In a rare display of emotion, City Council President Barb Johnson said she’s frustrated and angry at the time employees at Minneapolis City Hall are spending on a plan to close racial disparities, noting the rampant gunshots and other problems afflicting her North Side ward.
“What’s our priority in this city?” she demanded at a Committee of the Whole meeting Wednesday.
Civil Rights Director Velma Korbel addressed council members about a project called the Racial Equity Action Plan, which would identify strategies for improving minority citizens’ health, academic achievement, job opportunities and other areas in which they lag behind whites.
It would draw on input from many stakeholders, including people across City Hall departments, and builds on a new 28-point assessment for city workers to consider racial equity in their decisionmaking.
Closing disparities between whites and people of color has been a priority of Mayor Betsy Hodges, though the project discussed Wednesday was in the works before she took office in January. Council members have also promoted it as a top issue. Supporters of the equity plan say it can offer benchmarks and goals similar to the city’s existing plan on reducing climate change.
Johnson said she was late to the meeting because of “critical issues” in her ward, including drug arrests and gunshots, and that people she’s asked for help in dealing with public safety are spending a lot of time on the equity plan instead.
“I am so frustrated about this,” she said. “I see it as another task force, another report, another reporting mechanism. I’ve got all the reporting mechanisms I need. … I’m really angry. I want an estimate of staff time, I want to know from each of these people how much time are you spending on these multiple, multiple initiatives that we’re using to produce more reports. That’s what I want: accountability.”
Korbel said the City Council has set racial equity as a priority for the city and told the staff that’s “what we’re supposed to do.”
“I suppose if we don’t care that there’s a segment of the city that has continued to live on the margins for generations, I suppose we can stop doing the work,” Korbel said. “I suppose if we don’t care that 30 years from now, the young people who are not graduating from high school might be the ones involved in these shooting incidents.”
Council Member Cam Gordon also defended the plan, saying the city’s work on racial equity “absolutely gets to the health of our citizens and to [their] public safety.”
“Ultimately, we could be preventing a lot of the stuff that we’re having to deal with now,” he said.
But Council Member Blong Yang, who also represents north Minneapolis, shared Johnson’s concerns.
“Our immediate concerns are bread and butter stuff, and we need to do that very well,” he said.
He also raised questions in an interview after the meeting about the racial equity assessment tool presented to council members last week. While the measure is meant to guard against institutional racism and ensure city services are equitable, Yang said it will be difficult for people to use.
“Nobody’s going look at that darn thing,” he said. “It’s too cumbersome.”