Minneapolis City Council blocks chamber consultation giveaway to improve efficiency of Mayor Frey’s office

Mayor Jacob Frey cannot receive consulting services from the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce after a city council vote on Thursday fell short of the number he needed to accept the gift.

The chamber intended to loan a staff member to the mayor’s office for several weeks in the hope that she could advise staff on how to improve their efficiency. The mayor’s office told the council member in a memo that staff hoped to receive recommendations on how to improve their planning process and the way they conduct meetings.

Katie Lauer, spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, said in a statement that she was “intrigued” by the vote.

“What’s wrong with getting help improving administrative processes like managing schedules?” Lauer said. “If a member of council were to receive free advice on such assistance, the mayor would be supportive.”

At a Thursday morning meeting, some council members raised concerns about the arrangement, noting that the chamber backed a ballot initiative last fall that gave the mayor more power over day-to-day operations. from the city.

“I think that indicates a very clear political interest,” Council Member Robin Wonsley Worlobah said.

Under state law and city ethics rules, Frey’s office was required to disclose that it would receive the free services and needed the “yes” votes of nine council members to accept the present. On Thursday, only eight gave their support.

Wonsley Worlobah and fellow board members Elliott Payne and Jason Chavez voted against the arrangement. Council members Andrew Johnson and Aisha Chughtai were absent.

City Clerk Casey Carl told council that the city’s code of ethics permits the acceptance of “services that assist a public servant in the performance of their official duties” and which “would not include political or related activities in the countryside”.

Councilman Jeremiah Ellison, referring to that advice and similar statements earlier in the week from a city attorney, said he agreed it was important for the council to serve as ” watchdog” on these types of issues. But he said he was not inclined to assume outright that there would be any ethical violations.

“I think it’s well understood that whenever you have an organization that does both office work and service and political work, it’s important to make sure there’s no overflow,” he said.

Jonathan Weinhagen, president and chief executive of the chamber, said Thursday that he was “grateful that a strong majority of the board saw this for exactly what it is, a good faith offer of help with a technical expertise to the city”.

“It was nothing more, nothing less,” he said.

It’s too early to tell if Frey’s office might revisit the matter. Weinhagen said the chamber would likely look for another way to give advice to the mayor — such as submitting a memo — and also encourage other organizations to provide feedback.

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