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Minneapolis City Council Votes 9-3 To Eliminate MPD Public Information Officer Role

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The Minneapolis City Council has voted to change the way information on policing is distributed to the community and to the media.

The council passed a measure Friday morning that eliminates public information officers. That includes John Elder, who you see on TV regularly sharing information with journalists.

Council members believe his job would serve better if it fell under city hall's communications. Only three council members voted against the decision -- Lisa Goodman (who attempted to table the vote until later), Linea Palmisano, and Andrea Jenkins.

The council reported that in their budget markup process, they moved about $1.1 million from funds for the Minneapolis Police Department over to the Health Department for "violence prevention efforts." The revised budget addresses about $156 million in projected loss of revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic; the current budget is now about $1.5 billion.

The move follows the killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day. Critics say the PIO position should have been more clear about what happened during Floyd's arrest.

The positions will be eliminated by October.

WCCO earlier spoke with council members Steve Fletcher and Jeremy Schroeder about the move.

"We see problems with accuracy ... we see problems with at least perceived, you know, bias of the way information is reported," Fletcher said.

The Society of Professional Journalists responded to the council's actions with a statement, saying in part:

We strongly discourage this change, and request that members of the City Council table Friday's vote until journalists and members of the public have an opportunity to weigh in. Our primary concern is that the city's communications department is not suited to this role. An effective PIO must have the trust both of police officers and journalists, and that takes time -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Will a communications liaison be on the scene of late-night shootings? Will he or she give press conferences and return phone calls on weekends and city holidays?

The office of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey issued a statement following the city council's vote, saying "Mayor Frey shares the concerns of Minnesota journalists and government transparency advocates about this decision. Major city departments across the nation employ a public information officer so that they can provide timely information to the public who need it. Defying best practices and expert advice stands to limit Chief Arradondo's and our local government leaders' ability to effectively communicate with Minneapolis residents."

Other items addressed in the revised city budget include $58 million in spending and hiring freezes. Mayor Jacob Frey is scheduled to present a recommended 2021 budget to the City Council later this summer.


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