Monday, May 1, 2017

"Appointergate" Wakes up NXNS

*post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, stock image from GIFsme.  I was going for a stock photo of "tempest in a teapot," but a shot glass seems a whole lot better.

It's been almost a year since my last blog post, and my writing has been sporadic before that.  I've made several statements that I was returning to regular writing, although this time I can't say if that will be the case.  But I tend to write about things in my neighborhood and city that I want to see changed and that I think may be impacted by writing.  Recent current events have caused me to dust off the blogspot and see what we've got under the hood.

There are two posts in the hopper.  Part One is "What the Hell was the police chief thinking?  No, really, I am honestly baffled because there seems to be no part of 'appointergate' that was handled with any degree of forethought."  Part Two is something of a "I am a political moderate in a city that doesn't seem to have a voice of moderation" manifesto.

Chief Harteau, you're up first...

To summarize, our current Fourth Precinct Inspector Kjos received a well-earned promotion.  Rising through the ranks as the proposed replacement was John Delmonico.  Now Delmonico deserves some praise for his record within the precinct, as violent crime on his shift has seen a notable decrease.  But he was also the brain trust, and I use both words loosely, behind "pointergate."  As if it weren't foolish enough to insinuate that our current mayor's habit of pointing in a certain way was indicative of a gang sign, details also emerged that Delmonico shopped the "story" to various news outlets until he found one with a low enough bar to take it and run with it.  In the aftermath that followed, the young man unwittingly in the center of this tempest in a teacup had his unrelated past brought up and his re-established reputation dragged through the mud.

The police union had a showdown with the mayor, and police/community relations in the Fourth Precinct got caught in the crossfire.  This series of events is not something that will be quickly or easily forgotten.

That promotion was almost immediately followed by a mayoral override of the appointment, and rightly so.  As a community, the fourth precinct still has not fully healed its wounds from the Jamar Clark shooting and subsequent protests, and has been taken aback by the demotion of an officer who built strong relationships in the wake of such tense circumstances.  (More on that in a moment; suffice to say that has not helped community-police relations.)

My knee-jerk reaction was that Harteau's promotion was intended as an underhand lob of a pitch to Hodges to knock out of the park.  After all, if Hodges doesn't win re-election, then Harteau might see her job in jeopardy - certainly if we have a new mayor with even a few of the left-leaning challengers winning city council seats.  But under a second Hodges term, Harteau wouldn't be up for reappointment until 2019.  Another three-year term could translate into six years of job security, contingent on Betsy's re-election.  So was Harteau making herself out to be the fall guy, so to speak, in order that the mayor could override what was so clearly a poor decision?

However, local journalist David Brauer had a series of posts on Twitter that laid out the roles of who can actually "fire" the chief, and it's not the mayor.  The chief can be removed by the executive committee of the council's action and the full council's assent.  And the Star Tribune detailed both the text-message showdown between the chief and the mayor, as well as the fact that Council Members Goodman and Johnson (whose wards are partly or entirely in the precinct) were informed while CM Yang (whose ward is also entirely in the precinct) was not.

So it does not seem plausible that some sort of collusion and gamesmanship is afoot between the chief and the mayor.  Which brings me back to the first question most northsiders had upon hearing of the Delmonico promotion:  Why?  No, really, I have no idea so can you please tell me why you thought a move so tone-deaf would be accepted by the community at large?  And the follow-up question, why were only a select few consulted and even then just at the eleventh hour?  And the folllow-up to THAT, which is that since the council has no direct authority over the police chief appointments, why were any council members contacted at all?  These maneuvers point to either a severe misunderstanding of the community climate within the fourth precinct, or a willingness to use us as a political football, or both.

With those questions burning, I share Council Member Cam Gordon's sentiment:  I no longer have confidence that our current police chief can adequately represent the interests of the fourth precinct.  I mean, I'm not sure exactly how much confidence I had a week ago, but I'm pretty sure it's at absolute zero by now.

Which brings me back to the problem of former Inspector Mike Friestleben, "Fritz" for short.  Amid much community furor, he was demoted and quite a few people want him right back where he was before.  His demotion came on the heels of police and community relationship building that was unprecedented in recent years.  It later came out that Fritz mishandled a stalking claim with one of his subordinates.  That misstep would lend credence to his demotion, and it should give his supporters at least some pause.  As much as we want Fritz back, we should also support accountability and the need for officers to be protected from stalking and harassment.  If he were simply reinstated without much consequence, what would that do to the rank-and-file within the precinct?  What message would that send to young women who may want to join the police force?

I am saddened to say that while I miss the work Fritz has done, his demotion may have in fact been warranted.  But when Harteau pulls the kind of maneuvers she has around Delmonico, it becomes much harder to lend credence to other difficult but necessary actions.

These political machinations inevitably lead to speculation:  What was she thinking?  Are they that stupid, or are they conniving, or both?  After these questions percolated for a while, I began to apply those queries to the current structure of our police force leadership.  The police chief is appointed every three years in order to minimize the politicization of that appointment.  The chief can't be fired by the mayor, but only by the executive committee of the council with the assent of the council as a whole.  The personnel moves by the chief are not subject to council review.  The Public Safety committee on the council does not oversee personnel moves.  On the one hand, you want your police force focused on protecting and serving the people of Minneapolis while remaining insulated from the political winds du jour.  On the other hand, "Appointergate" seems to lay bare an ongoing and damaging difficulty for the community to hold police accountable.

Other blogs or social media outlets would end this kind of a post with a call to action; get out the picket signs and storm city hall, or shut down a freeway, or the 4th Precinct again.  My call to action is more restrained, as my plea to anyone who's made it this far is that we crack open that city charter of ours.  Let's learn what it says about how our police force decisions are made.  It's an election year for city council and mayor, so let's take what we glean from our governing documents, and hold our candidates to account for how they will either use or change the charter to improve police accountability.

(The length of a police chief term has been corrected from the original post, and some grammatical content altered accordingly.)

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