Council approves new leader of Minneapolis public safety ‘rebranding’

After months of contentious discussion, the Minneapolis City Council has given its approval for Dr. Cedric Alexander to become the city's first commissioner of public safety.

The appointment of Alexander to the new position passed the council with eight "yes" votes, three "no" votes and two abstentions.

"I really enjoyed being able to connect extensively with Dr. Alexander. This is a big role and a big moment. I think based off the information we have… he’s the best person for this role right now," said City Council president Andrew Johnson prior to the vote.

However, as was the case throughout the nomination process, not all council members agreed.

"My vote is not a reflection of you, but a reflection on a lack of clarity that I believe the public still has about what is this role… That lack of clarity and specific vision about how this office will operate will ultimately set you up to not be successful," said City Council member Robin Wonsley, who voted against the nomination. "It feels like we’re using the office of public safety as a rebranding of the MPD, rather than digging into the deep inequities that exist within our policing."

After approval by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who nominated him for the position, Alexander will lead the coordination and integration of the city's police, fire and emergency response departments. Pulled out of retirement for the position, he will also make the biggest paycheck of any city employee – including Frey – with a salary between $292,000 and $350,000.

"Our communities are calling out for help, safety and change and Cedric has a longstanding history of delivering all three," said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey prior to the vote. "Is he a magician? No. Is he going to make all the dynamics that we experience on a daily basis better in our city in one swoop? No. But is a proven leader, and he has proven his experience and integrity to make the changes we want to see."

Previously, Alexander was questioned by city council members on his experiences and results leading law enforcement agencies in Georgia and New York. Community activists and members of the public also weighed in on the hiring. 

"I came into the hearing [Tuesday] with questions and concerns about Dr. Alexander’s career in law enforcement, and after that hearing I have more questions and even bigger concerns," said council member Aisha Chughtai, who voted against his nomination. "I found his answers about lives lost to be broad and evasive. It makes me wonder how things are going to be different here in Minneapolis."

Chughtai referenced instances of police misconduct under his watch and vindictive budget cuts in his previous departments as examples of a culture that Minneapolis is seeking to eradicate.

"In making this decision, I think about what message we would be sending to victims in our city if the head of our police force and public safety wouldn’t even respond honestly and meaningfully to questions about his own past conduct," said Chughtai. "I don’t believe that this is the right person to change that culture. I sincerely hope I’m wrong." 

Frey countered Chughtai's critique, saying that city officials would need to work together without assuming the worst in people, "Being honest and forthright, not just to find the worst possible bits of data that might look bad on a TV screen."