Splitsville?

When R.T. Rybak brought Bill McManus to town to head the MPD, both men talked big about reforming the troubled department. But when the chief ran into political resistance, some say, the mayor blinked. Now their relationship has hit the skids, and the fut

I.

On Tuesday evening, December 20, the city of Minneapolis anointed 13 new cops during a swearing-in ceremony at the Zurah Shrine Center in south Minneapolis. Those 13 raised the total number of sworn officers on the force to 800—a noteworthy milestone in view of the shrinkage the MPD had faced in recent years owing to state and local budget cuts. It had seen its ranks fall from a high of 930 street cops in 1998 to a low-water mark of 785 at one point in 2005.

The additional cops also counted as partial payment on a campaign pledge Rybak had made during his reelection battle against Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin. From the first mayoral debate back in February onward, McLaughlin hammered Rybak on public safety issues and won the emphatic endorsement of the police union, the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis. By late June, a much-publicized uptick in local murders was giving the charges traction. Rybak, in response, essentially promised more cops now and more cops later, a pledge that included the December 2005 class of 13 and another 60 officers penciled into the 2006 budget.

On its face, it looked like a win-win situation for Rybak and the police chief he appointed in December 2003, Bill McManus—except for one thing: McManus had not wanted job offers to go out to this group in the first place. In an internal MPD e-mail exchange obtained by City Pages, Deputy Chief Don Harris wrote to McManus and other MPD and city officials on September 2, "We just completed the final step in the hiring process for the next class. Final job offers have or will be given to 14 people total." That note went out around noon. At nine o'clock that night, McManus replied: "Gents—I have some concerns with this list. Let's talk before any offers go out. Thanks."

The next e-mail in the group thread is dated October 19, some six weeks later. In it, someone in human resources at the MPD named Bill Champa wrote, "That night, Chief McManus expressed concerns with the diversity of the list.... Final job offers had already gone out."

McManus apparently did not like the fact that the list of hires consisted of one African American, one Latino, one woman, and 11 white men (one of whom eventually dropped out). The chief had promises of his own to keep: Part of the reason he had been hired in the first place was to mend the MPD's terrible reputation in local minority communities, and to stem the tide of police misconduct complaints, lawsuits, and bad press. Toward that end, McManus had reshuffled the department brass to put more African American cops in positions of power and visibility, and he had pledged more officers of color on the street too. McManus refuses to discuss the hiring flap in detail, but concedes that "everyone knows I had an issue with the list." Choosing his words deliberately, he goes on to add that "the mayor didn't give the final directive." Rybak likewise denies forcing the hires.

A lot of people don't buy it. "The mayor made the hires, that's my position," says Ron Edwards, a community activist and longtime critic of the MPD who serves on the Police Community Relations Council, echoing a feeling shared by many observers in the community and the police department. "McManus didn't have nothin' to do with those hires."

One thing that nearly everyone agrees on, however, is that the relationship between the mayor and his most celebrated appointee has hit the rocks. The whispers around City Hall started in earnest during campaign season, when the two were rarely seen together. They got louder when the rift was first mentioned publicly, in a December 12 Star Tribune story that suggested Rybak might not reappoint McManus after his contract expires next year. Both men downplay any ill will between them, but extensive interviews with sources close to the situation—in city government, the MPD, and the community—paint a very different picture.

These sources speak of a growing and sometimes heated rift between the two. As to its origins, they point to differences of personality, background, management style, and priorities, but taken together their accounts trace the story of a mayor who has backed away from the political demands of supporting his reformer police chief, and a chief who has in turn pulled back from his political patron and started to rethink his options. Edwards summarizes the current standoff this way: "You have two men pouting."

In the words of Ian Bethel, a south Minneapolis minister who chairs the Police Community Relations Council, "I think there's an element surrounding McManus in Minneapolis politics saying, 'Hey, we didn't want you to go that far.'" Bethel says that group includes the mayor. "You'd have to go in the backroom with both of them to find out what went wrong," he continues. "But I do think that there was an element of how the mayor sold the job to the chief. McManus played up certain attributes that he had to get the job, naturally. The mayor liked those things—diversity, community [relations], whatnot—and let him know that he'd be able to do this thing when he got in the job. But the chief found different things when he came to town. I think there's a feeling on the chief's side that expectations have not been met."

