News Day: Gunned down by Mpls cop / Eight workers for every opening / Coleman concedes, sort of / more

Evidence: Fong Lee unarmed when shot by Mpls police “Contrary to what Minneapolis police have claimed, Fong Lee didn’t have a gun in his right hand when a patrolman chased him and then shot him eight times,” according to a nationally recognized video forensics expert who reviewed surveillance camera photos, reports David Haners in the PiPress. Testimony unfolding in the civil suit against the city and police officer over the teen’s death paints a picture quite different from that drawn by Mpls police after the incident.

Mpls police chief Timothy Dolan had said that the photos showed Fong Lee carrying a gun, but police spokespersons have backed away from that statement now that the photos are in evidence. Police reports say that no fingerprints or DNA were found on the 6 1/2-inch long gun (CORRECTION: it’s 6 1/2 inch, not 16-inch gun) allegedly found at the scene, or on the gun’s clip or on bullets inside the gun. The PiPress also reports witness testimony that Dolan told a citizens’ panel that there were fingerprints on the gun.

[Al Flowers] said Dolan also told Ralph Remington, a member of the city council, because “Remington was raising questions about it.”

Asked about the comment Wednesday, Remington said the office of City Attorney James Moore had ordered him just hours before not to talk about the case.

“I’ve been specifically told that I can’t comment,” the councilman said.

The Mpls police department awarded the Medal of Valor to officer jason Andersen, who fired eight shots into Fong Lee, killing him after a foot chase on July 22, 2006.

Eight for one In Minnesota, there are eight unemployed workers for every job opening, reports Steve Perry in MinnPost. The Twin Cities, like all other major metro areas, saw increased unemployment in February, according to the U.S. Labor Department. According to the Strib:

In the Twin Cities metro area, the rate increased to 8.2 percent, up from 4.6 percent a year earlier. Elsewhere in Minnesota, the St. Cloud and Duluth metro areas had the highest unemployment rate in the state, at 9.8 percent; the rate in February was 7.2 percent in the Rochester area and 6.6 percent in Mankato-North Mankato. All of the state’s metro areas registered increases since February 2008.

Back to Perry’s interview with Kevin Ristau from the Minnesota Jobs Now Coalition, who describes the far worse conditions in greater MN:

It’s very much a two-tiered economy where metro living standards have been on average much higher than in the rural areas. I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration regarding the agricultural areas of the state–which, after all, resemble the Great Plains states more than they resemble the Twin Cities metro–these areas have a third-world sort of feel to them if you think about what it means to be… colonized, I guess. [Laughs] Southwestern Minnesota in particular, which is the region that looks the most like the Great Plains, is a conquered province. It exists for extraction of raw materials.

MN Job Watch Though MN’s 8% unemployment rate is high, the rate for people with disabilities is double that, reports MPR. The state’s vocational rehabilitation system served about 24,000 people last year, and the number is rising. DVR counselors work with adults with physical or mental disabilities “from multiple scoliosis to traumatic brain injury to bipolar disorder.” Counselor David Fullerton says some employers are “simply incapable of seeing past a client’s wheelchair.”

Fullerton said he could talk all day about how, contrary to popular belief, employees with disabilities don’t cause the company’s health insurance costs to rise and how, despite the fears of company budget balancers, the vast majority of office adaptations for these employees cost less than $500. In fact, the most common modification is raising the height of a desk to accommodate a wheelchair — and that’s free.

Denny Hecker employees lost health insurance without warning this week, and some will go unpaid on Tuesday, reports the Strib. Hecker auto dealerships blame the problems on cash flow, and say the paychecks will come by Friday.

Fairview hospital and clinics will freeze non-union wages in 2009, reports the Strib, and is negotiating with unons to freeze those wages as well. Fairview owns the U of M Medical Center, and employes 22,000 people. Allina has frozen executive pay, and Park Nicollet has frozen all wages and cut pay for some. Park Nicollet will also cut 26 LPN positions by May 1.

126 Somali workers alleging religious discrimination against Muslims at a Cold Spring Gold’n Plump plant reached a settlement that includes allowing prayer breaks during work hours and withdrawal of the “pork form” that the company required prospective workers to sign. The settlement came, reports the Strib, came after the EEOC found cause to believe that discdrimination occurred. The settlement also included nearly a million dollars for legal costs and $365,00 in payments to 156 workers.

Coleman concedes, sort of, which means that he concedes that Al Franken will be named the winner of the Senate race by the recount court. Usually, litigants wait until after a decision to announce appeal plans, but hey, when you know you are losing …

Stimulating the wrong roads With $600 million in federal stimulus money tagged for MN transportation, MnDOT is ready to start spending. But in the metro area, there’s controversy over the Met Council’s decision to spend almost all of the metro area road money on two new construction projects: Freeway 610 near Maple Grove, a 15-mile freeway linking 35W with I94, and upgrading the interchange of 169 and 494. TC Daily Planet reports that critics are not happy with the big building plans:

TLC and the 1,000 Friends of Minnesota want the stimulus money to be used to improve existing roads, trails and sidewalks; Thoman thinks improvement in pavement conditions are a high priority. “If you drive on 94, between Minneapolis and St. Paul, you’ll understand what pavement repair means because that highway is full of cracks, it’s got big potholes, the pavement in such condition on some of these highways that you can’t fix potholes anymore,” Thoman said.

Raise sales taxes? Replacing a big chunk of property taxes with local sales taxes is part of a proposal from Rep. Paul Marquart (D-Dilworth), but, reports the Bemidji Pioneer, businesses are not happy with the change.

Buzz Anderson of the Minnesota Retailers Association said businesses do not like the county sales tax option because it would be more confusing to the public. It also would create a checkerboard of counties that do or do not assess the new tax, he said.

And, while Marquart touts the plan as less regressive because there’s no tax on food and clothing, other proposals call for expanding the sales tax to clothing, and Fox 9 reports that the governor’s tax commission suggests expanding sales tax to items ranging from car repairs to coffins.

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