May 12, 2022 - News

Complaints about "toxic" city office culture sparks review

city hall
Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The city of Minneapolis plans to hire an outside expert to "look into" complaints about "a toxic, anti-Black" culture and the return-to-office expectations within the city coordinator's office, according to the city attorney.

Driving the news: A group of current and former city staffers released a letter late Tuesday raising concerns about a "lack of commitment to listening to staff, to being transparent with staff, or to addressing systemic anti-Black racism."

What they're saying: The 21-page document, signed by more than a dozen people, includes personal stories from several Black staffers and email correspondence about workplace concerns.

What they want: While the issues allegedly span multiple leadership transitions, the signees oppose Mayor Jacob Frey's recent decision to promote interim city coordinator Heather Johnston to the role permanently.

  • They're also calling for a policy allowing hybrid and fully-remote work and internal communication and HR changes aimed at promoting racial equity.

The response: Minneapolis City Attorney Jim Rowader said in a statement to Axios that the city "takes the complaints in the letter very seriously" and "is in the process of" hiring someone to look into "issues raised regarding former and current leadership."

  • "Because this is an active and open matter involving private data, there's nothing more we can say publicly at this time," he added.
  • Frey defended Johnston in a statement, saying while systemic changes are needed, "assigning the sole responsibility to any single person—especially someone who has only been in the role since August—is disingenuous."
  • "These changes are not made overnight, but Heather Johnston has consistently shown through both words and actions that she is committed to change," he said.
  • Johnston declined to comment via a city spokesperson.

The other side: The letter writers expressed concerns that the independent party hired by the city will allow leadership "to avoid taking action on the stated demands."

Of note: Johnston, whose nomination was announced Monday, is set to serve as Minneapolis' chief administrative officer if Frey's new government structure is approved.

  • The appointment, and the broader reorganization plan, require City Council signoff.
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