II.

When R.T. Rybak picked William P. McManus to be Minneapolis police chief in December 2003, he had several pressing reasons to bring a reformer to town. Some were political. During the long run-up to his 2001 mayoral victory, Rybak had scored big by outflanking the African American incumbent, Sharon Sayles Belton, on issues of race and the long-troubled MPD. He repeatedly assailed her record on adding more officers of color to the police force, and proclaimed that one of his first priorities, if elected, would be to make the chief more accountable on minority relations.

Beyond the matter of campaign promises, there was a score to settle as well: After winning election, Rybak had turned around and lost his inaugural battle with the old guard at the police department when he stuck his neck out and proposed a buyout of the remainder of then-Chief Robert Olson's contract. The City Council spurned the mayor, voting to keep Olson on the job until his deal expired.

Rybak's other reason for reaching out to a candidate capable of kicking ass and taking names was the state of the department and its public image. In the two years prior to McManus's appointment, the MPD had suffered one high-profile embarrassment after another. In March 2002, officers fatally shot a mentally ill Somali man on Franklin Avenue when he refused to drop the machete he was holding. The outcry over unnecessary force had barely died down in August of that year, when the wounding of an 11-year-old by a stray police bullet during a botched north Minneapolis drug raid led to rioting on surrounding streets that night. The very next day a federal mediator named Patricia Campbell Glenn, who had already been reviewing MPD policies and practices, came to town to tour the wreckage in the Jordan neighborhood. She began a Department of Justice inquiry into the MPD's troubles that led to the eventual formation of the Police Community Relations Council to monitor the department's progress in cleaning up its act.

While all this was still going on, an undercover cop named Duy Ngo was wounded by an assailant in south Minneapolis in the wee hours of February 25, 2003. Ngo called for backup, and other Minneapolis police officers arrived on the scene shortly—where one promptly mistook Ngo for his assailant and shot him several more times (see "Shot to Hell," CP 5/21/03). Ngo nearly died as a result of the multiple gunshots, and by June had filed a civil suit against the city and the department. In fact, lawsuits occasioned by charges of MPD misconduct had been a steady drain on city coffers for years. As CP reported in June of this year ("The Hit Parade," 6/23), the city of Minneapolis paid out over $9.5 million in claims resulting from MPD actions during the decade from 1995-2004, or nearly a million dollars a year. (In St. Paul, where cumulative stats on police lawsuit payouts only go back to 1998, the seven-year total for '98-'04 came to just over $800,000, representing an average yearly cost to the city of about $100,000—roughly one-tenth of what Minneapolis spends in a typical year.)

Against this backdrop, the last six finalists for the chief's job included three black men (Herman Curry Jr. from Detroit; Joseph Samuels Jr. from Richmond, California; and Montgomery County, Maryland, Sheriff Charles Moose, then a media darling for his role in apprehending the Washington, D.C.-area sniper in 2002); two veteran female cops from the MPD (Deputy Chiefs Sharon Lubinski and Lucy Gerold); and McManus, a former Washington, D.C., assistant chief and more recently the chief of the Dayton, Ohio, PD.

But if McManus was the only white guy on the list, he was also the one with the most vociferous support from minority communities, both back in Dayton and here in Minneapolis. And it was clear to everybody that he wasn't afraid to shake up police business-as-usual, as demonstrated by the vote of no confidence he had received from the Dayton police union following changes he made in that department. Locally, the Black Police Officers Federation and the Coalition of Black Churches announced their endorsement of McManus. (One factor, according to Ron Edwards: Representatives of numerous African American organizations invited each of the out-of-town candidates to breakfast, and only McManus accepted.)

But for all the lip service around City Hall to reforming the MPD, Rybak had to spend a lot of political capital on McManus's hiring. The main source of resistance was the City Council, where Rybak had to line up enough votes to ratify his choice. The majority of council members entered the process favoring one or another of the MPD's three prominent internal candidates (Gerold, Lubiniski, and Tim Dolan, who was already out of the running by the time the finalists' list was narrowed to six), and initially there was some doubt as to whether Rybak could gather the seven votes he needed on the 13-seat council.

