The Cost of Conventional Wisdom

Minneapolis loses millions on convention center; federal mediation confidential


Whither Federal Mediation?

Last week's column on the looming departure of the Minneapolis police chief left me no room for discussing what is sure to be Robert Olson's main legacy to his successor: the federal mediation controversy that has prompted political fights and lawsuits over the past year.

Delusions of grandeur: Big-buck projections for the Convention Center have gone bust
Delusions of grandeur: Big-buck projections for the Convention Center have gone bust

It's been more than a year since a mediator from the U.S. Department of Justice came to town offering to broker discussions between minority communities and the Minneapolis cops. After balking on more than one occasion, the chief finally agreed to come to the table in June (see "The Usual Suspects," 6/4/03).

The talks apparently are moving right along, although everyone involved is supposed to be tight-lipped about the proceedings. In spite of this, a list of 10 demands from community representatives--and point-by-point responses from various representatives of the MPD--has surfaced. Many critics of the renewed talks have said any process would be little more than window-dressing, and they might be vindicated by most of what's in the document.

But there are some suggestions that have some real teeth--proposals that the MPD opposes. For instance, the community team is apparently fighting for subpoena power, which would open the employment records of individual police officers to the public. Last summer, the idea of granting subpoena power to the Civilian Review Authority, the citizen board that handles complaints against the police, was debated around City Hall for months. Ultimately, it never happened. Many in favor noted that other review boards in cities like New York have subpoena power, while those opposed said granting subpoena power would violate employer/employee confidentiality. In any case, a move to open police records to such scrutiny in complaint hearings would have to be accompanied by changes in the state's current data practices law.

In the current mediation document, Jim Michels, the attorney who represents the police union, argues vehemently against giving the CRA the power to open individual records. It's up to the department's Internal Affairs Unit and the chief to enforce discipline in such cases, Michels argues, concluding that "a subpoena is not needed to compel the cooperation of city employees."

Really? Given the poor track record the CRA has for sustaining complaints against the MPD (less than 10 percent in its 13-year history) and the tendency of cops to be less than cooperative during complaint reviews, the community group is right to keep pushing for subpoena power. But it's doubtful Olson or the rank-and-file cops will ever budge on the issue.


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