The head of the Metropolitan Council said the regional planning agency is serious about better serving communities of color following the death of George Floyd.
In a wide-ranging letter to employees Wednesday, Chairman Charlie Zelle said the council needs to "re-examine how to equitably provide services in the region, and we've been challenged to foster a healthier, more transparent organizational culture for our employees."
Zelle's missive comes after 200 current and former employees penned a letter last month calling for widespread changes in the way the council provides services to Black, Indigenous and other communities of color in the region.
The council oversees Metro Transit, regional parks, affordable housing and wastewater services in the seven-county metro.
"We are moved by your candor, vulnerability, passion, and pragmatism," Zelle wrote on behalf of the council's executive team.
It was unclear Thursday whether Zelle's letter satisfied employees' concerns.
Zelle admitted the council has much work to do to "actively break down barriers to our region's progress toward equity. Government agencies, including ours, have a trust problem with some constituencies, and particularly with individuals who identify as Black, Indigenous, and people of color."
He mentioned several initiatives to reach that goal, including a continued effort at the Capitol to fund unarmed transit ambassadors to collect fares on public transit and connect passengers in crisis with housing and mental health services.
In addition, Zelle said the council will continue to push for $55 million in state funding to help build the D and B rapid bus lines and upgraded bus service in busy Twin Cities transit corridors with higher levels of ridership among people of color and those who are dependent on transit.
Although the Metro Transit Police Department routinely issues housing vouchers for people using buses and trains as shelter, Zelle said "a more robust non-law enforcement approach, with partners in social service agencies" is needed.
In addition, the Metro Transit Police Department will undergo a review of its polices and practices, with an eye toward engaging the community in the assessment.
This summer, council staff will lead an effort to engage Metro Transit riders in a review of how the pandemic and the killing of Floyd has affected service. Service has been limited to essential trips because of the COVID-19 outbreak. During the unrest after Floyd's death, it was suspended entirely for several days.
Zelle also supports equity training for employees and a review of patterns in hiring, retention and promotions to ensure communities of color are represented in the council's workforce.
Janet Moore • 612-673-7752 Twitter: @ByJanetMoore