The City Council's hometown bias was partly a reflection of the Minneapolis Police Federation's political clout. The cops' union did not want a wild card from outside the department; many of its members still harbored memories of the last crusading police chief to come to town, Tony Bouza, who served as chief from 1980 to 1988, grabbed many headlines in the process, and fought the union tooth and nail much of the time. The day McManus's appointment was announced, union head John Delmonico skipped the event at City Hall. He said the point of his gesture was to register his disapproval to Rybak.

After much lobbying, the City Council approved McManus's appointment by a 9-4 margin on January 16, 2004. Council members Barb Johnson, Gary Schiff, and Scott Benson provided the margin of confirmation when they shifted from no to yes on McManus in the waning days before the vote. It looked like the mayor and the chief were in for a long honeymoon. Reporter Rochelle Olson expressed the prevailing sentiment in the Star Tribune's story about the council vote: "The McManus-Rybak tandem is a core relationship for Minneapolis. Rybak now has what he said he's wanted since he tried to remove Police Chief Robert Olson two years ago—a chief he can agree with and work closely with."

Barely a month later, it all started to go to hell.

III.

By the time McManus took office, the Duy Ngo case had become a festering sore in the department's side. Ngo complained bitterly and publicly about the lack of support he received from MPD brass and his fellow officers after nearly being shot to death by one of their own. Nasty rumors about Ngo began circulating around the cop shop in turn. Finally Fox 9 News broadcast one of them in February 2004, reporting that some officers believed Ngo's first wound had been self-inflicted in the interest of avoiding military duty.

On February 25, McManus held a press conference to deny the rumors about Ngo shooting himself. The next day it was reported that McManus had also suspended three senior cops, including chief finalist Lucy Gerold, over allegations of possible impropriety in the department's internal handling of the Ngo shooting investigation. (All three were later reinstated.) A few days later it emerged that there were numerous problems with the investigation, starting with the failure to secure and properly canvass the crime scene on the night Ngo was shot, and the mishandling of a crucial piece of physical evidence (Ngo's bulletproof vest).

The press conference and the suspensions sent a signal that McManus meant to shake up the MPD's status quo, which was ostensibly what he was brought to town to do. The reaction, not surprisingly, was fierce. And while most of the public criticism revolved around the seeming political slap at co-finalist Gerold, McManus was taken to task privately as well. Among the closed-door criticisms, says a well-placed MPD officer we'll call Deep Blue, was a severe dressing-down by a representative of the city attorney's office, who claimed that McManus's words and actions had just increased the city's potential liability in the Ngo case.

"Rybak didn't support the move privately as much as he did publicly," the officer says. "Here was the chief basically admitting that the city was potentially liable in what will probably be the biggest settlement in the city's history. From then on, it was as if the message to Rybak was, 'You better keep tabs on this guy.'

"After that," he continues, "the city attorneys and the council members were all saying, 'This guy is killing us. We're all for a new sheriff in town, but this guy is absolutely killing us.' I know that at that point, Rybak was telling [McManus], 'I need you to talk to these people, I need you to smile more in public meetings.' And McManus was thinking, 'Not only does the mayor not have any backbone, but I gotta play to him and to 13 council members and look happy about it.'"

The incident, Deep Blue adds, "immediately turned the tide against him in the department, right after he got here. I don't know that McManus ever recovered. And remember that Rybak was a glory kid, a novice who beat an incumbent and all that. This was a political lesson for him, too. It was a political punch that said, 'You don't run everything around here.'"

Ron Edwards agrees in retrospect that the division between the two started with the Ngo press conference episode. "I think if you were to look at it chronologically," he says, "that's exactly when it happened. I know that the mayor was enraged by how that played out, with the press and the suspensions and the backlash. Especially where Gerold was concerned, because she was popular with the mayor and his people.

