The Minneapolis City Council on Thursday postponed the mayor's nomination of Barret Lane to continue leading the city's emergency department after a debate over who to hold accountable when the whole systems fail.
It was unclear if the council had the seven votes needed to approve the nomination, with several voicing their opposition. The vote has been delayed until July 21.
Two recent after-action reports found that the city and state's response to the unrest that followed George Floyd's murder could have been better with more planning and communication. The reviews revealed that law enforcement officials struggled to communicate and determine who was in charge as looting and arson spread across the city.
"We're still not operating according to best practices, and we needed more initiative to resolve this," said Council Member Andrew Johnson, who is against Lane's nomination. "Following rules and following a chain of command is critical in emergencies. But outside of emergencies, department heads need to show leadership and raising awareness over these problems."
In a hearing last week, Lane argued that the Office of Emergency Management is not a first responder and that his department did what were supposed to do but "we simply were not engaged."
"The Police Department decided to simply run this on their own. And there's nothing that we can do to override that decision," Lane said.
Some council members argued that Lane failed to communicate effectively with the public and with city leadership as a whole, leaving them scrambling to fill those gaps as parts of the city burned.
Meanwhile, his supporters on the council say it's unfair to cast blame on Lane when the issues raised in the after-action reports are systemic.
Council Member Lisa Goodman described Lane as a "trusted, tested and nationwide leading expert" in emergency response. Lane has helped the city through many turbulent events, including a tornado in north Minneapolis, the I-35W bridge collapse, and a pandemic, she said.
"I really fear that we're becoming a place where scapegoating individuals for a collective systemic failure will lead us down a very sad path," Goodman said.
Mayor Jacob Frey sought to reappoint Lane in May to serve a four-year term as the city's emergency management director. The department is in charge of coordinating disaster plans, training and response. He has held the post since 2012. The position comes with a $137,000 to $162,000 salary.
At Thursday's meeting Frey urged the council to read the after-action report on the riot response before making a final decision, noting that findings of a broken system "was not all on [Lane], and in many cases, not on him at all."