MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Sixty-five City of Minneapolis employees signed a letter calling the City Coordinator's Office (CCO) a toxic and racist workplace. The CCO provides administrative and management services for the city.
That letter led to a strong push from city employees and others on Tuesday against Mayor Jacob Frey's new pick to run the CCO, Heather Johnston.
Several former and current employees of the city coordinators office gathered outside their offices at city hall to raise awareness of what they call a decades long toxic and racist culture.
"It's exhausting and dehumanizing," said Gina Obiri, a current employee with CCO. "The fact that Black staff and our allies have had to come this far just to maybe have our humanity uplifted by the institution that we give so much of ourselves to is crushing."
Last summer, Mayor Frey appointed Johnston as the interim city coordinator, where she inherited the workplace culture as it was. Tuesday, the staff is accusing her of not taking any direct or transparent action to change that culture.
"Not only has she not addressed it, she has contributed to it by being stagnant," said Angela Williams, a current employee with CCO.
Tuesday afternoon, the city council listened to public comment from dozens of people both in support and opposition.
"I'm here to speak to support here, and to the people who think six months is enough to turn a whole culture around, you're crazy," said someone who spoke to the council in support of Johnston.
"If you have 65 former and current staffers saying, 'We oppose the nomination of Heather Johnston,' listen to them," said someone who spoke to the council in opposition of Johnston.
Johnston herself also addressed the council, sharing her commitment to address race and equity in the CCO. Johnston explained how she is currently in the hiring process of an outside, third-party consultant to help address the issues brought forward by staff.
"I do want to continue working to change systems, and develop a culture that is inclusive, innovative, anti-racist and equitable for all of our employees," said Johnston.
Those who oppose Johnston's appointment say they want to start over with a new search for a city coordinator that is transparent and rooted in equity. They were clear that they expect Johnston to be part of the search process.
Johnston promised going into Tuesday's hearing that she would not retaliate or punish any current city employees who spoke out against the department.
The council will move forward with a final vote on Johnston's appointment on Thursday. The council did not give any recommendation on that vote at the end of the day Tuesday.
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