Moving out of the background on public safety

As she seeks re-election, Linea Palmisano takes a lead role in police accountability

Palmisano. Submitted photo

Linea Palmisano said she used to prefer a “support” role to her colleagues on the City Council when it came to matters of public safety in Minneapolis, mindful of the fact that Ward 13 neighborhoods generally experience lower rates of crime.

Palmisano often represented the council in city settlement conferences involving police officers and focused on issues like domestic abuse and sex trafficking under the guidance of her mentor, Ward 8 Council Member Elizabeth Glidden. But the shooting death in July of Fulton resident Justine Damond by a Minneapolis Police officer thrust Palmisano into the middle of a debate on police accountability, one of the most prominent issues in the 2017 election cycle.

“I like to think that it didn’t change me as a candidate for office,” Palmisano said in a late-September interview. “Has Justine transformed me as a person? Absolutely.”

Palmisano said her first term experiences, including those settlement conferences, also opened her eyes to the complexities of police work and the challenges officers face in the field. But those complexities are why the department’s body camera program is so important, she said.

As chair of the council’s Audit Committee, Palmisano has asked pointed questions about a recent report that showed lower-than-expected rates of camera use by police and officers failing to follow guidelines for turning the cameras on and off. She said footage needs to be housed outside of the department, and that civilian city staff should catalog their use, rather than police supervisors.

If re-elected, Palmisano said she may explore further the idea of an office of independent monitor, which in cities like Denver and Baltimore provides civilian oversight of police. She said she is also “very interested in incentivizing officers to live in our community” to strengthen ties between police and neighborhoods.

Palmisano ran for and won her seat in 2013, a year when Betsy Hodges’ successful bid for mayor left Ward 13 without an incumbent. Of the five candidates in that election, which used ranked-choice voting, only Palmisano and Matt Perry advanced to a second round, with Palmisano winning over 48 percent of the vote and besting Perry by a little more than 3 percentage points.

This spring, she won the DFL endorsement in her ward over nonprofit fundraiser Adam Faitek, who then dropped out of the race.

Palmisano’s challenger in November, Bob Reuer, also ran in 2013, winning 749 first-round votes to Palmisano’s 4,452. The owner of a sewer and drain company, Reuer said he likes the incumbent personally but thinks the city needs stronger leadership.

“This job, you’ve got to be able to dig your heels in and say, ‘No,’” Reuer said.

The Lynnhurst resident described recent actions to raise the city’s minimum wage, require employers to offer paid time-off and restrict the sale of menthol cigarettes as examples of the council overreaching into issues better handled at the state or federal level. Burdensome regulations will drive small-business owners out of the city, he predicted.

“If we don’t do something pretty quick, you’re going to see everybody moving out to the suburbs,” Reuer, who is running as an independent, said.

Palmisano said setting Minneapolis on the path to requiring a higher minimum wage than the rest of the state was “the most potentially dangerous thing that we’ve taken on as a city,” but said she supported the ordinance as a catalyst for “broader change” beyond the city’s borders. Now that it’s in place, she added, it’s essential for the council to monitor the effects of wage hikes and be willing to make “fine adjustments” to the ordinance, which gives small businesses 7 years and large businesses 5 years to reach $15 an hour.

Palmisano, who was part of a council workgroup that planned for and passed changes to the so-called 60/40 Rule restricting alcohol sales at neighborhood restaurants, said cutting red tape for small businesses was a priority.

Early in her term, Palmisano led her colleagues in declaring a one-year moratorium on teardowns in Southwest Minneapolis neighborhoods where there had been simmering tensions over residential demolition and construction. The moratorium ended early, but Palmisano said the zoning changes and new construction management agreement put in place during the pause are working.

“It’s fair to say that the calls to my office about development have greatly diminished,” she said.

Palmisano said the focus now in Ward 13 should be on adding housing for people at all stages of life. While some candidates for city office advocate opening single-family-zoned neighborhoods to more multi-family development as one way to ease the city’s housing crunch, Palmisano said it’s not yet the time to contemplate widespread zoning changes.

“The very first thing we need to do is build housing places that today are zoned with that capacity,” she said.

For Palmisano, the real payoff in public service has been using her posting atop the Audit Committee and the skills she brought to the council, including an MBA, to focus on the “core deliverables” of the city — improving services as basic as trash collection, public safety and snow plowing.

“The things that I take on are really more like the nuts-and-bolts of how … we innovate to make the city run well and run better,” she said.