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An Interrogation at Minneapolis City Hall

The discovery on April 15, 1998 of the body of Ann Prazniak, an elderly woman who rented an apartment at 1818 Park Avenue South in Minneapolis, shocked Twin Cities residents. Her body was found stuffed inside a cardboard box in the closet of this apartment. Minneapolis city officials immediately blamed the landlord for tolerating conditions that allowed Prazniak’s murder to happen. At a public meeting, the City Council member for the area vowed that the city would descend upon this landlord “like a ton of bricks”. Instead, MPRAC descended on city officials.

When MPRAC members heard reports on the radio that rats had been spotted near the apartment building, the group’s leaders, recognizing the implications, swung into action. Over the weekend they interviewed the former owner of the apartment building, Korey Bannerman, who had sold it to a new owner, Michael Fox, a short time earlier. They quizzed him on points indicating possible negligence. Convinced that this owner was clean, they then scheduled a press conference in the Mayor’s office at City Hall. The agenda was to run through the same set of questions, giving members of the press the opportunity to quiz Bannerman.

Reporters for the major electronic and print media were on hand when the press conference began at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, April 21, 1998. For the first ten minutes or so, Charlie Disney went through the list of questions with Bannerman. Both city officials and the press grew restless; it was obvious that the landlord was not at fault in this situation. The mayor asked to speak. In a short talk laden with appealing sound bites, she asked for cooperation between landlords and tenants in dealing with each other’s problems and pledged the city’s help. Landlord Bill McGaughey followed with a sharp attack on city officials for failing to control street crime. If anyone was at fault, he said, it was neither landlord or tenant but the city police. He also blasted Minneapolis officials for putting pressure on the current landlord, Michael Fox, to evict all the building’s tenants to give the impression that something was being done in the wake of the murder.

The meeting then erupted with angry denunciations of the city from tenants in attendance. The mayor and the City Council representative beat a hasty retreat. It was a major public-relations disaster for the city administration. None of this would have been possible, however, had not MPRAC leaders approached the event in the spirit of solid fact finding. The city, relying upon sound-bite propaganda, was routed.

The list of questions for landlord Korey Banner follows:

1. Did you screen tenants at 1818 Park Avenue South? If so, what screening procedures did you use?

2. Under your screening procedures, would you accept tenants who:

(a) had one or more arrests for criminal offenses?
(b) had one or more UDs?
(c) had been arrested five years ago for possession of marijuana?
(d) had received a bad reference from the previous landlord?
(e) had presented a phony ID?

3. Do you think that the person who murdered Ann Prazniak was someone whom you had admitted as a tenant? A relative or a friend of a tenant?

4. How do you think the perpetrator of the crime got into the building and into Ann Prazniak’s apartment?

5. What did you do about building security? What kinds of locks did you have on the front and back doors? What was your policy about issuing keys? Did you promptly repair broken locks?

6. How did you respond to reports of suspected criminal activities by tenants and neighbors? Did you ignore them?

7. Did you fully cooperate with the Minneapolis police?

8. Did you call 911 promptly when you learned of crime in the building? What was your experience in dealing with 911 operators and the police?

9. It has been reported that the city was building a case to revoke your rental license. Any truth to this? Had you received any warning letters from SAFE?

10. It has been reported that wild parties took place in Ann Prazniak’s apartment shortly before her body was discovered. Any truth to this? If so, what did you do about it?

11. It has been reported that the building is vermin-infested. Is that true?

12. It has been reported that you neglected maintenance and did not respond promptly to tenants’ reports of maintenance problems? Any truth to that?

13. Was the building in full code compliance when you sold it to Michael Fox?

 

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