Golden Valley's first Black mayor hopes her background in restorative justice will help her dial down acrimony over policing in the city when she takes office in January — a year after an explosive investigation found a culture of casual racism in the department.
But Mayor-elect Roslyn Harmon said she sees significant progress since the police investigation was released, and hopes to continue moving the city forward by creating opportunities for everyone to talk about the city's issues.
"We want to get to a place where everyone feels like they have a voice, like they matter," Harmon said.
During her campaign, Harmon said, her race was a non-issue for the white voters she met in the city, which is 85% white.
"As I was talking with residents of the white community, it's like, 'It's not about color. We believe you're qualified,' " Harmon recalled.
The response from Black Golden Valley residents and other people of color was enthusiastic, Harmon said.
"For people of color, it's like, 'This is huge.'"
Harmon's historic election came almost a year after the release of a report detailing racist attitudes in the police department.
The investigation ended with an officer's firing for a slew of racist remarks and other department policy violations. A dozen other officers resigned over the course of the investigation, which also found officers resistant to training on issues like structural racism.
In the year since the report, Harmon said she sees major change in the department, which is rebuilding after a resignation wave winnowed the staff to about a third of its budgeted size in 2022 and early 2023.
The department has seen a thin but steady flow of applications to become police officers, and more applicants for the entry-level community service officer positions that Chief Virgil Green gave more responsibility at the department's staffing nadir.
Now, just over 30% of the Golden Valley Police Department is made up of women, including the second-in-command, Assistant Chief Alice White. The department has never been more diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, Harmon said, with the chief and both assistant chiefs all people of color.
"We're breaking all these barriers," Harmon said.
Harmon said she was confident the police would have enough officers to end a contract for policing services with the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office in 2024.
As vice chair of the city's Police Employment, Accountability and Community Engagement Commission, Harmon has been part of police candidate interviews and Green's work to change the department's culture. She said she is happy with the progress.
"We didn't go too fast, and we haven't been going too slow," she said.
A different approach
Harmon said she hopes to continue the work her predecessors started in Golden Valley. But she brings a different style, with a professional background in restorative justice and ministry.
She believes in the power of open discussion, she said, and wants to create more venues for Golden Valley residents to get together and talk about big issues.
For example, the police commission is planning a community listening session next month, which Harmon hopes will bring in more voices.
With her campaign, Harmon has already created common ground for two Golden Valley politicians who have spent years butting heads: current Mayor Shep Harris and former Council Member Joanie Clausen.
The two have clashed over policing and public safety as the city's force dwindled, and after the investigation was released last year and an officer was fired for allegedly violating state data privacy laws. But both supported Harmon's campaign for mayor.
Harmon has straddled a divide on the policing issue in Golden Valley, acknowledging both the harm of racism, and the jolt some longtime residents felt when police officers they knew left the city.
Clausen said she supported Harmon because of her willingness to acknowledge that the city has problems, and she believes in Harmon's ability to bring people together to address those issues.
Harris said Harmon "brings people together. … The issues, the priorities, the themes of her campaign were attractive to a spectrum of residents."