Two Minneapolis mayoral candidates came up Wednesday with variations on the same idea. Both would form a partnership with Hennepin County, and both had photo opportunities to illustrate their proposal.
Cam Winton had two umbrellas and two watches as he stood in front of the Hennepin County Government Center to talk about eliminating duplication of services between the county and city.
Mark Andrew appeared with Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to talk about a possible city-county program targeting abuse, identity theft and fraud against seniors. He had Freeman’s mother, former Minnesota first lady Jane Freeman, on hand for the event.
Andrew’s own mother, Grace Andrew, was invited to attend but already had a full day planned and didn’t have time. Instead, she sent along her comments.
“I want you to know if you don’t get this project done with Mike Freeman, you’re grounded,” Grace Andrew told her son.
The joint program would be run through the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office to increase investigation and prosecution of crimes against seniors. The investigations would be done by the Minneapolis Police Department with the county attorney handling the prosecution.
“We’re working very hard to create livable, worry-free environments for seniors,” said Andrew, adding, “I don’t think we are doing enough.”
Nationwide seniors annually lose an estimated $2.5 billion to fraud and $3 billion for identity theft.
Suspected crimes against seniors would be reported via the city’s 311 operators, who would receive special training from the county attorney’s staff in handling the calls and directing them to the appropriate agency. There also would be an education problem aimed at seniors to help them identify crimes committed against them.
“We want to make fraud, abuse and identity theft top of mind for seniors,” Andrew said.
“With new technology, there are so many ways to get at seniors,” said Jane Freeman. “To get some help when you need it is very important to seniors.”
For his part, Winton would like to eliminate duplication of city and county services in four areas: 911 calls, human resources, accounting and information technology. He estimates there are currently 1,000 workers in those city and county departments.
“I am not proposing a consolidation,” said Winton.“Consolidation would mean, hypothetically, that the city would be absorbed into Hennepin County I’m not proposing that.”
Winton said the shared departments would assemble data and provide services for both Hennepin County and Minneapolis. To work out the details, he would assemble members of the City Council and the Hennepin County Board and other relevant officers from both jurisdictions.
Richfield and Edina recently agreed to share 911 services, and the City of St. Paul and Ramsey County currently share some health service programs.
“I am not talking about laying anybody off. It’s not fair to people,” said Winton. “What I am talking about is allowing the baby boomers to retire and not filling their spots.”
Winton estimates the annual combined savings for the city and county would range from $10 million to $15 million.
“What’s at stake here is we’re either going to have to keep raising property taxes on people or we’re going to have to keep cutting services,” said Winton. “We’ve got some sticky challenges in this city.”