"The thing is, this all caught the chief by surprise. What else was he going to do? He thought he was doing everything he was supposed to. And I think he started noticing then that the situation was not what he had been told it would be. This goes back to a conversation I had with the chief in July of '04, where he talked about meeting the mayor for the first time at a convention they were both at a couple of years earlier. The chief tells the story that they really hit it off, that they were really on the same page philosophically, and had the same approach to things like community policing.

"The chief thought R.T. was a real progressive. But by the time I talked to him in July [2004], he began to realize he had been taken in. The chief would start talking about reform, and the mayor would interrupt. Like it was a charade. This was something different in play than he had been led to believe. The mistake McManus made is that he didn't check out where his guy was at politically. On diversity and race issues, R.T. Rybak is not a progressive, he's not a reformer, he's not a liberal. He doesn't want to get involved in any of this stuff too deeply. When it comes to really fighting social reform issues, he just doesn't have the fight or even the interest. Sometime around mid-'04, McManus started to realize this."

When it came to hitting the streets and building ties to the communities who had been the loudest critics of the MPD, McManus proved as popular as advertised. According to some, this was a problem in Rybak's eyes. They point to instances in which McManus arrived at a crime scene and gave interviews or held impromptu press conferences that purportedly angered Rybak. "The mayor thinks the chief gets too much face time on camera," in the succinct words of one City Hall source. Rybak himself allows that there's "always a balance to how visible [a chief should] be; there is no perfect balance."

The department was also under severe budgetary strain—in one of McManus's early addresses to the City Council, at a June 2004 budget hearing, the chief claimed that his department was underfunded by $12.5 million and that by 2008 the MPD could have as few as 640 officers, the lowest level since the 1960s—and that meant any new policing measures McManus wanted to launch would involve tradeoffs that might prove unpopular elsewhere. When McManus initiated a program called STOP to increase the patrols in select north and south Minneapolis neighborhoods, for example, it helped spell the effective end of police-neighborhood liaison programs that had grown popular in more well-to-do parts of town.

Changes like this provoked some discontent in the chain-of-lakes neighborhoods where the mayor's most important supporters reside, and may have ratcheted up the tensions between McManus and Rybak. According to many, Rybak became much more involved in trying to dictate policing strategies. "The trouble with that council and the mayor is that [they're] dealing with very parochial issues," notes one cop. "And suddenly public policy is overriding any [sensible] police issues."

Adds police union leader John Delmonico, who has come around to supporting McManus during the chief's two-year tenure: "The budget gave McManus a big plate of shit, and they wanted him to make an apple pie out of it."

Any tensions between the mayor and the chief were kept mostly private until the 2005 mayoral campaign rolled around. Then observers began to notice the chief's conspicuous absence from his patron's campaign. Given the flurry of public-safety rhetoric that challenger Peter McLaughlin was heaving Rybak's way, McManus's silence seemed to speak pretty loudly.

Here again, McManus and Rybak both deny any split: McManus simply says that to campaign for the mayor's reelection is "not the chief's job," and Rybak claims he never presumed to invite the chief along with him on the hustings. But there are others who say that's just not true. "The mayor stood up to him and said, 'You need to be campaigning for me,'" claims Ian Bethel. "He thought the chief's rhetoric could suit his campaign needs." Bethel further alleges that part of the rub was that McManus was typically asked to go along on visits to communities of color, but not events in more affluent settings. In the words of one prominent member of the MPD, "Rybak wanted to carry the chief around like the way Paris Hilton carries around her dog."

The seeming bottom line for many observers of the situation is that Rybak lacks either the stomach or the political skill to follow through on his promise to reform the MPD beyond window-dressing measures. "Rybak is eager to sugarcoat this idea of reform," says Deep Blue. "The mayor speaks to broader communities, like Kenwood, when he talks about what he wants to do to the city. The [recent MPD] hires reflect the bigger picture: the mayor's vision of what a police department should look like. But the reality is, he doesn't want to get involved in real police work—it's too gruesome, too gritty, and too messy for him."

IV.

