As Hennepin County commissioners prepared to wrap up the county’s 2018 budget, divisions on the County Board were exposed over several controversial measures during a three-hour meeting Wednesday.
The most spirited debate involved Commissioner Marion Greene’s proposal to have the board take control of the Sheriff’s Office crime lab and consider merging it with the Minneapolis Police Department.
Four of the seven commissioners said they opposed the proposal, but the board in the end chose to delay consideration until the final budget vote scheduled next Tuesday.
Sheriff Rich Stanek spoke to the board about why the crime lab should remain under his oversight, and tried a second time to address the issue before the board tabled the vote. As he approached the podium, Commissioner Peter McLaughlin told him he hadn’t been recognized to speak.
“Are you telling me I can’t speak?” Stanek asked.
“You can’t bully the people in this room,” Greene responded.
Earlier in the meeting, Stanek had criticized Greene for changing her proposal late the previous evening and not alerting him. He packed the boardroom with law enforcement personnel in uniforms, several of whom testified before the board.
“This isn’t typical of how the board conducts business on behalf of the county,” he said.
Stanek questioned why Greene was advocating for independent oversight of the crime lab when none of the stakeholders in the criminal justice system were asking for a change.
He said he talked to Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo by phone Tuesday night, who he said told him that there wouldn’t be room in its newly planned crime lab facility for the county.
Greene countered that national best practices call for law enforcement departments to separate themselves from oversight of crime labs. She said the lab wouldn’t be run by Minneapolis, that suburban police departments wouldn’t lose services and that no jobs would be lost.
“This isn’t politics,” she said. “It’s good government.”
Board Chairwoman Jan Callison, one of the commissioners who said she would vote against a crime lab merger, criticized Greene’s handling of the proposal and said it should have been divided in two: management of the crime lab and a merger with Minneapolis.
“This is about transparency,” Callison said. “This was brought forward quickly and with a lack of information.”
The lack of adequate process was a running theme among commissioners, who complained that the late budget amendments didn’t allow enough time for feedback and hadn’t been properly vetted.
Another budget amendment by Greene drew similar criticism, though the board approved it on a 4-3 vote. That measure designated $250,000 for free legal services for immigrants facing deportation after they leave the county jail.
An estimated 35,000 Hennepin County residents lack immigration documentation, according to Greene. Many were arrested by federal Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who were notified when they were leaving jail, and only 14 percent of detained individuals appear in immigration proceedings with an attorney, she said.
Commissioner Jeff Johnson voted against the legal services, saying he was uncomfortable using taxpayer money to defend somebody who was illegally in the United States. Callison called the measure “the federalization of local government” since immigration court is a federal function.
The board also approved another Greene proposal, to inform people booked in jail about what they are required to share on their citizenship with jail personnel or ICE agents. That measure came with a $25,000 price tag.