Minneapolis staff speak out on 'toxic, racist' culture in city coordinator's office

Dozens of employees with the City of Minneapolis are asking the City Council and mayor to select a new city coordinator, saying the interim coordinator hasn’t done enough to stop a "toxic, racist" work culture that has them feeling unsafe and unable to do their work effectively.

Heather Johnston has been serving as interim city coordinator since August, and Mayor Jacob Frey nominated her earlier this month to take on the position long-term.

Since then, more than 70 current and former city workers signed a letter calling the city coordinator's office, which provides administrative and management services to the city including enacting initiatives related to race and equity, "toxic" and "racist." And these staff members are calling for a "transparent, equity-focused recruitment process" to fill the city coordinator position, which is the highest unelected role in the city. 

The City Council was set to vote on Johnston's nomination on Tuesday afternoon but after a contentious and sometimes emotional public comment period, City Council members decided to delay the vote until Thursday, saying members had a lot to think about after hearing more than two hours of testimony. 

During the public comment period 36 people testified, with 12 speaking in support of Johnston and 24 in opposition. Those who oppose Johnston's nomination say there is a toxic work environment in the city coordinator’s office. They said while Johnston inherited these problems, in the time she’s been the interim city coordinator she hasn’t done enough to change the toxic culture. 

One person who testified said they thought she’d be a breath of fresh air so BIPOC employees wouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get their work done or be undermined and dismissed by some of their colleagues. But instead, the speaker said, she rejected their pleas and continued to perpetuate the behaviors of previous city coordinators. 

Meanwhile, during the meeting, Frey said Johnston was the "best possible person for this job right now, period." Others said it takes longer than the time Johnston has been city coordinator to turn the culture around.

Johnston on Tuesday also spoke, saying she's committed to addressing race and equity in the city coordinator's office.