Some of the people who have dealt with both men trace the troubles between them to differences of background and temperament. Rybak is a quintessentially Minneapolis figure. He grew up in the city, and his parents ran a drugstore on Franklin Avenue, as he never grows tired of recalling. He began his career as a City Hall reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune, but his subsequent pursuits have frequently revolved around marketing, PR, and promotions. Before becoming mayor, Rybak applied those skills as a dedicated beater of various civic drums, including a stint as the development director of Minneapolis's Downtown Council. Rybak's exploits also won him a lingering reputation as someone who excelled at selling big-picture plans, if not necessarily at executing the details. "He's an inch deep and a mile wide," council member Lisa Goodman cracked during the mayor's first months in office.

But behind the scenes, Rybak has earned a reputation as someone with a temper, prone to making measured and gracious public pronouncements while throwing fits in private. As a marketing guy, Rybak clearly recognizes the importance of synchronizing "message": One of the hallmarks of his first term was his attempt to centralize all city communications into one department, so that department heads couldn't address the media without going though his public information officer first.

McManus, by contrast, grew up in the streets of Philadelphia, and later graduated from Villanova University, where he played on the football team. He rose through the ranks of the Washington, D.C., police department to the position of assistant chief, which he parlayed into the top cop's job in Dayton in 2001. When he arrived in Minneapolis two years ago, much was made of his love of hip hop and his marriage to a Latina woman.

If Rybak was pure prep school in look and demeanor, McManus looked like pure street by comparison. The contrast might have made them a good political tag team, but for practical purposes it may have heightened antagonism instead. "Rybak is constantly tagging along with the chief to community meetings, trying to connect," notes one Minneapolis officer. "But he's always screwing up by giving them some white-guy shit. He just doesn't get it."

Mark Anderson, a member of the Police Community Relations Council, sees Rybak as "a nice person," but one who is blind to some of his own shortcomings. "The difference—and it is a disconnect—between him and the chief is very personal," Anderson offers. "McManus is very 'get-things-done,' very practical. The mayor is a politician in the pejorative sense. He spins things and tells people what they want to hear. He is a person who has not suffered. In the eyes of many, he doesn't [know] that reality. He has an insensitivity to the enormous obstacles in communities of color."

Farheen Hakeem, a local Green who challenged Rybak and McLaughlin in last year's mayoral primary, echoes Anderson's sentiments. "R.T., at the end of the day, might be a very nice guy, but he hasn't had an honest discussion about race the entire time he's been in office," she says, adding that she believes Rybak "doesn't even know what institutional racism is. All he cares about is being mayor and serving wards where white people live, because they're the ones who vote. He doesn't care about poor people and people of color unless there's a camera around.

"I got the sense he was afraid to go out door-knocking in some parts of the city," Hakeem continues, "driving around black neighborhoods in his little Prius, asking people to vote for him."

V.

It's not just the relationship between the mayor and the police that's changed. More than one onlooker thinks McManus has taken a deliberately lower profile in the past year. "Around the spring [of 2005]," says Deep Blue, "things were coming at the chief, and nobody was defending him. Something happened then, and there's been a pulling back by him ever since. I think he just got sick of the game."

Ron Edwards says he believes McManus "is suffering from a small level of depression, because I don't think he had a clue that any of this was coming. The mayor likes to watch him squirm a little bit, and that allows [Rybak] to control the situation."

Rybak, for his part, still maintains that there's no problem at all between McManus and himself, calling reports of discord between them "chat-room discussion fantasy." "There has not been a single philosophical difference between the chief and I on public safety," the mayor tells CP, adding that he's also happy with many of the administrative moves the chief has made. "The chief and I work extraordinarily well together," he continues. "We share the same values on where the department needs to go, and all of this has nothing to do with how I feel about the chief."

Asked to respond to some of the comments of sources who claim otherwise, Rybak allows that "not everything he's done has been perfect, and I'm sure not everything I've done has been perfect to him. But most of this talk is just a lot of fantasy." A little later, though, Rybak phones back and adds: "I was talking about the ideas and chatter out there being groundless. But I don't want to say that we haven't had moments of difficulty. There have been stresses on our relationship. In the midst of a political campaign, when I was having bogus charges of public safety thrown at me every day, or over the Ngo situation when things exploded politically—we get stretched and stressed."

But Rybak insists that by declining to address McManus's reappointment, he's just trying to assure that the two of them can focus on getting some substantive work done in early 2006. "No matter who the chief was," Rybak claims flatly, "I would not be talking about confirmation at this point by any means."

