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Prospects for MPRAC as of 12/25/05

(an internal memo)

   

Current situation: MPRAC now consists of a dozen or two active members who attend the monthly meeting. Production of the monthly cable-television show, broadcast on channels 6 and 17, is the only activity. This production costs about $15,000 per year. The money has been raised by $60 membership dues for regular members supplemented by larger donations - in the $500 range - from certain big landlords and still larger donations from Jim McCauley and Eve White. The large donors have indicated unwillingness to continue subsidizing the group. Even so, most members want its operation to continue.

Some suggestions to bring finances in line: MPRAC can continue producing the monthly television show if it (a) cuts expenses and/ or (b) raises more money from persons other than the large donors.

To cut expenses, the following have been proposed: (1) Hold the meetings in a place which does not charge. John Kolstad’s storage room at his office on Lake Street might be a good meeting place. (2) Negotiate a lower rate with Channel 6. While this seems unlikely, we might have leverage if we are serious about discontinuing the show. (3) Move to a less costly time slot on Channel 6. I think this is an undesirable option both because the audience is smaller and because we would lose much of our existing audience by moving to a different time slot. (4) Find a less expensive show producer. It is not fair to expect anyone to do this work for free.

To increase revenues, the following have been proposed: (1) Increase regular dues to $75. (2) Find commercial “sponsors” for the show. Comment: It is unclear how much money can be raised from these sources - probably less than what we need to continue the current operation. It is also unclear whether current members will want to renew if the TV show lacks focus in issues relevant to landlords. Finally, we have never raised much money from sponsorships so the opportunity here is unclear.

My recommendation: Either the group folds or it continues in a financially sustainable way. (1) The move to John Kolstad’s storage room makes sense - if John and the membership agree. (2) It may be a good idea to raise dues to $75. However, members would need assurance that the shows will refocus on landlord issues or, at least, advance our cause in some way. (3) The group needs to be more than the monthly TV show. It needs to undertake protest activities as a group and, perhaps, do some lobbying at the state capitol. It needs coordination of operations with the Watchdog newspaper. For all this, we need a structure of committee responsibilities and elected leadership. (4) Pick one of the less expensive producers for the monthly show. (5) Bargain hard with Channel 6 and, if this doesn’t work, vacate our time slot. Instead, produce the show for MTN. Try to get St. Paul cable access and suburban cable stations to air the program, especially if we can attract members from those cities. (6) Try to broaden our financial base to such groups as St. Paul or suburban landlords and even Minneapolis bar owners.

The key to MPRAC’s future is regaining our focus. Charlie Disney’s group was effective because the shows hammered on certain themes. We need to identify our core issues and find persons who will tell stories related to them. Some of our core landlord issues are: (1) the city's use of inspections to punish landlords for crime occuring in or near their buildings, excessive noise, or other misbehavior, (2) general incompetence or politicization of the police department or housing inspections, (3) the fast increase in property taxes brought on by taxpayer-subsidized development, (4) the use of tax money to create or maintain housing in competition with ours, (5) and the abuse of condemnation by eminent domain. We need to hammer on these themes at the monthly meetings, have representatives at public meetings where they are discussed, and regain our picketing capability.

I realize that Humpty Dumpty cannot be put back together again. MPRAC cannot regain its former activity without much personal effort of the kind which Charlie Disney used to expend. But we can perhaps maintain some sort of operation without unfairly burdening the group’s leaders.

If we cannot refocus on landlord issues and maintain a landlord-based organization, I would propose trying to create an organization with a broader base of interest groups which jointly would contribute funds and active members towards supporting a “free-speech forum” on cable television. We might bill this as a place where our community’s politically disaffected persons could freely speak their minds.

In my view, the various third parties - Independents, Greens, socialists, libertarians, Constitution party members, etc. - would benefit from having such a show on the regional channel. If the show allowed free speech in general, we might be more interesting to potential donors such as foundations or wealthy individuals provided that we obtained 501(c)(3) status. Cooperation with the Watchdog newspaper would make the show even more effective.

I have gone in this direction to try to counteract news media which stereotype us as a selfish economic interest group. In fact, we are a good government group not unlike others that are more highly regarded. If we can use MPRAC’s legacy as an activist group to create a more broadly based political organization, we may finally get some recognition and respect.

Bill McGaughey

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