Oops … they did it again.
Almost, anyway. Fearing that the notice of a public hearing into the confirmation of Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau wasn’t sufficient — and still smarting, perhaps, from a recent outcry over insufficient notice of a couple of meetings related to the Fourth Precinct protest last year — a City Council committee voted to provide a second opportunity for public testimony next week.
The Public Safety, Civil Rights and Emergency Management Committee had included on its agenda the hearings about the reappointments of three of Mayor Betsy Hodges’ appointees. Of the three, the reappointment of Harteau was likely to draw the most testimony. And it did during the Wednesday afternoon meeting.
Some 15 people testified both in favor of and opposed to Harteau’s reappointment. Those opposed were critical of her handling of a protest encampment at the Fourth Precinct and the pace of departmental reforms. Supporters said Harteau is pushing change in a department that has resisted it for decades.
But before that even started, Committee Chair Blong Yang first offered to continue the hearing until his next scheduled meeting in two weeks to provide more notice. He then changed that approach after getting word from Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden that he could use the committee of the whole meeting that she chairs to take more testimony.
That committee will meet Wednesday at 10 a.m.
Yang takes responsibility
“At the end of the day I’m going to take full responsibility for this confusion and craziness,” Yang said. “It’s my fault entirely.” What exactly was Yang’s fault wasn’t made clear.
The council’s executive committee — a committee chaired by Hodges and including four senior council members — received the reappointments on Jan. 26. At that meeting, the various appointments were assigned to the appropriate council committees. Dates and times for each hearing were announced.
Yang’s committee agenda was posted somewhat later than usual — Tuesday morning before 9 a.m. — but within council guidelines as stated on its website of appearing 24 hours prior to the date of the meeting.
But there is some history on matters related to this committee, the council in general and complaints of residents about the police department. And that history seemed to be repeating itself.
December meetings and the Fourth Precinct
It was Dec. 2, for example, when an agenda of the public safety committee was changed after it had been posted on the council website to include a discussion of “recent events in the Fourth Police Precinct.” That is where protesters had been camped to keep public attention on the police shooting of Jamar Clark and it is where many of those in the occupation felt they were subject to abuse by officers.
Yet the only people who appeared to have notice of the discussion were people who lived near the precinct and who wanted the occupation to end. Also attending was police union leader Bob Kroll, who took the opportunity to blast Harteau and Hodges for their handling of the protests and for not clearing the area in front of the precinct.
The only voices in support of the protests came from two anti-police-brutality activists who were in attendance not because they knew it was going to be discussed but for another agenda item. Ironically, these same activists had been physically removed from a full council meeting two weeks earlier when they tried to speak about the protests and the city response. When told that the council didn’t regularly take testimony at its Friday business meetings, Michelle Gross of Communities United Against Police Brutality shouted: “We’re amending your agenda.”
Then came the evening of Dec. 9 when the council met to consider amendments to and then adopt the city’s 2016 budgets. What looked like a fairly routine evening turned into an hours-long battle by activists to protest an amendment that became public just a few hours before the meeting. That amendment came at the request of Hodges and would have put $605,000 toward “safety and accessibility improvements at the 4th precinct to better serve officers and the community.”
To activists, putting money into what they view as the symbol of police abuse in North Minneapolis was wrong and they were able to fill the room, the hallway and an overflow room with residents partly via Twitter and the hashtag “BlongNBetsysFortress.”
Ultimately the amendment was never offered. It was not even mentioned. Protesters declared victory. And Hodges told the Star Tribune last month that the late move to amendment the budget was “tone deaf.”
So it is not unusual that the council might be especially sensitive to how it approaches something like the reappointment of Harteau who, along with Hodges, personifies complaints about the lack of progress toward reforming the police department and its culture.
Still, the one-week continuance wasn’t enough for Dave Bicking of Citizens United Against Police Brutality.
“With the poor notice of this hearing, the damage to the credibility of this committee and the executive committee has already been done,” he said.