On Friday, the Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to reappoint David Frank as director of Community Planning & Economic Development. Despite the consensus, the issue managed to spark the most contentious city council meeting of the last two years.
Last Wednesday, the Council heard public testimony on Frank’s reappointment. Some, including the Mayor, praised Frank’s performance; others expressed a desire for the department to do even more to address the city’s racial and economic disparities.
In response to critics, Council Members Jeremy Schroeder and Jeremiah Ellison introduced a CPED Values and Goals Resolution at Friday’s meeting. The resolution called for urgency in addressing the needs of low-income residents, people of color, and small businesses. Among the values statements: “Build the capacity to make change quickly,” “Increase innovation,” and “Recognize the need to boldly intervene in the market.”
Council Members Lisa Goodman and Linea Palmisano blasted the action, and its timing, as a sneak attack on David Frank and those who work under him.
Goodman expressed displeasure at having first seen the text on Thursday night. She criticized her colleagues for “having a handful of people scurry around 307 rounding up votes, ignoring those they think might have a concern, and passing it on the floor today.”
Palmisano described a 007-style atmosphere at City Hall: “People were being couriered around our council hallways. Sneaking around, like not telling me anything about this resolution.”
Goodman called it an empty, malicious gesture: “We want to prove we care about what we think we care about by shaming David in the context of a reappointment. I find that to be despicable.”
Palmisano said it was an attack on all of CPED, not just Frank. She noted that a Wednesday version of the resolution “hit the people working in his department in the gut.”
(It was a little more than a year ago that Palmisano sharply criticized the department’s long range planning staff during a council meeting, saying she was insulted by how she’d been treated and insisting she’d been “duped” during development of the city’s 2040 plan.)
Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins admonished Goodman and Palmisano: “Boy, I am really dismayed by the mischaracterization of council members and their intentions. I think it is incredibly disrespectful to say that trying to improve the work of the city is somehow demeaning to a department head.”
Council Member Steve Fletcher disagreed with Goodman, saying “I don’t read this as shaming, and I wouldn’t support it if I did read this as shaming. … I think putting these values down makes sense as a response to the public hearing.”
Council President Bender said scrutiny of CPED during Frank’s reappointment wasn’t “personal” and it was a mistake to assume the worst of the Schroeder/Ellison resolution: “I think we go into really dangerous territory when we start to call into question each other’s motivations in a public forum.”
Bender explained her support for the resolution:
“We have a difference of opinion at this moment about exactly how well things have been going or not, and how much effort it’s going to take to get this department to operate in the way that we and our constituents hope — and that’s ok. I think trying to gloss over that is part of the problem. I think sometimes when we try to be polite, or delay things, or brush aside disagreements or difference, the people who suffer the most are those who are most marginalized in the discussions.”
Council Member Cam Gordon said “one of the functions of the resolution … would be to allow 13 of us to feel really really good about voting in support of the new director.” Goodman accused Gordon of linking those two things in an inappropriate “quid pro quo.”
Schroeder, co-author of the resolution, apologized to his colleagues for the accelerated timeline, but explained: “What we came out with, was something that we worked on with [CPED] staff — that they drafted. That they came up with.”
Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, who represents a portion of North Minneapolis deeply affected by the city’s racial disparities, said he supports “the values and the underlying intention of the staff direction.” But he moved to delay the resolution because it’s the kind of significant commitment “that should have all of the council members names on it.”
Goodman noted that no similar resolution had accompanied the recent reappointment of Public Works director Robin Hutcheson. “What we’re doing here is different for Mr. Frank.”
At Hutcheson’s hearing on January 7, residents showed up (some of them in response Bender’s invitation on social media) to ask for more urgency from the city to create a safer, more sustainable and equitable transportation system. Like Frank, Hutcheson’s reappointment was approved unanimously. Unlike Frank, there was no resolution from the council affirming her department’s values.
Ellison said he was open to delay if it made his colleagues more comfortable supporting it later: “My top interest is getting the work done… So if the will of the body is to refer these to the committee, I’d rather have that than to have a motion fail because folks were uncomfortable with the procedure, the process. I just want to note that we should be acting with urgency.”
The council acted to delay the issue by voting to refer the resolution to a February 18 meeting of Lisa Goodman’s Economic Development and Regulatory Services Committee. A related staff direction was referred to the same committee’s February 4 meeting.