Hennepin County board chair: The importance of planning for ‘how life will be different after a crisis’

The Southwest Journal is documenting the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. As the outbreak evolves, we will be checking in with the participants regularly. Read all of the stories here.

All interviews are conducted over the phone, and conversations are edited for length and clarity.

Marion Greene, Hennepin County board chair

The reception of the property tax delay has been overwhelmingly positive. [The Hennepin County Board voted to waive the late payment penalty for certain property taxpayers who pay by July 15.] People are in a world of hurt and it doesn’t answer every need — we waived the late payment penalty for about 80% of the property tax dollars that fund our schools and government — but it’s what we can do. 

By us putting a stake in the ground, other counties in the region are looking to match. I’m happy with that regional influence as we look for a way forward. We had hoped for a statewide solution, and for various reasons, that wasn’t something the state could do, but I’m happy with how this is unfolding. 

We’re reliant on state systems for human services. It’s been very hard, with a divided legislature, to pass any investment in those systems. But because of the emergency, we’ve received a number of waivers.

There are a number of things that don’t happen in person any longer. People don’t have to fax things; they can email them. There are myriad examples of ways we’ve been able to work more efficiently that have been enabled by the emergency and we really hope will stay in place when this subsides. I’ve often joked that I’m not going to retire until Hennepin County stops asking people to fax information. A friend of mine who works in IT said, “We might be able to get you to retire sooner than expected.” 

I wouldn’t say the emergency has changed the way I work with city officials, but it has definitely dialed it up or deepened it. All our work on unsheltered homelessness is very much in partnership with the city of Minneapolis. The mayor [Jacob Frey] and I have always had a good relationship and been in touch regularly, but now we talk probably every other day at least. I think the whole world is asking the same questions and none of us have answers.

I had a mentor who told me in a totally different context years ago that the earlier you can think about how life will be different after a crisis, the better off you are. In spite of the fact that we have plenty on our plate relating to today and tomorrow, I’m trying not to lose sight of those conversations as well. 

Something I’m reading up on this week is what’s going on in Germany. Angela Merkel announced a very gradual reopening — baby steps for how to open up. She was really clear about factors and measures their government is monitoring to know when to hit the brakes on opening up. I want to look at how she’s organizing her government and the teams she’s put in place. I grew up outside of the U.S., and I’m driven by a deep-seated belief in how much we have going for us as a nation, and I’m distressed by what I see.


VOICES FROM THE PANDEMIC

 You can read all of the stories here.