Police union head John Delmonico calls Rybak's noncommittal stance toward McManus "a mystery" and "the $64,000 question." "He put all this political backing into this guy, which I agree with overwhelmingly now," Delmonico notes. "And I have to ask, 'What has McManus done that would make you not reappoint him?'"

"It's imperative that we keep McManus on board to reduce crime in these neighborhoods," says PCRC head Ian Bethel. "The mayor needs to relax his power over the chief of police." Roberta Englund, who heads the Folwell Neighborhood Association, puts a finer point on it. "If this is about control and micromanagement," Englund says of the clash, "Rybak better step back and leave it to someone who knows what he's doing." She calls McManus "one of the best chiefs in the country" and worries that "any strides we've made in public safety up here are off the table if he leaves."

Bethel argues there's more to the political tensions in play than competing visions of how to run a police department. In his words, there is a fairly widespread political sentiment in some quarters of the city that McManus's leadership of the MPD has resulted in "too many black people at the table now." Certainly no one at City Hall is willing to put it that way. The more typical complaint around the City Council's third-floor offices is that McManus is too remote and too unaccountable.

The chief defends his approach. "I run the department, in a lot of ways, like a CEO," he says. "The organization is too big for one person to run. If I were more unsure of myself, I'd be trying to micromanage it." McManus, who has often pointed out that he came from situations in Dayton and D.C. where he only had to report to one person, admits that he underestimated the finer points of politics in Minneapolis, where a weak-mayor system makes the police chief accountable for practical purposes to each of the City Council's 13 members. "I certainly wouldn't let an election dictate what I would or wouldn't do," McManus says cautiously. "It goes back to the knowledge of a political system and culture. I wouldn't look at that as a bad thing, but as something that is a difference that I wasn't expecting.

"I want to stay," he adds. "My wife, she's happy here. And I'm trying to establish a new relationship with a new council."

McManus's uncertain future would also seem to cast doubt on the larger prospect of overhauling the Minneapolis Police Department, and of staying in compliance with the Department of Justice document that established the PCRC in the first place. That agreement, entered into by representatives of the MPD, the city, and the community at large, posed no fewer than 82 items for the MPD to address in revising its practices. Though the accord was negotiated in part by McManus's predecessor, Robert Olson, McManus has earned high marks all around for his efforts to hew closely to the mandates in the agreement. If that process were to break down, critics note, it could set back the minority-hiring efforts undertaken to diversify the 70 percent white-male force.

There are already concerns that the rush to add 60 new cops to the force in 2006 will upset longer-range goals as to the racial diversification of the MPD. Of 91 candidates undergoing background checks as of last month, well over half were white males, leaving the recruit pool below goal for black, Asian, American Indian, Latino, and female candidates. In the words of one veteran cop who asked not to be identified, "Rybak feels mistakenly that the police department can be diversified overnight. Minnesota law requires licensing officers through a two-year law enforcement associates degree program. If you don't have this, you don't work. We have a program geared toward minority candidates called the Community Service Officer program, where the new employee works for the police department and gets paid to go to school to complete this requirement. It's a good program, but it still takes four years or so to get somebody on the street as an officer. And some drop out along the way or are terminated. The process is slow."

Worst case, a serious breakdown in the PCRC's workings could also result in the direct intervention of the DoJ in MPD affairs. The most extreme sanction at the DoJ's disposal would be to place the department into federal "receivership," meaning that the federal government would take over aspects of the management of the Minneapolis Police Department.

The question of the MPD's future, and McManus's place in it, is not entirely in Rybak's hands. McManus is widely thought to be a sought-after commodity in law enforcement circles, and it's conceivable that he might elect to leave without any push from the mayor's office. Council member Lisa Goodman wonders if McManus's scant presence around council chambers means he's already out the door in spirit. "Before we get to the issue of reappointment," she observes, "we might want to find out if the chief actually wants to stay here."

Does McManus think the mayor should reappoint him sooner rather than later? "He could, I guess," the chief says, slowly. "That's just not the way things are done around here." 

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