Council approves Hodges’ nominations for several dept. heads

The City Council voted 9-3 to approve Mayor Betsy Hodges’ reappointment of Civil Rights Department Director Velma Korbel to another two-year term today.

Council members Blong Yang (Ward 5), Jacob Frey (Ward 3) and Andrew Johnson (Ward 12) voted no and expressed concerns about complaints raised about the department’s work environment.

Meanwhile, supporters on the Council and Mayor Betsy Hodges credited Korbel with turning around a beleaguered department and advancing the city’s racial equity agenda when she became the director in 2010.

Hodges said while she strongly supports Korbel, she is committed to looking into employee complaints that were aired during a public hearing on Korbel’s reappointment.

Yang, who previously worked for the Civil Rights Department, said complaints about a toxic work environment don’t surprise him. “What I hear from current and past employees frightens me a bit,” he said. “A change in leadership is necessary at this point.”

Seema Desai, a former department employee, was one of the people who spoke against Korbel’s reappointment at the March 19 public hearing. She recently filed a lawsuit against the city — alleging the department violated the state’s Whistleblowers Act for retaliating against her when she complained about having work overtime without pay, among other things.

Korbel, however, disputed those suggestions at the hearing and said allegations that the department has a toxic work environment is “ludicrous” and “offensive.”

Council Member Cam Gordon (Ward 2) said he supports Korbel’s reappointment with some reservations and hopes the city can address the concerns raised by employees and union leaders. He added that he worried that voting no would delay or derail the city’s racial equity work.

The Council also voted to unanimously approve Hodges’ reappointments of Health Department Commissioner Gretchen Musicant, Fire Chief John Fruetel and Public Works Director Steve Kotke.