One of Minneapolis City Hall's highest nonelected officials will not face any discipline, after an outside review of Heather Johnston's performance did not substantiate claims that she was responsible for a "toxic, racist" workplace.
As a result, Mayor Jacob Frey said on Thursday that Johnston, the interim city operations officer, has his full confidence.
The report, completed by the Greene Espel law firm, was commissioned by the city after 17 current and former employees of Johnston's office publicly released a 20-page letter in April 2022 laying out grievances around a central theme that the city for years paid lip service to racial justice, but failed many Black employees in providing a welcoming workplace.
The letter led to a contentious confirmation process for Johnston that divided the City Council.
The law firm's report, dated Dec. 12, doesn't make any recommendations or find incidents of brazen bigotry.
Instead, it paints a landscape of perilous office culture, where racial bias and microaggressions — intended or not — are felt deeply amid the stress of a government bureaucracy stumbling to return to in-person work under the waning shadow of the coronavirus pandemic. All that is amid a time of racial reckoning in the city that employed George Floyd's murderers.
"The report speaks for itself," Frey said. "It makes clear that Ms. Johnston took swift decisive action … to support her staff."
How effectively the city is addressing the employees' concerns likely will remain a point of disagreement. The city maintains it has been doing so; the 17 authors of the original letter predicted last year that the city would use such a third-party review as cover to avoid action. The group did not return a request for comment.
Thursday's release of a partially redacted version of the report, which cost the city roughly $42,000, coincides with fresh allegations of similar problems from the city's recently departed racial equity director, Tyeastia Green, who alleged a "toxic work environment" before her employment abruptly ended.
What they alleged
The April 2022 letter laid out examples of workers saying they felt disrespected or undermined by white colleagues and superiors and frustrated that years of naming the problem had yielded little change in workplace culture.
Their complaints against leadership's lack of support focused on Johnston, who served as interim city coordinator, which has been refashioned as city operations officer. The position oversees most city departments, though not police.
What the report found
"The specific concerns raised about Heather Johnston primarily relate to an alleged failure to communicate regarding back-to-work policies and a failure to appreciate and drive resolution of employee concerns about a racist and toxic culture," Green Espel's report concludes. "These concerns, however, have all been addressed by Johnston."
Read the report:
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