The top staff in Minneapolis City Hall Tuesday apologized for what they described as a lack of communication following the killing of George Floyd last month, vowing to regain the trust of residents as they work to rebuild devastated areas of the city.
Leaders of the city’s health, public works, housing and economic development departments shared the latest statistics in the aftermath of Floyd’s death in police custody.
City Coordinator Mark Ruff said they were committed to racial equity as the city began to emerge from “multiple crises,” including the coronavirus pandemic, the destruction of buildings and lack of shelter for a surfacing homeless population.
“We as staff know that we have lost some of your trust in the actions over the last three weeks, that we have not met your expectations in terms of response, that we have seen parts of our city that have been frankly impacted that will take years to recover from,” Ruff said. “We will be here shoulder to shoulder with you to bring a better future for our city as soon as possible.”
Ruff, who was chosen as the city coordinator in April after serving as its chief financial officer, said city departments could have communicated better over the past several months, adding that they sometimes stayed silent while they worked to certify information related to the pandemic and the tally of destruction across the city.
“We want to be 95% sure the information we’re giving you is completely accurate. Until we have that certainty, we usually don’t distribute information. In a time of crisis, that’s not always possible. Sometimes, the silence was worse than having information that was 60% or 70% or 80% accurate.”
He continued: “Hearing nothing is disturbing in a sense that there’s not a functioning level of government.”
Although the city’s 911 emergency response was overwhelmed in the days following Floyd’s death, the fire department is now “fully operational” and the police department is “at the ready,” Ruff said. He recognized some may be hesitant to call the police but that people should “rely on reliable, licensed options for security.”
More than 1,000 buildings were reported by the city as having damage, many of them at or around the Lake Street corridor. Erik Hansen, the city’s director of economic policy, said it was too early to get an accurate cost of the final damage, though previous estimates were at least $150 million.
Steve Poor, the city’s director of development services, encouraged business owners to call their insurance companies before beginning to clean up and rebuild, and said a dedicated phone line to the city’s zoning office would be posted on the city website Wednesday. Appraisers with the city assessor’s office have also begun to reassess damaged properties.
Two affordable housing complexes built with city financing were damaged during the unrest, and another that was under construction was destroyed, said Andrea Brennan, the city’s director of housing policy and development. Thirty-five households were displaced, she said, 21 of which were able to return after their homes were repaired.
The city’s health department is also doing a “public health assessment” of two growing encampments in Powderhorn Park in south Minneapolis, Brennan said, where many homeless residents moved after they were evicted from a nearby hotel that had been turned into a makeshift shelter by volunteers.
The department leaders praised them and other residents who over the past month helped clean tons of debris and trash, set up food pantries and protect businesses across the city.
“I wept over it, seeing that we, the city, were bolstered by our volunteers,” Public Works Director Robin Hutcheson said. “It was possible to feel a sense of inspiration.”
Ruff acknowledged the past few weeks of unrest were “a result of structural racism within every institution,” and that white leaders, including all the department heads at Tuesday’s briefing, would need to stop being defensive in order to make meaningful change for people of color.
“We are all, as leaders, tired. We have spent not just the last three weeks but the last three months working 10- to 12-hour days,” he said. “But we are keenly aware of those who work within the city and outside the city who say, ‘We are tired from 30 years of living with structural racism. We are tired of being the ones to carry forward the message.’ ”