Mayor Frey Squanders Post-Election Opportunity, Loses Another Friend

It’s been a manic week and a half for Mayor Frey. He followed up a rough election night with a rapidly escalating fight over police bonuses that gave former ally Emily Koski a platform to trash his leadership two times in the span of four days. There is more to this police bonus story than what you’re seeing on the local news (“golly gee, we’d have a fully staffed police force if not for that meddling city council!“).

As I wrote last week, my hopeful election reaction was that fear tactics were fading and the debate at city hall could soon become less dumb and more collaborative. Well, not so fast. Frey hasn’t abandoned his preferred tactic of bull-rushing the city council with press conferences, fear, and manufactured deadlines. And it will only get harder for him come January, when Lisa Goodman departs and Andrea Jenkins is no longer council president.

Here’s a timeline of big post-election events so far:

Nov. 7: Election day. Mayor Frey hoping the results will give him more friends.

Nov. 8: Election results are tallied, giving Frey fewer friends.

Nov. 9: Frey and the police union agree on $15.3 million in hiring and retention bonuses for police, out of a pool of $19 million in public safety money from the state. In return, the police chief will get the flexibility to more quickly adjust shift staffing.

Nov. 10: Frey announces the bonus plan. He’s in a hurry to have it approved before Andrew Johnson’s Ward 12 successor Aurin Chowdhury can be sworn in on Nov. 21. This would turn out not to matter because even Johnson thought it was a bad deal and voted against it.

Nov. 14: Police bonuses are voted down by the council’s budget committee (7-5). Not all of Frey’s usual allies are on board. Emily Koski makes it clear she is tired of his bullshit.

Nov. 14: Frey immediately calls a special meeting to force the council to vote a second time.

Nov. 14: Police Chief Brian O’Hara and MPD release a video of him speaking directly to camera criticizing the city council: “Words won’t fix this problem. You have waited long enough.” This is not something I can recall the head of a city department ever doing before.

Nov. 14: Heather Johnston, Frey’s controversial pick for City Operations Officer, withdraws from consideration for the job. Frey’s new nominees for COO and CPED are put on an accelerated timeline. This ensures the current council will vote to approve them this year, not the new council in January. [This sped up appointment timeline risks subjecting Frey’s COO nominee Margaret Anderson Kelliher to the clever new nickname “Amy Coney Kelliher”].

Nov. 17: Police bonuses are voted down a second time (8-5). Koski rips Frey more harshly than she did the first time.

What’s the rush?

Frey and the police union seem to have been hoping for a friendlier election result. Heather Johnston’s withdrawal from consideration for COO seems motivated by similar concerns.

Arguments against the Frey bonus plan

Some of the arguments from council members who voted against the bonuses:

  • Bonuses don’t accomplish what advocates say they do, whether that’s based on experience here in Minneapolis or in other cities like Seattle. Despite paying out retention bonuses earlier this year, 68 officers left MPD in 2023, compared to 33 new hires.
  • There are more effective incentives like base pay, retirement and health benefits.
  • These bonuses give away too much to the police union for not enough in return.
  • Spending $15.3 million of $19 million in state public safety funding on this one initiative isn’t the right balance.
  • And considering all of the above concerns, why would the council circumvent the normal budget process just to accommodate Mayor Frey’s political calendar? In less than two weeks the council will be taking up amendments for the 2024 budget, and can have a bigger conversation about public safety budget priorities.

Arguments for the bonuses

  • MPD officers are paid less than some other nearby cities.
  • Goodman: Other cities are doing bonuses. If it’s wrong, everyone is wrong.
  • Goodman: “The court told us we have a clear legal duty to employ at least 731 officers and an even clearer legal duty to fund it.” [note: supreme court says the council has met that funding obligation]
  • Vetaw: “People are dying. It’s not a fear mongering scare tactic.”
  • Palmisano: “The sense of urgency is what we lose at the bargaining table if we don’t move forward today.”
  • Vetaw: “Fuck it. What we going to lose?”

What’s Emily Koski’s problem with Frey?

Koski’s response to this has been fascinating because she occupies a similar spot on the political spectrum to Frey. The difference is she just seems to think this is a bad idea and he’s bad at his job. Some observers have speculated that Koski is running for mayor and that part of her strategy is to begin saying true things about Jacob Frey.

Just a small sample of what Koski had to say about Frey:

  • “I will not bow to fear or manipulation tactics and make a decision outside our normal process on a plan that we repeatedly tried ourselves and has not been effective.”
  • “It’s an effort to politicize public safety to scare us.”
  • “We actually have an opportunity to think about the investment in a transformative public safety plan, but we can’t do that with an executive who won’t speak with us. We can’t do that without collaboration.”
  • “we have been completely shut out of the process.”
  • “I am not going to sit on this dais today and let anyone paint me as anti-police.”

Raising the specter of the Don Samuels staffing lawsuit is not helpful

The Don Samuels lawsuit was resurrected as a cudgel by Team Frey. As in: you will vote for these bonuses, or we’re calling the supreme court on your asses. Seems like bad tactics to say in public that the city has no choice but to give the union whatever they want until we hit a minimum. As every grizzled older man in your life has probably told you about negotiations: not only should you never walk out of the car dealership, make sure that salesman knows you are legally barred from walking out empty-handed.

Progressives are often scolded for disrespecting the cops (by which I assume people mean quoting from DOJ and state investigations of MPD). Maybe we can call out Frey and his remaining council allies for providing aid and comfort to the police union.