Mayor-elect’s policy tour comes to Lyndale

Community listening sessions are being used to shape policy and budget priorities

Mayor-elect Jacob Frey, right, held a public listening session Dec. 29 at Horn Towers in the Lyndale neighborhood. He was joined by outgoing City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden and political consultant Abou Amara, two members of his transition team. Photo by Dylan Thomas

Mayor-elect Jacob Frey and members of his transition team held a listening session Friday morning at Horn Towers in the Lyndale neighborhood, one in a series of pre-swearing in events meant to gather input for the policy and budgeting decisions to come.

Police-community relations, affordable housing and economic inclusion where the main items on an agenda set by the mayor-elect’s team. But the larger-than-expected crowd broached other topics, including safety and security in public housing buildings, a possible tip credit amendment to the city’s municipal minimum wage and the growing movement for a Minneapolis municipal ID.

More than 50 people had gathered in the first-floor community room of the high-rise public housing complex by the time two of Frey’s transition team members — outgoing City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden and political consultant Abou Amara — began the conversation. Frey mostly listened for the next two hours, speaking only briefly at the beginning and again before leaving for another engagement.

“Some of the best ideas I’ve had are not my ideas at all; they’ve come from the community,” Frey said in his opening comments.

Sarah Kuhnen was one of several community members who focused their comments on police reform, suggesting additional investments in de-escalation training and wellness programs for officers. She said the department’s body camera program was lacking “accountability.”

Kuhnen identified herself as a member of Justice for Justine, a group formed after a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed Fulton-neighborhood resident Justine Damond in July. In that case, neither Officer Mohamed Noor, who shot Damond, nor his partner activated his body camera.

“Trust has been violated,” Kuhnen said.

Ellie Wikstrom of the Wenonah neighborhood said the police department needed to better screen potential hires.

Maria Cisneros, a community organizer who lives in the Central neighborhood, said she had survived a robbery during which she was stabbed and urged Frey to focus on safety. She linked the issue of safety to the call from local immigrant communities to create a municipal ID. Immigrants who lack a state-issued ID because of their immigration status sometimes do not feel safe calling police, she said.

Underlining the urgency of her request, Cisneros said immigrants who lack ID are also taken advantage of when it comes to housing. Some living in sub-standard conditions are afraid to report issues like infestations, she said.

“We want action now,” she said. “Our families need action today.”

Police reform advocate Dave Bicking said too often major city decisions were being made without enough public input or oversight. Bicking gave as an example the upcoming Super Bowl, arguing that the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee negotiated with the NFL “behind our backs” to get a local sales tax exemption for the game and related events, longer bar hours and additional police support.

“We’re going to have this take over our city with all kinds of impacts,” he said.

Bicking noted that Minneapolis is a member of the Strong Cities Network, a global network set up to counter violent extremism, but that its participation is noted nowhere on the city website.

“This kind of stuff going on behind our backs has got to stop,” he said.

Adam Borgen, a real estate agent and executive director of the Warehouse District Business Association, urged Frey to revive the idea of a tip credit, which would allow employers to count tips toward their employee’s wages.

Borgen said a tip credit would relieve some of the pressure restaurant owners will soon feel from the municipal minimum wage ordinance, which takes effect Jan. 1. He said Minneapolis workers need to earn at least $15 an hour, but argued that a tip credit would allow restaurant owners to begin raising wages for non-tipped employees more quickly.

On the topic of affordable housing, Borgen said the city needed to direct more resources toward first-time homebuyer programs to help transition more residents from renting to homeownership. School Board Chair Rebecca Gagnon, who is also a candidate for the Minnesota legislature in District 62B, made a similar case when she spoke earlier in the meeting.

“We need affordable housing, but we also need pathways to homeownership,” Gagnon said, adding that the city’s homeownership rates for people of color, in particular, were “embarrassing.”

Fadumo Kassim was one of several people who told Frey the city needed to step-up security efforts at its public housing buildings, saying residents want “24/7” security staffing. She also praised Frey for holding the event inside Horn Towers.

“I’m here for seven years, and I have not seen a mayor come to us,” Kassim said.

Frey replied with a few words that prompted a reaction from the Somali-speaking members of the audience. Kassim smiled.

“The mayor was talking in Somali, which was a good, great success,” she said.