Star Tribune

Mpls. council president frustrated, angry at focus on racial equity plan

City Council President Barb Johnson said that she is frustrated and angry at the time employees at Minneapolis City Hall are spending on a complex plan to close racial disparities, noting the rampant gunshots and other problems afflicting her North Side ward. “What’s our priority in this city?” she demanded at today’s Committee of the Whole meeting.

Article by: City of Minneapolis

Updated: May 7, 2014 - 4:39 PM

City Council President Barb Johnson said today that she is frustrated and angry at the time employees at Minneapolis City Hall are spending on a plan to close racial disparities, noting the rampant gunshots and other problems afflicting her North Side ward.

“What’s our priority in this city?” she demanded at today’s Committee of the Whole meeting, where Civil Rights Director Velma Korbel addressed council members about a project called the Racial Equity Action Plan.

The plan would identify strategies for improving minority citizens' health, academic achievement, job opportunities and other areas in which they lag whites by drawing on input from a work group, steering committee, and other stakeholders.

Closing disparities between whites and people of color has been a priority of Mayor Betsy Hodges, though the effort was in the works well before she took office in January, and council members have also promoted it as a top issue.

Johnson said she was late to the meeting because of “critical issues” in her ward, including drug arrests and gunshots, and that some of the same people she’s asked for help in dealing with public safety are spending a lot of time on the equity plan instead.

“I am so frustrated about this,” she said. “I see it as another task force, another report, another reporting mechanism. I’ve got all the reporting mechanisms I need … I’m really angry. I want an estimate of staff time, I want to know from each of these people how much time are you spending on these multiple, multiple initiatives that we’re using to produce more reports. That’s what I want, accountability.”

Korbel said the City Council has set racial equity as a priority for the city, and told the staff that’s “what we’re supposed to do.”

“I suppose if we don’t care that there’s a segment of the city that has continued to live on the margins for generations, I suppose we can stop doing the work,” Korbel said. “I suppose if we don’t care that 30 years from now, the young people who are not graduating from high school might be the ones involved in these shooting incidents.”

Council Member Cam Gordon also defended the plan, saying the city’s work on racial equity “absolutely gets to the health of our citizens and to the public safety of our citizens.”

“Ultimately we could be preventing a lot of the stuff that we’re having to deal with now that causes us to be late to the Committee of the Whole,” he said.

But Council Member Blong Yang, who also represents north Minneapolis, shared Johnson’s concerns and said the process should be simpler. After the meeting, he said a racial equity assessment toolkit developed by the city has 28 questions for departments to consider in their decision-making.

“Nobody’s going look at that darn thing,” he said. “It’s too cumbersome.”

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