Three times a week, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey dials into a private Skype meeting with other city leaders to discuss their response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Designed for swift action, the emergency policy group includes City Council President Lisa Bender and Vice President Andrea Jenkins, eight city department heads and some staff members.
The emergency declaration put into place March 16 allows Frey to pass temporary regulations and authorize quick purchases without having to go through the normal City Council approval process, as long as those actions are meant to slow the spread of coronavirus.
“Long deliberations and a three-week bureaucratic process to make a decision is a thing of the past,” Frey said in an interview last week. “We are structuring our government to make quick decisions and deliver core city services, no matter what, and we’re facing a new normal even after this pandemic.”
With coronavirus updates coming in nearly every hour, city officials say the advisory group is crucial to ensuring that Minneapolis can respond quickly to changing conditions.
Frey chairs the group, and interim City Coordinator Mark Ruff helps guide the conversation. Bender said they often receive previews of regulations the mayor is considering and talk about how they would affect each city department.
She and Jenkins both said they attempt to pass along concerns that their colleagues are hearing from constituents.
Jenkins said she’s especially focused on making sure any new policies don’t discount those who have historically been forgotten in disaster response efforts.
“People of color tend to get overlooked or left behind or have the worst outcomes, so I, personally, have just been very, very adamant along bringing the concerns of my colleagues that we have to be thinking about the most vulnerable people in our community,” Jenkins said.
Frey has enacted eight regulations since he declared an emergency on March 16. They place restrictions on businesses, waive some types of licensing fees and update the sick time policy for city employees.
The advisory group’s feedback is helpful, Frey said.
“It’s the efficiency of an executive with the brainpower of the collective, which is exactly what we need right now,” he said.
Typically, at least a portion of those discussions would happen when the regulations or policy changes go before the City Council and its committees at public meetings. Because the elected officials don’t make up a quorum, the city says it isn’t required to open the meetings to the public. Frey said some of the information they discuss would be subject to attorney-client privilege.
Both Bender and Jenkins noted that the emergency declaration requires the mayor and other city staff to provide updates at public City Council meetings.