Employees of the city coordinator’s office accuse the history department of ‘toxic, racist and dangerous working conditions’

Seventeen current and former employees of the Minneapolis City Coordinator’s office are asking the mayor and council not to choose Heather Johnston to lead it, saying the department has a history of ‘toxic, racist and dangerous working conditions’ and that she didn’t do enough to stop him.

“City leaders claim to uphold the values ​​of racial equity and justice and have recognized racism as a public health crisis,” the group wrote in letters to Johnston and elected officials. “However, these demands have not resulted in tangible actions that substantially support employees, especially black employees. When the City fails its employees, it does not serve our community.”

The group wrote that the city failed to provide enough support to black employees after police killings and other traumatic events in the community, failed to provide them with enough opportunities to work remotely to minimize the coronavirus exposure and microaggressions from the public and others. city ​​employees and felt rejected when raising concerns about government operations.

Johnston, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has run the office on an interim basis since August. Mayor Jacob Frey announced on Monday that he was nominating her for a longer term until 2025.

In an interview Wednesday, the mayor strongly supported Johnston. “To be clear, it’s up to all of us to change,” Frey said, “but attributing it all and putting it all on Heather is dishonest at best.”

The mayor said he could not publicly discuss all of the complaints raised in the employees’ letter due to an ongoing review. During her seven months as acting city coordinator, Frey said Johnston began rebuilding the city’s race and equity division, helped manage a variety of labor issues, and coordinated departments. as they began to put in place the new government structure approved by voters in November. .

“As far as going back to work, it’s a decision that I made and the city council made, and I’m sticking to it,” Frey said. “It wasn’t Heather’s decision.”

The city coordinator holds one of the highest, non-elected positions in city government and serves as an advisor to the mayor and city council. About 40 employees work in the office, but hundreds of employees work in additional divisions that also report to the city coordinator, such as communications, emergency management, human resources and finance.

The position comes with a salary ranging from $182,111 to $228,774 and has seen a high turnover rate in recent years. If City Council approves her appointment, Johnston will be the third person to serve as City Coordinator in the past four years.

On April 28, the 17 current and former employees sent a letter to Johnston with a list of demands and demands that they believe would help create a healthy and inclusive workplace. Among the items:

  • Create a return-to-office policy that allows for both hybrid working and full remote working.
  • Establish an anti-racism agenda that guides the department and supports employees of color.
  • Revise the city’s hiring practices, especially those related to senior positions to achieve a non-discriminatory and more inclusive workplace.

Staff also asked Johnston to respond by May 6 and to commit to creating a written plan to address concerns and hosting an all-staff meeting to review the plan later that month.

According to emails provided by the band, Johnston messaged them on May 6 saying she had received their memo and was taking their concerns seriously. They also received a message from the city’s Director of Internal Workplace Investigations, who told them that the city was seeking “to engage a neutral outside party” to review their concerns, “given the allegations and the makes HR ultimately report to the city. Coordinator.”

The group emailed the mayor and council members on Monday – the same day Frey announced Johnston’s nomination – saying they had received an ‘insufficient response’ to their demands and believed the outside review would allow Johnston and other city leaders “to avoid acting on stated demands, as has happened with previous formal complaints.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly three dozen current and former employees who worked in various city departments had signed the letter, stating that anti-black racism is prevalent not just in the Minneapolis Police Department, but throughout city ​​business. The Star Tribune contacted the group, but they refused to publish their names for fear of reprisals.

City Attorney Jim Rowader said in a statement Wednesday that he “takes the complaints contained in the letter very seriously.”

“Our team is in the process of finding an outside expert to review working conditions, such as return-to-work expectations and issues raised regarding past and current executives,” Rowader said. “Because this is an active and open matter involving private data, we cannot say anything more publicly at this time.”

Frey’s office is due to formally submit Johnston’s nomination to the board Thursday morning, a decision that would trigger a week-long approval process that includes a public hearing.

Johnston previously worked as the city’s budget manager and acting chief financial officer, and held positions in Burnsville, Chanhassen, and at state and federal agencies.

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