Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Goodman and I agree on one thing: The negotiated $6,000 fine and 10-day license suspension for Surdyk’s does not fit the crime (“City seeks tougher penalties for Surdyk,” April 19). Let’s start with self-reported annual sales figure from 10 years ago of $25 million, which amounts to roughly $70,000 per day for 360 days (approximately the number of days per year Surdyk’s will be open once Sunday liquor sales are legal, taking holidays into account). The total amount of the negotiated fine, then, is around $700,000. By this same math, the original penalty ($2,000 fine and suspension for the month of July) equates to a fine of more than $2.1 million. Even if actual annual revenue were half of the self-reported figure, these penalties are Draconian.
Was owner Jim Surdyk justified in opening on a Sunday before July 1? Absolutely not. Should he have dismissed city officials in the way that he did? Again, no. However, the notion that this represents some grave assault on the rule of law worthy of a six- or seven-figure punishment is astonishing and suggests that the City Council is acting out of vitriol and bitterness rather than deliberation and honest, balanced analysis.
John Grimes, Minneapolis
EDINA AND SMOKING
Weighing the gains, losses
Edina is to be commended for considering raising the legal age for the purchase of tobacco products to 21 and encouraged to do so (“Edina debates age limit on tobacco,” April 19). Our legislators should take this up next year. The evidence has been in for some time. The longer we can delay the age at which our young begin smoking, the fewer who will smoke.
As a man who lost half of a lung and a brother to the addiction, I wish I’d never started.
James M. Hamilton, St. Paul
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I fully support Edina in its proposal to raise the tobacco age limit to 21.
Hopefully all of those 18- to 21-year-olds who are currently buying their tobacco products in Edina will come to Richfield for future tobacco, gas, food and other purchases.
Mike McLean, Richfield
MARCH FOR SCIENCE
Anything but trivializing
In the April 19 front-page article about the March for Science, there is a quote from Robert Young, a geologist at Western Carolina University, stating that the march is “a terrible idea” because it will only serve to “trivialize and politicize science and scientists.” I couldn’t disagree more. This view is naive and does not reflect reality. I have been a professional scientist for 30 years, working as a professor at the University of Minnesota for the past 20, and have painfully observed and experienced a continual decline in our country’s willingness to support science. Sitting on our hands hasn’t helped, and it’s time we step out of the shadows and let voters know about all of the fantastic things that we have done to make their lives better. To deny that science is already politicized is really no different from denying that humans play a role in our changing climate or that evolution is real.
Jim Cotner, St. Paul
A better way forward
An April 14 commentary opined that “Minnesota must wise up about probation reform.” In 1980, when Minnesota enacted sentencing guidelines, the commission that developed those guidelines was also empowered to create guidelines for probation. At that time, and multiple times since, the issue has come up and has always been opposed by probation officers and the County Attorneys Association. The reasons given for the opposition are related to different value sets across the state, most specifically urban and rural, and an inequitable distribution of resources, primarily related to community corrections and services.
As probation caseloads rose, agents came to rely more on the piling on of sanctions, such as electronic monitoring, frequent urine analysis, day reporting centers et al., to supplement face-to-face time with offenders. Adding these enhancements to probation had the unintended consequence of exponentially increased violations, often for things that would not warrant imprisonment. But since we’d caught them doing something we told them they shouldn’t do, or not doing something we told them they needed to do, we felt the need to respond. (A threat without follow through is worthless; it’s like a frustrated parent telling a child, “If you don’t clean your room, I’m grounding you for the rest of your life.” Then, when the child doesn’t clean the room, the parent needs to make good on the threat. After a few days, or a few hours, parents realize that the punishment is affecting them more than the child, particularly since the offense is small. So the last step, a lifetime grounding, is reduced to three days. In corrections, we haven’t gotten to the last step yet).
One report states that as many as 64 percent of yearly prison admissions are for technical violations, with no new crime. The legislative proposal to limit time on probation is a start. A better solution would be to have a politically insulated Guidelines Commission develop rules for intermediate sanctions, encompassing not just length of probation, but after developing a set of equivalencies, use of probation enhancements as well.
Dan Cain, St. Louis Park
The writer is a former member and chair of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission.
Better for cats, wildlife
Doug Smith’s April 14 Outdoors Weekend commentary vilifying outdoor cats (“Drilling down on threats to birds”) only adds to the misinformation and scaremongering on the subject, thereby undermining any chance for reasonable discussions and fact-based reporting. Indeed, if Smith’s estimates are to be believed, the number of birds killed annually by America’s outdoor cats might actually exceed the total number of birds estimated to be in the country. One simply cannot reconcile Smith’s claim with the best population estimates available, from Partners In Flight (whose 2016 report he cites).
In addition, Smith dismisses trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNVR) programs for managing unowned, free-roaming cats, providing the opinion of somebody unfamiliar with such programs as his only rationale. Best Friends Animal Society operates more large-scale TNVR programs than any other organization in the country. And the successes we’ve seen, in our own programs and others, echo the findings of research studies demonstrating both the effectiveness of targeted sterilization programs to stabilize and reduce the population of “community cats” at a local, or “colony” level, and the broad public support such programs enjoy.
These cats are already out there in our neighborhoods, found virtually anywhere humans are found. TNVR is simply the most humane, effective and economical response to this reality. These programs are sound public policy — better not only for the cats, but for the wildlife Smith wants to protect.
Peter J. Wolf, Kanab, Utah
The writer is an analyst for the Best Friends Animal Society.