Frey unveils plan for new cabinet, complete with security office

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on Tuesday unveiled a proposal to create an office of community safety that would include police, firefighters and violence prevention personnel.

“This is our chance to succeed in implementing changes that can and should and hopefully will last for generations,” the mayor told city council members at a town hall meeting. “I can’t stress enough the importance of meeting this moment…for doing good by our residents and our businesses.”

The mayor’s proposal is part of a broader pitch to create a cabinet that would include four high-ranking staff to help him oversee city services under a new government structure that gives him more power on their daily operations. This comes at the same time as a small group of council members work on their own efforts to create a public safety service.

Both efforts are in their early stages and come months after an election that was watched across the country as people waited to see if — and how — Minneapolis would deliver on its promise to transform public safety after the murder of George Floyd by the police.

In that election, voters rejected a proposal that would have replaced the police department with a new public safety agency, removed minimum funding requirements for police, and given the council more sway over police operations. Voters approved a separate proposal that gave the mayor more power over the day-to-day operations of city departments and prohibited council members from interfering with his efforts to do so.

The city’s elected leaders are beginning to debate how they should interpret these election results and best respond to voters’ wishes as they aim to put in place the bulk of the city’s new “strong mayor” system of government. here the end of the year.

First reactions

Groups that sought to sway Minneapolis voters in the November election expressed dissenting views on the mayor’s proposal on Tuesday.

Some groups who opposed the effort to replace the MPD – and supported the creation of a ‘strong mayor’ system – said they were still digesting Frey’s proposal and looked forward to hearing more .

“Voters in the last election made clear their mandate for a more planned approach to public safety in Minneapolis,” said Leili Fatehi, campaign manager for All of Mpls, who previously worked for Frey. “And this marks an important step in that direction.”

Groups that backed the ballot measure to replace the MPD and opposed efforts to give Frey more power dismissed the new plan as window dressing.

“It doesn’t make sense. It’s words on paper right now,” said TakeAction Minnesota spokesperson Kenza Hadj-Moussa. “One of the main reasons we had a ballot amendment in November was to increase public oversight over the Minneapolis Police Department. It doesn’t do that.”

The mayor’s proposal

Frey presented to the City Council Committee of the Whole on Tuesday his thoughts on how they should implement the new system of government.

The mayor’s proposal would create a cabinet with four high-ranking staff members who would report directly to him and help him oversee other municipal operations. That cabinet would include a chief of staff to oversee the mayor’s office, the city attorney, and the heads of two new offices focused on public service and community safety.

The Public Service Office would include a variety of municipal offices, such as finance, health, economic and community development, 311 and others. The Community Safety Office would include 911, Fire, Police, Emergency Management and Neighborhood Safety (a division that would also include the Office of Violence Prevention now housed in the City Health Department) .

The mayor told council members he believes this structure will allow agencies working on public safety efforts to coordinate with each other more effectively, while leaving a clear chain of command in place.

Frey, in an interview, said he imagines the person heading the Office of Community Safety as “someone with security and law enforcement experience.” He later clarified that this person would not have to be a police officer.

“We want someone who has a deep understanding of the law,” he said. “We want someone who has great expertise as a change maker, as well as managing large numbers of people.”

Debate on the interpretation of the vote

During the committee meeting, council member Robin Wonsley Worlobah noted that residents spent a lot of time during the last election engaging in “vigorous public conversation about whether law enforcement or the MPD should or should not be included in this public safety department.”

Referring to the proposal that would have replaced the MPD, she told the mayor, “I’m somewhat concerned: Is this Office of Community Safety a rebrand of Question 2, which will essentially replace the will of the voters?”

Frey called it “overly simplistic”. He noted that he supported efforts to better coordinate public safety programs, but opposed the ballot provision that would have given council members more sway over the police.

“It’s not the same as Question 2,” Frey said. “I believe it takes elements where there is broad consensus and he takes elements away where there was none.”

A council proposal

The mayor unveiled his proposal at a time when some council members are fine-tuning their own efforts to create a public safety department that could include many of the same divisions.

Some of the board members who support the effort, however, say they believe the MPD needs to put in place better accountability efforts before it can effectively join with other departments.

“It’s very promising to see the direction it’s going, but it still leaves a lot of unanswered questions about accountability,” said council member Elliott Payne, who is leading the council’s efforts. “That’s the job we have to get into.”

Neither the mayor nor the council can act alone. Payne is pursuing his proposal via an ordinance that would require the approval of all 13 council members – and the mayor.

The city charter, which serves as the constitution, gives council members responsibility for establishing and organizing city services, meaning that parts of Frey’s plan would likely also require council approval.

“Let’s work on this together,” Frey told the council on Tuesday. “That would be my request.”

Editor Alex Chhith contributed to this report.

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