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An appointee by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey is receiving backlash from city employees, claiming a "toxic, racist and unsafe" working environment. 

Former and current city employees gathered in front of city hall Thursday morning to further urge city council members to reject the mayor's appointment for city coordinator. A meeting was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. regarding Heather Johnston's position, amongst other items, according to the city council's agenda.

The vote passed 8-5 in favor of keeping Johnston as the city coordinator. She will serve in the role for four years, dating back to January of this year.

Johnston has been in the position for the past nine months. Some employees have expressed displeasure with her, according to MinnPost, which says some employees have claimed a toxic work environment present before Johnston started has gone unchanged under her watch. 

Heather Johnston

Heather Johnston.

Frey showed his support for Johnston Thursday morning, calling her "the embodiment of public service."

"Those who have worked regularly with Ms. Johnston describe her as someone who has extraordinary emotional intelligence," Frey said.

Council member Elliot Payne, of Ward 1, stated that he would be voting no.

"We're not tasked with solving racism in America with this decision. This is about issues in the coordinator's office. Was seeking a more collaborative resolution, but [Mayor Frey] couldn't get there. Now there's a yes/no choice," Payne said. 

"This is an uncomfortable conversation, but we have to center staff in this discussion. This institution just needed to keep on moving. That's why we're faced with this choice today."

Council member Aisha Chughtai, representing Ward 10, shot back at Frey.

"Since we got into the chambers I've been looking at the list of names in front of us. These people are the embodiment of public service too," she said, referring to the current and former city staff. "They're our workers, constituents, people who help us do our jobs."

"They have the courage to speak up. How come we can't have their back?"

Fellow council member representing Ward 11, Rebecca Donley, expressed her concern for positive change in government when the mayor and others reportedly refused to acknowledge reports by people who work for the city at an earlier time. 

"The mayor chose — on his own — to claim those staff who made themselves vulnerable in the city coordinator's office had made no clear documented incidents of harm from Heather Johnston," she wrote in a letter that MinnPost reported. "However, as Council Member Aisha Chughtai pointed out, there were incidents documented in their letter, as well as shared in the two hours of testimony at the hearing on May 24, during which the mayor sat on the dais."

The council had been waiting on an HR internal investigation to conclude regarding Johnston before they were set to have a vote on the matter. Council member Andrew Johnson, representing Ward 12, said after speaking with HR that the investigation "was complicated." He showed his respect for both sides, but ultimately voted yes as he believes the council should give Johnston a chance to correct "issues with staff."

Johnston worked as the city manager in Burnsville from 2013-2018, according to the National Civic League. She also served as the president of the Government Finance Officers’ Association of the United States and Canada in 2015-2016 prior to her time in Minneapolis.

Other items to note from the city council meeting

  • The council passed a new wage of $100,000 for the police chief of Minneapolis. The vote met some pushback as some council members argued that it would be like "putting a cart in front of the horse" when the city is in the middle of reconstructing their police force and government. 
  • The council passed a continuation of looking for a new 1st police precinct location. An ongoing discussion between city officials has labeled the current area "too old, small, and not enough parking." The department is planning to spend over $15 million on a new structure of the precinct.
  • The council also passed a move to "provide that all areas, components, throughways and zones designated as 'Transit Lane'" are recognized as transit bus lanes along Hennepin Avenue South. These areas will not allow parking where the red lanes are marked. For more information on this project, click here.

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