Minneapolis, MN — Minneapolis city council members repudiated Mayor Jacob Frey twice in one week before voting down his last minute effort to allocate more than $15 million to the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) for recruitment and retention bonuses.
“They had six months to speak to us and chose to wait until the last second.”Emily Koski, Minneapolis City Council Member, Ward 11
On Friday, Nov. 17, Mayor Frey called a special council meeting where they voted down a tentative deal struck by the mayor and police to attempt to increase staffing of the MPD with cash bonus incentives after “critically low staffing levels” have plagued the department, bogging down 911 response times.
Officers continue to leave the force in droves ever since the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the subsequent uprising against those same police.
One week before the council voted down the proposal, Mayor Frey and the police union signed the agreement to pay $18,000 in bonuses to current officers over a two and a half year period, and $15,000 to new recruits over a three year period. The money for the agreement was to be taken from a $19 million fund that was allocated by the Democratic-controlled state legislature for the City of Minneapolis, following the murder of Floyd by MPD, but still needed city council approval.
A Contentious Budget Meeting
On Nov. 14, three days before the special session, the Budget Committee voted 7-5 against considering the mayor’s last minute pitch to give cash incentives to cops.
Council Member (CM) Robin Wonsley, who has been Frey’s biggest opponent on the city council, accused the mayor of trying to steal the bulk of the funds that were earmarked by the state legislature for comprehensive public safety beyond policing.
“The state legislator was extremely intentional with these public safety dollars and was very clear in the ways in which they wanted to see these dollars used,” she said.
It’s been nearly three months since CM Wonsley was in the headlines when she accused Mayor Frey of political retaliation during an interview with Unicorn Riot. “The mayor will … do retaliatory shit. … like … ‘I’ll limit cops in your ward.’ He’ll make threats to council members like that,” she disclosed. Mayor Frey has also been accused of retaliation by city staff and is being sued for creating a “racist, toxic” work environment.
The mayor was rebuffed at the Budget Committee meeting and again at the special session by two of his key political allies before they struck down the deal he made with the police chief and the police union.
Council Member Emily Koski chairs the committee and surprised many observers by breaking ranks with Frey. She said at the budget meeting that she warned the mayor three times: last week, last night, and that very morning that his proposal wouldn’t be received well by the committee. “They had six months to speak to us and chose to wait until the last second,” she said as she expressed her frustrations.
Council Member Jamal Osman, whose first term has been embroiled with scandals as he and his wife have been implicated in defrauding a federal school nutrition program for low income kids, has also been a crucial ally for Mayor Frey. However, observers have noted a rift between the two, and some predict a more progressive Osman who will vote less with the mayor after recently winning reelection.
Osman voted against the mayor’s deal after accusing Frey of having a “backroom meeting with the [police] federation.”
He said at the budget meeting, “That is not leadership. And I would encourage my colleagues to vote against this … this is a democracy and we have a balance of power. And for the mayor to just come out with this and decide this $19 million that’s coming from the state, ‘Here’s how we’re gonna spend it,’” he said in disapproval. “I have some good ideas that we can use this money to help the community. And I will be voting against this.”
Of all council members, Koski had the harshest criticism for the mayor.
At the budget meeting she said, “Let’s not forget, we’re being rushed to make a decision on a $15.3 million tentative agreement four days after first hearing about it, and when as recently as last week there were again reports of fiscal mismanagement within our administration,” she said.
“We do have critically low staffing levels, that’s very true. But critically low staffing levels has become a catch phrase when they want to instill fear in us and the public to push us to make rash decisions … based on emotions rather than facts.”Minneapolis City Council Member Emily Koski
Koski: "Let's not forget, we're being rushed to make a decision on a $15.3 million tentative agreement four days after first hearing about it, and when as recently as last week there were again reports of fiscal mismanagement within our administration." pic.twitter.com/6H7mbp556a— Wedge LIVE!™ (@WedgeLIVE) November 14, 2023
Sparring at the Special Session
After the Budget Committee voted against the mayor’s request, he called for a special session to force the council to vote on his agreement with MPD the following Friday. The chambers were packed with residents mostly there in opposition to the mayor’s proposal, with some even displaying protest signs.
