Frey offers a solid structure plan

In November, Minneapolis voters approved a city charter amendment that gave reelected mayor Jacob Frey new authority to create a much-needed “strong mayor” governance system in the city. To fulfill this directive, Frey recently released a strong reorganization plan.

Frey presented a proposal to a committee of city council that would create a cabinet of four high-ranking staff who would report to the mayor and help oversee city operations. The mayor chose this structure from two recommended by a working group he appointed. This group included members who had not supported the vote to strengthen the powers of the mayor but who have experience in organizing government.

The new cabinet would include a chief of staff to oversee the mayor’s office and the city attorney, operating much as they do now. Two new directors would be added to lead new offices focused on service and security.

The Public Service Office would include a variety of municipal offices, such as finance, health, economic and community development, 311 and others. The Community Safety Office would include 911, fire, police, emergency management and neighborhood safety (which would include the Office of Violence Prevention).

As Frey told council members, the reorganization would allow departments working on public safety efforts to coordinate with each other more effectively with a clearer chain of command.

That’s why the Star Tribune editorial board supported the change. The old, antiquated structure of city hall effectively gave Minneapolis government by committee, blurred lines of authority, and too often put the mayor and council members in competition over day-to-day operations. It was unreasonable for city departments to feel as if they had 14 bosses (the mayor and 13 council members); the resulting uncertainties slowed down decisions and caused confusion.

The mayor said he envisions the director of community safety as “someone with security and law enforcement experience” who may or may not be a police officer. He added that he would be looking for someone with “a deep understanding of the law, expertise as a changemaker” and experience managing people.

Frey told a columnist he viewed the proposed structure as a “win for everyone” – even those who voted for Question 2 to eliminate the MPD and replace it with a Department of Public Safety. He called the change an opportunity for “unity” around a government structure that better integrates public safety functions and better serves citizens in the future.

In addition to giving the mayor greater authority, voters also clarified the role of the city council. It will rightly focus on legislative, policy and budget issues. This is how most cities operate.

Later this month, Frey expects to return to the board with more details on the plan and to receive feedback from the board. Then the full board must vote on the plan and decide on the public hearing, with the goal of getting a final structure approved by the end of the year.

While there’s still room to discuss specifics, the mayor’s plan provides a good general outline of what the new strong mayor system should look like.

Ida M. Morgan