, the second-lowest bidder and the company that got started on the garage, with a new contract to winterize what it had built so far, which is how the city found itself in contempt of court.

What should have been a fairly small and straightforward garage project now "includes a contested bid process, a court-ordered work stoppage that didn't immediately stop work and claims of a construction company's incompetence answered with claims of ongoing harassment from members of the carpenters' union," Lawler writes. The garage itself stands roofless and half-built, awaiting oral arguments in the case, likely this summer.

RIP Lizzie the Lizard

Part shed, part art sculpture, Lizzie the Lizard was a quirky delight found in the middle of a grassy field near East Side Neighborhood Services (1700 NE Second Street, Minneapolis). But she is no more; some asshole in a car drove into her this weekend. The sculpture, officially named The Lizard Lounge, was constructed in 2008 by local artist Mary Johnson out of mortar, stucco, and latex paint. ESNS acquired the piece in 2020, playfully incorporating it into their storage shack. According to Minneapolis Police, the wreckless driver drove off the road and into the field, striking the front half of the sculpture at 3 a.m. on Saturday. (Other than Lizzie, no one was hurt.) “It was beloved by children and the neighborhood alike,” Johnson tells Estelle Timar-Wilcox at MPR, noting that the piece was valued at $55K. Neighbors and art lovers are also grief stricken. “The artist still did regular upkeep on it, I hope they’re doing alright. I also feel bad for the daycare kids who walk by it every day and play by it occasionally,” one commenter noted on Reddit.

Another one of Johnson’s large-scale sculptures, Max Rabitat, can be found across the street from the California Building.

Minnesota Voters Alliance Once Again Worried There Are Too Many Voters

The Minnesota Voters Alliance really doesn’t want felons to vote. So much so that their argument against a new state law, which restores the right to vote to Minnesotans who have been convicted of a felony but are no longer in prison, hinges on an absurd grammar argument, reports Rachel Griffith at the Minnesota Reformer? Take it away, James Dickey, counsel representing the Minnesota Voters Alliance:

The Legislature attempted to restore only one civil right—the right to vote— without restoring the other civil rights. The restoration of one civil right cannot satisfy [the state Constitution] because voting expressly depends on the restoration of the other loss of civil rights.

Got that?

This is the sort of argument that people who hate lawyers think lawyers make all the time. Fortunately, in Griffiths' estimation, "The justices seemed skeptical."

You may remember the Minnesota Voters Alliance from their failed crusade to get rid of same-day voter registration or their current fight to overturn a law against voter misinformation. But despite their obsession with singulars and plurals here, if you head to the MVA website you’ll see them express their real concern with the new law: “A recent authoritative and compelling study by the American Academy of Political and Social Science shows that  7 in 10 felons register democrat [sic].”

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