In one of the most rapid of reversals known to government bureaucracy, Minneapolis City Hall’s bells rang after all in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
The commission in charge of the chimes in the tower atop Minneapolis City Hall swiftly changed course and decided to join in a global bell-ringing to mark the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination Wednesday night.
On Tuesday, Tower Bell Foundation Chair Tony Hill had been informed by Municipal Building Commission Director Erin Delaney that his request to honor the slain civil rights leader was denied.
On Wednesday, after news of the decision was published, and less than four hours before the 6 p.m. tribute, Hill got word that the City Hall bells could join in.
“I just got notified by the building manager,” Hill told the Star Tribune, referring to Delaney.
Hill said she didn’t offer an explanation for the change in tune. “I’m just happy the tolling is on,” he said.
Delaney told the Star Tribune that she consulted with Hennepin County Commissioner Jan Callison, who chairs the Municipal Building Commission, and they had agreed to continue “following our past practice” of reserving the bells solely for concerts.
“I got the request, and it was not something that we do,” Delaney said. “We don’t toll the bells. We have a scheduled concert series. ... I think it’s important that it be noted that we don’t do these things arbitrarily.”
Callison said choosing not to ring the bells “made sense to me... In hindsight, I wish I had let the other members [of the commission] know.”
The global bell tolling was spearheaded by the National Civil Rights Museum, which once was the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where King was slain April 4, 1968.
Three members of the four-person Municipal Building Commission were caught by surprise.
“I was unaware of the decision until [the Star Tribune] story,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin. Other members are Mayor Jacob Frey and City Council Member Lisa Goodman.
McLaughlin said he and other commissioners were in “electronic communication” and agreed on theringing of the tower’s 15 bells, which range from 300 to 7,000 pounds.
Frey said he doesn’t now how the initial decision was made.
“I am glad that the mistake will now be rectified and Martin Luther King’s legacy will now be honored,” he added. “We can’t have bureaucracy prevent government from doing the right thing.”
Goodman said she was “unaware of who made the decision, but I don’t think it was a good one. Clearly, the 50th anniversary of the death of Reverend Martin Luther King is something that should be honored and commemorated.”
Hill speculated that the request, made two weeks ago, may not have given the commission enough time. The board last met in February and is scheduled to convene again Monday.
Delaney said that if there had been a meeting before Wednesday, “then there would have been an opportunity for a discussion.”
A City Hall special ringing had been conducted for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 15, a federal holiday in recognition of King’s birthday.
Other notable bell-ringing concerts on the 2018 calendar include Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Syttende Mai, all the major holidays and a noontime program of popular music every Friday from May through September.
Volunteer ringer and former Star Tribune reporter Dan Wascoe said he found the initial denial “curious in light of previous concerts to commemorate the passings of the likes of Michael Jackson and Kirby Puckett. The bells have many functions, including to remind our residents of noteworthy events, making us more of a community.”
Hill did say that the concerts for Jackson and Puckett came at times when the bells were scheduled to ring anyway, making the need for specific commission approval unnecessary.