At the special session it was explained that in exchange for the bonuses, the city negotiated reform in the bidding process for open police shifts which would have made it easier for Chief Brian O’Hara to assign officers to open shifts, cutting the process down from 28 days to just 10.
Council Member Elliot Payne began the debate by calling for “deep transformational reforms” with the police department, yet he expressed concerns for what might be considered a quid-pro-quo to achieve those reforms and said it sets a bad precedent.
“The moment that we start peeling off one reform here for a little bit of money there … What other reforms are we going to get and how much money are we going to have to put on the table to get it?”
Payne also expressed concerns with closed door meetings. “There was no decision that was made in a collaborative way that brought us to this decision.”
During CM Koski’s time to speak, she doubled down on her accusations against Mayor Frey. “I believe it’s an effort to politicize public safety to scare us. To be clear: I will not bow down to fear or manipulation tactics … particularly when we were shut out of the process.”
Koski rebuked those who tried to paint her as anti-police before the final vote. She also said she has heard from constituents who had concerns about the state of MPD, as does she, and told them that “there’s a better way forward.”
She said leadership is about making difficult decisions. “It is about standing up to political pressure when being asked to do something the data proves is not effective.”
Koski’s words apparently goaded the mayor’s ire. At one point she and Mayor Frey verbally sparred after she posed a rhetorical question: “I will take accountability for whatever my role … has been in attrition. Will you?” In which the mayor interrupted, “Is that a question? ‘Cause I’m happy to answer it.”
Council President Andrea Jenkins intervened and called for decorum after council members could be heard coming to Koski’s defense.
The mayor also went back and forth with Council Member Aisha Chughtai, who sits in the mayor’s police negotiation work group, after he commented that she missed some of the meetings, in which she responded that he didn’t even bother to attend the police union contract negotiations.
The recruitment and retention agreement was made during closed meetings which means that the information discussed is confidential, there are no official meeting minutes recorded, and all parties involved are sworn to secrecy under Robert’s Rules. Most council members expressed disapproval of the process and accused the mayor of making backroom deals.
CM Koski said that they’ve all known about the $19 million in state aid for months and she and other council members told the mayor repeatedly, “Do not allocate these funds without working with the council.”
Koski said she and her colleagues were stunned by Frey’s decision to go around the council but shouldn’t have been because “The mayor has given no indication in the last six months that he was willing to collaborate.” She added, “I think it’s time for a different approach. Let’s use this moment as an opportunity to rethink our approach with each other.”
Koski thanked the state for the opportunity to invest in a “transformative public safety plan. But we can’t do that with an executive who won’t speak with us,” she said.
Although CM Chughtai was in some of those meetings, she expressed frustrations with the process and her inability to address it publicly because of the nature of closed meetings.
Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, who some predict has good chances of becoming the next city council president, asked City Attorney Kristyn Anderson for clarity around voting on line items in the agreement. She replied that it was pre-negotiated and must be an up or down vote. Ellison pointed out that this was consistent with what his colleagues have been saying: that by the time it’s in front of the council, there’s no longer possibility for negotiation.
The Efficacy of Cop Incentives
The majority of the city council agreed that cash incentives for cops don’t work. Even the mayor and his allies admitted that at best the data is inconclusive.
CM Koski said there is no evidence that giving bonuses to cops will resolve hiring issues. The city has already given cash bonuses to cops and, despite that, retention remains rock-bottom. She called it an “ineffective tool” and a “waste of taxpayer dollars.”
She said at the special meeting that it matters because it is her duty to hold people in power accountable.
“That’s literally my job! And one of the biggest levers we can pull to ensure accountability of our tax dollars is this budget. So when the mayor … come[s] to me as budget chair and demand we spend $15.3 million on sign-on and retention bonuses outside our normal budget process, I have questions. Do sign-on and retention bonuses work? No, it turns out they do not and our police staffing numbers are still decreasing in Minneapolis.”Council Member Emily Koski
CM Chughtai also said retention and recruitment bonuses don’t work, and cited law enforcement’s own studies. She said the City of Minneapolis already gave retention bonuses and despite paying $7,000 in two installments over the course of nine months to each officer on the force, 107 cops still left MPD, nearly 15% of the force.
Or, as Council Member Lisa Goodman, a key ally of the mayor, spun it: 80 – 87% stayed because of the bonuses which “is pretty good.”
