Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame said Friday that he intends to remain in office while federal officials decide how soon he can become executive director of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA).
Federal conflict-of-interest rules prohibit most housing agencies from hiring public officials while they are in office or for one year afterward. MPHA has asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to waive those rules, allowing Warsame — whose appointment was announced in January — to take over sooner.
If HUD grants the request, voters in the Sixth Ward, which Warsame represents, will have to elect a replacement council member, a vote that could happen in August at the earliest.
For now, the housing authority says it is continuing to operate with an interim executive director, Tracey Scott.
“We have no indication or reason at this time to begin preparing contingency plans,” said Jeff Horwich, a spokesman for MPHA.
HUD representatives declined to say when they will make a decision.
In a request sent on behalf of MPHA, authority board chairman Sharmarke Issa asked HUD to “do this as promptly as possible.”
Lisa Griebel, general counsel for the authority, also wrote to HUD supporting the request to waive the waiting period.
She wrote that a private firm conducted a search before Warsame was selected and approved unanimously last month by MPHA’s board. She wrote that she believes his hiring would comply with state and local laws. And she noted that MPHA is independent from the city, though it does receive city funding for specific projects.
Griebel noted that a city ordinance would prohibit Warsame “from going before city council on a MPHA matter that is in contravention with an adopted policy or position of the city” for one year after leaving office.
“I am not aware of any such policy or position, but to the extent such a situation would arise, Mr. Warsame will refrain from appearing before the council on MPHA’s behalf for the requisite one year time period,” Griebel wrote.
Warsame declined to speak in detail Friday. He said he will begin “transitioning” after HUD makes its decision.
If the waiver is granted, Warsame is expected to resign from the City Council, which will then need to vote to confirm him as MPHA’s executive director.
Only after his resignation can the city determine a date for a special election to fulfill the remainder of his council term, which runs through 2021.
State law says that cities can only hold special elections in certain months. Factor in time for public notification and campaigning and the soonest one could be held is August, when it would coincide with the primary elections for state offices. The next option after that is in November, alongside the general elections for president and state offices.
While the state and presidential elections use traditional ballots, City Council elections use ranked-choice voting. That means that voters in Warsame’s district would have to complete two different types of ballots on the same day. The district includes Cedar-Riverside, Ventura Village, Seward, Elliot Park, Stevens Square and Phillips West.
The city clerk’s office, which oversees municipal elections, has begun planning for various scenarios.
“We will have a plan. We will communicate that,” City Clerk Casey Carl said. “We don’t have anything definitive right now, but we are going to be prepared, very soon, for when a decision is made.”
Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994