City Council moves the ball forward on racial equity work

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May 9, 2014
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

The City Council approved a report today advancing a racial equity agenda aimed at reducing the city's significant disparities between whites and people of color in Minneapolis.

The Council voted 12-0 to approve the Racial Equity Framework, which directs city staff to conduct a study session by the end of June that recommends a timeline for the completion of the city's racial equity toolkit, and report back to the Council in July with updates on progress, among other things.

The racial equity toolkit calls on leaders throughout the city enterprise to consider how their decisions impact racial equity. It's based on a similar program in Seattle. 

City leaders have also established a Racial Equity Policy Workgroup chaired by Mayor Betsy Hodges that will include Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden (Ward 8) and Council Members Cam Gordon (Ward 2), Blong Yang (Ward 5) and Alondra Cano (Ward 9).

City Council President Barb Johnson (Ward 4) was absent from today's meeting. She expressed frustration over the racial equity work at the Council's Committee of the Whole meeting on Wednesday, suggesting too much staff time was being invested into another report while pressing public safety issues in North Minneapolis need more attention.

"What's our priority in this city? I remember taking a government class in college. Public safety is the number one responsibility," she said. "... I am so frustrated about this. I see it as another report. As another task force, another reporting mechanism. I have all the reporting mechanisms I need."

She also said North Minneapolis has become a "dumping ground" for problems in the city. "Everybody that ran on racial equity have no clue what it's like to live in the community and not be able to have your kids ride their bike out in front of their house because they might have gunshots fired at them," she said. 

Other Council members and Velma Korbel, director of the city's Civil Rights Department, defended the racial equity plan, arguing it will take time and patience to find ways to tackle the city's significant racial disparities. In the long run, the work should help alleviate the public safety problems concentrated in North Minneapolis, they suggested. 

"There's a lot going on in this big city. There are a lot of important tasks that have to be done," Glidden said. "I can appreciate that there are severe public safety concerns in multiple places in the city, and certainly Council President Johnson's ward. ... But if we're not able to multitask and put together frameworks that guide our work, I think we're not able to move forward and understand what are our goals and how we will accomplish them." 

Korbel said the city is poised to "set a new benchmark" that will help change outcomes in the city. 

"It does take time. The circumstances we find ourselves in today took 100 years to get us here," she said. 

New Council Member Jacob Frey (Ward 3) said he'd like the work to move beyond talking points. For one, he'd like to see more affordable housing options throughout the city as a means to desegregate neighborhoods. 

“There’s a big difference between talking progressive and acting progressive," he said. "If the report helps guide the conversation, I’m all for it. But we need a lot more than conversation.”