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Minneapolis City Council re-appoints Velma Korbel as civil rights director

But approval came with a mandate to address employee and union complaints about the department’s working conditions.

Velma Korbel
Velma Korbel

Velma Korbel won re-appointment Friday to her job as director of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department, but it came with a mandate from the City Council to address employee and union complaints about working conditions under her leadership.

An earlier public hearing on her reappointment brought complainats from former employees and union leadership about poor working conditions in the department.

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges spoke in support of Korbel at the public hearing and reached out to council members seeking their votes to confirm her.

“Velma’s results in turning down a once-underperforming department and inspiring the community’s confidence in our work are extremely strong, and by themselves qualify her highly to continue to lead the department,” said Hodges in a Thursday email to council members.

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Council Member Blong Yang, a former employee of the Civil Rights Department, opposed the re-appointment and said repeatedly that the complaints about working conditions did “not surprise me.”

“I’m concerned that this re-appointment will go against one of the values we have as a city, which is to encourage employees and boost morale and make this a good place to work,” said Yang. He was joined in opposition to Korbel by Council Members Jacob Frey and Andrew Johnson.

“Lots of strides were made in the department under her leadership,” said Council Member Cam Gordon in support of Korbel. “We had a real problem with a backlog of complaints that weren’t getting looked at. The Civil Rights Department, I think, was seen as one of the more dysfunctional departments.”

Following the confirmation vote, the council asked the city coordinator to work with union representatives on possible formation of a labor-management committee to work on improving management practices there. The council asked for a report on the effort in July.

Sarah Maxwell — president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents city workers — said she was contacted by Mayor Hodges before the vote and is hopeful “things will get better for our members. That was my goal.”

City officials stopped short of saying there will be an investigation of the department’s working conditions.

“I wouldn’t characterize this as an investigation,” said City Attorney Susan Segal. “Anytime you have a union representative discussing concerns about what’s going on in a department, what some of the speakers raised in the public hearing, that’s an opportunity.”

“The department director has welcomed the opportunity to review the environment in the department and improve employee relations,” said Segal after the council meeting.

Faster vote count next time?

Minneapolis voters should know who has won the 2017 city election by the afternoon after the polls close. Maybe faster.

Technical changes to the voting ordinances will allow those counting the votes to eliminate candidates with no opportunity to win, called batch eliminations.

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City Clerk Casey Carl said that if the newly worded ordinances had been in effect during last year’s election, 31 of the 35 mayoral candidates could have been quickly eliminated. He estimates it then would have taken about four hours to count the votes of candidates with a chance to win and declare a winner.