She said perhaps those cops left because city council members talk bad about them. Although she supported the proposal, Goodman did not express much confidence that this deal will resolve staffing issues. “What we’re spending $15 million on is hoping some of the good people who work in the department will stay.”
Council Vice President Linea Palmisano chastised fellow council members at the special meeting for claiming cash incentives don’t work, but conceded that the data is not definitive.
Chief O’Hara also acknowledged that this might not work and the mayor also acknowledged that the data is inconclusive.
Sweeping Human Rights Abuses
Frey’s proposal to give MPD bonuses comes at a time of heavy police scrutiny and increased calls for accountability. MPD became infamous around the world after they murdered Floyd, but residents have been protesting their violence for generations.
Last Spring, two human rights investigators from the United Nations visited Minneapolis for a community listening session as part of a six city tour where there have been high profile police killings of unarmed Black people. The UN panelists told the audience that their findings will be included in their upcoming Geneva Report.
The State of Minnesota and the Department of Justice have each placed consent decrees on MPD after each of their reports cited widespread human rights violations and racism, particularly against African American residents.
Just days after the city council defeated the mayor’s deal with MPD, a video was released of an officer shoving an East African man violently to the ground for not moving out of the street when they ordered him to while he was filming them. The officers lied in their report and said the man “lost his footing and fell down,” according to the Star Tribune. The victim is suing MPD in federal court.
Journalist Deena Winter from the Minnesota Reformer recently exposed widespread overtime pay, with little oversight, within the department. She reported that 14 MPD cops have already made six figures from overtime pay in the first eight months of this year.
“Eight months in, MPD had already paid $14.4 million in overtime — already exceeding the $10 million the city budgeted for overtime in 2023 and eclipsing the amount of overtime spent each of the past four years,” she wrote, putting them on track to spend more than $20 million this year on overtime pay.
Lt. Robert Berry, the top overtime earner on the force as of September, was previously fired in 2007 for manipulating his timecard to get overtime pay and then rehired, Winter reported. Critics have called MPD overtime pay a racket.
Former Minneapolis cop turned abolitionist, Sarah Saarela, confirmed the racket in a tweet: “Every Minneapolis cop knows it’s not about the base salary. It’s about the side jobs they get just for wearing the uniform, and the supervisors who will sign off on a cop’s overtime hours that can’t be accounted for. They know the hustle the minute they are hired.”
Additionally, Winter has reported on the massive financial settlements paid to cops for highly suspicious PTSD claims by officers leaving the job.
Since the 2020 uprising, 144 outgoing Minneapolis police officers have been given at least $22 million in workers’ compensation settlements. At least four more workers’ compensation settlements are up for approval by the city council in December.
Last month, in a first for the city, the council rejected the workers’ compensation claim of $145,000 by former Minneapolis Police Sergeant Andrew Bittell who was on the force for 23 years. Bittell was directly involved in beating Jaleel Stallings during the George Floyd Uprising while “hunting” community members. [Stalling was given a $1.5 million settlement last year, with over $70 million paid out to settle lawsuits for police brutality since 2019 by MPD.]
The state legislature recently passed legislation to attempt to rein in worker’s compensation claims by cops.
CM Ellison asked the mayor and his staff at the special session what happens if MPD is unable to spend the entire $15.3 million on retention and recruitment: would it just get absorbed by the department? To which the mayor nor any one of his staff could answer.
“We should have some certainty on that question before we’re willing to vote on this here today,” Ellison asserted.
Council President Jenkins and four other council members voted for the mayor’s last minute police deal, including Vice President Linea Palmisano and council members Latrisha Vetaw, Michael Rainville, and Lisa Goodman. Council members Koski, Osman, Chughtai, Wonsley, Ellison, Payne, Jason Chavez, and Andrew Johnson voted against the mayor’s request.
Watch the entire Budget Committee meeting from Nov. 14 and Nov. 17, below:
About the author: Marjaan Sirdar is a South Minneapolis based freelance journalist. He is the host of the People Power Podcast and author of the investigative series, 21st Century Jim Crow in the North Star City: How Target Corp., the City of Minneapolis, and Hennepin County, Created a Domestic Spy Program That Rolled Back Civil Rights On its Black Population, published by Unicorn Riot. You can follow him on Twitter @peoplepowerpod1.