Frey urges quick action to set up new form of government

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on Tuesday urged City Council members to move quickly to help set up the city’s new form of government, including a cabinet with staff to coordinate police and other safety services.

“We need to do this expeditiously,” the mayor said during a meeting of council’s Committee of the Whole. Right now, more than 20 staff report directly to the mayor. “As a practical matter, that doesn’t work,” Frey said.

Voters approved a sweeping change last November that designates the mayor as the city’s “chief executive” responsible for overseeing most departments’ daily operations. The mayor and council members are now debating how to best set up a new form of government, and the proposal on the table could have major implications for the city’s efforts to transform public safety in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

Some changes the mayor and council could pass through normal processes. Others would require approval from all 14 elected leaders or from voters. The process is likely to take months and the precise timeline will depend on whether the mayor and council can reach agreement on key provisions.

Frey has pitched a plan to create a cabinet with four high-ranking staffers who would report directly to him and help him oversee various city services. That cabinet would include a chief of staff to oversee the mayor’s office, the city attorney and the heads of two new offices focusing on public service and community safety.

The Office of Public Service would include a variety of city offices, such as finance, health, economic and community development, 311 and others. The Office of Community Safety would include 911, fire, police, emergency management and neighborhood safety (a division that also would include the Office of Violence Prevention now housed in the city’s health department).

Frey told council members that he has convened several groups within the city to provide recommendations on how those new offices could work.

Frey faced questions Tuesday from some council members who support a different effort to create a new Department of Public Safety. Council Member Elliott Payne, who introduced that proposal, has said he envisions a department that would help better coordinate safety services and that can “coexist with the police department.” Much of the public debate so far has focused on a question of whether police should be included in a new department from the beginning or should have to provide proof they have made adequate progress on reforms before joining other city services.

Council Member Robin Wonsley Worlobah pushed Frey hard Tuesday for clarity on how he developed the proposal, what types of analyses had been done, and what types of accountability measures would be in place for the new office he is proposing.

“We can talk about being neutral and administrative, but actions have already shown that this restructure appears to be based off of also political motives … rather than research and data,” she said.

Frey shot back that he had been a consistent supporter of efforts to improve public safety services outside of police and opposed a prior ballot initiative to replace the Police Department because he feared it would require officers to report to too many elected officials; that would no longer be the case in the city’s new form of government, he said.

“The notion that this whole push was set up for purely political ambitions is dead wrong,” the mayor said. He added later: “We’ve got to get away from this concept where we oppose something simply because of the person that is pushing the idea to begin with.”