Residents sat quietly for the first half an hour of the meeting on folding chairs looking at handouts while Mayor RT Rybak led the group on a role-playing exercise.
"Does everybody have the worksheet in front of them right now? Do you all have that?" asked Rybak.
The worksheets contained a list of 13 city services like police, snow removal and animal control. The sheet also listed how much of a chunk each service takes out of the overall budget.
"This sheet is going to tell you how we currently spend those dollars. And the exercise we're going through right now is to say do we keep this at the same level or not?"
For a couple of minutes members of the group paired off with each other and hunched over their lists. Wielding magic budget slashing pencils, they decided the fate of city services.
After they put their pencils down, the mayor asked them what they cut.
Ed Newman, went first.
"I reduced police and fire slightly, and I put the money into bridge and road maintenance."
"OK, let's talk about that. Why do you think that's important?" Rybak replied.
"Well, I honestly think that, because of the size of those items, there's more room to give a little bit. And the infrastructure, the capital structure of Minneapolis still needs a lot of work," Newman said.
Some took a different approach, offering to hold off on street and bridge maintenance in order to avoid laying off police officers or firefighters.
Others suggested the city should cut its department of Civil Rights because the state has a similar office.
And some people at the meeting, like Ken Bollinger, suggested cutting items not on the worksheet.
"We're talking about perhaps removing some policemen, some fireman. I'd like to know why politicians are in a protected class," Bollinger said.
Bollinger suggested paring down the number of city council members. Rybak didn't warm to that idea, but he says there's too much regional government. And Rybak says he's open to a metrowide fire service as a way to reduce redundancy.
A few members of the group suggested that investing in strong neighborhood groups and block clubs was a more effective crime fighting tool than adding more police officers.
Charley Underwood said city residents can do a lot more to help the city deliver other crucial services. For example, he said a little citizen training can help first responders handle medical emergencies.
"There are programs, for example, like I last year, took this CERT program, the Citizens Emergency Response...An incredible program. I would highly recommend it to absolutely anyone here, except as far as I understand it's defunct at this point. The new manager hasn't been replaced, and I don't believe that program exists now," Underwood said.
For the record the city's website says, the Community Emergency Response Team does still exist.
City officials are asking people with budget suggestions to post them online. It's not clear if any of the suggestions will actually make it into the mayor's revised budget.
Rybak is scheduled to present the budget in a few weeks.
In the meantime there will also be another public meeting at the Eastside Neighborhood Services building tonight.
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