Minneapolis City Council Member Alondra Cano said she will resign from her position as public safety chair if voters and her colleagues approve a proposal to give more power over the police department to the council.
Cano said she was taken by surprise when, while she was out of the country, she learned her fellow council members broached a charter amendment that would give the City Council and mayor equal authority over the Police Department. Cano said if the amendment passes, she would not be able to balance her constituent duties with the added burdens of police oversight.
“At that point, I won’t be able to chair the committee,” she said in an interview this week. “My ward has so many different needs that I would not be able to oversee the Police Department.”
Over the past month, Cano has missed eight of 11 council committee or full council meetings, according to the city’s attendance tracker.
During that time, the council has confronted major public safety controversies in Minneapolis, including marijuana stings that disproportionately targeted black men, questions about the police role in encouraging paramedics to sedate people with ketamine and the police-involved killing of a man in north Minneapolis.
In an interview, Cano said she was out of town during the month on two personal trips, which she planned before these incidents took place. Cano blamed Council Member Cam Gordon for raising the charter amendment while she was absent as an attempt to “get political points.”
“He has not talked to me about it,” she said. “As a woman of color and as chair of the public safety team, when your colleague doesn’t call you to talk about something when he knows you’re on a preplanned family vacation, the timing is off. The approach is off.”
Gordon said Cano “has a point,” and he would have preferred to have talked to her in person before introducing it, but felt compelled to take action after news that police officers fatally shot Thurman Blevins in north Minneapolis. Gordon provided an e-mail he sent Cano and her staff about the amendment on June 28, the day after he proposed it.
“It was a little bit challenging having her be out of town when this came up,” Gordon said. “I don’t want to make a big deal about it. It’s not my job. I’m not her supervisor or anything.”
Cano hasn’t only been absent from meetings in June; she has the lowest attendance record on the City Council.
Since the beginning of the new term in January, Cano missed 29 percent of the meetings she was supposed to attend, according to attendance records reviewed by the Star Tribune. Cano was absent from three of the 15 full council meetings and 16 of the 51 committee sessions.
The full council meets twice each month, while the schedule of committee sessions is more variable. Some council members have more committee assignments than others. Council members are paid $98,695 annually.
Between January and June, eight council members missed at least one full council meeting.
Council Member Kevin Reich, who chairs the Transportation & Public Works Committee, missed nearly 15 percent of all meetings, including three of the 15 council sessions. Council President Lisa Bender, who chairs council meetings, missed 13 percent of total meetings, including two of the 15 council meetings.
Attendance records don’t reflect whether absence was due to city or personal business.
Council Member Linea Palmisano, who hasn’t missed one council or committee meeting, said: “Presence is important, and that’s what my constituents fully expect.”
Palmisano said that while Cano was absent, she was in contact with her throughout the month. “While Council Member Cano hasn’t been in front of the cameras, I’ve had the most conversation with her about the shooting and this police charter thing with her anyway. I feel that she’s done a good job being in touch.”
In a city that gives considerable power to the council, it’s essential for council members to show up to evaluate departments and make informed votes, said Paul Ostrow, who served on the council from 1998 to 2009.
“I don’t think there’s frankly much of an excuse to miss committee meetings,” said Ostrow. “If you take a vacation once in a while, fine, but that’s basically not showing up. You’re just not doing your job.”
Cano said though she was absent from meetings, she has been “in constant communication” with the vice chair of the public safety committee and the mayor’s office.
“While the timing was never expected to coincide with the ketamine or Blevins incident, I did engage, weigh in, and provide work and support personally via e-mail, text, and phone calls as well as thru my office during this time,” Cano said in an e-mail.