The chief resilience officer of Minneapolis, Kate Knuth, has stepped down after seven months on the job.
Hired for the grant-funded position in June, Knuth was responsible for responding to “challenges” facing the city, which ranged from low graduation rates for black students to the risks of spills from trains hauling hazardous materials to severe weather stoked by climate change.
Knuth, an environmental educator and former DFL legislator, spent her first months in the job interviewing people and conducting a survey, but had not delivered any finished work product before she resigned.
Mychal Vlatkovich, a spokesman for Mayor Jacob Frey, said they’ve begun looking for a replacement and hope to hire someone by the end of March who will focus on the mayor’s goals. He said the mayor’s office did not ask Knuth to step down, but declined to answer whether she was allowed to continue in the position and referred further questions to Knuth and former City Coordinator Spencer Cronk, who is now the city manager of Austin, Texas.
“The position is designed to reflect the priorities of the administration, and in this case we’re going to be focused more narrowly on expanding access to affordable housing, and the impact that would have on our other goals, including building an inclusive economy and strengthening police-community relations,” Vlatkovich said.
One possibility is “studying historical trends in the housing marketplace and making recommendations around where to direct funding that could spur economic development or help with goals around sustainability,” he said.
Minneapolis was named one of 100 “resilient cities” around the world by the Rockefeller Foundation in June and given a grant of $129,508 per year to pay the salary and benefits for someone to fill the job for two years. The Rockefeller Foundation defines resilience as the “capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow” despite natural disasters or “chronic stresses” such as “food and water shortages, an overtaxed transportation system, endemic violence or high unemployment.”
Each participating city addresses resilience in its own way under the program. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is using the grant to try to better handle rapid population growth. Mexico City has a detailed plan for water management.
While St. Paul is not one of the 100 “resilient cities,” the city has hired former Council President Russ Stark as chief resilience officer. Stark, who starts on Thursday, will be paid a salary of $105,000 through the city’s general fund. The city of St. Paul says he will “promote sustainability strategies aimed at protecting Saint Paul families from the effects of climate change.”
Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde, the acting city coordinator who oversees the position in Minneapolis, said Knuth’s exit was arranged under Cronk, and that the city has been pleased with Knuth’s work.
“There were some conversations about realigning this office and we decided to go this direction,” Rivera-Vandermyde said. “It was a conversation between all of us.”
The Rockefeller Foundation prefers, Rivera-Vandermyde said, for the chief resilience officer’s work to be tied closely to the goals of the sitting mayor. Frey’s first-term priorities are affordable housing, police-community relations and inclusive economic growth.
Knuth was settling on the need to strengthen democracy by giving more people the economic security to engage in their communities, she said. “Obviously, housing came up in almost every conversation,” Knuth said. Racial disparities, police-community relations and climate change also came up, she said.
Knuth, who was appointed by Cronk, said she plans to deliver the results of her research to her successor. Rivera-Vandermyde said Knuth was slated to write a report in the first quarter of 2018, and both she and Knuth hope the next person in the position can use Knuth’s research.
“The mayor had different ideas about the vision for this role,” Knuth said, when asked why she couldn’t have pivoted to focus more directly on Frey’s priorities.
Adam Belz • 612-673-4405 Twitter: @adambelz