We sat down with Ward 11 City Councilmember Emily Koski, who is running for re-election this year. We talked about her time in office, public safety, her votes on the Roof Depot project, climate change, housing & homelessness, and more. This is part of a series of interviews of people running for City Council – if you have any questions or feedback, use the “Add Context” box at the bottom of this piece.
Southwest Voices: Why do you think you deserve to be re-elected?
Emily Koski: I’m running for re-election for many reasons. One, I love this job. I’ve learned a lot in the last 14 months. I love to be able to work for and support my constituents in Ward 11. I think I’m just getting started. We did a lot of great work this last year. We’ve made a ton of strides in many areas.
First of all, we’re in our new government structure. We were able to pass that ordinance together as a council. Now we have a lot left to figure out about working together as an executive branch and a legislative branch.
Then, for the constituents of Ward 11, everyone is still coming out of this pandemic and getting reconnected. That was a big priority of mine last year. This term is just making sure they can get reconnected to City Hall in any way that feels comfortable. We have a lot of community meetings, hybrid, in-person, and virtual. That work needs to continue.
There’s a lot more education and learning that needs to be done, and I’m excited to continue that work.
SWV: In our last interview, you mentioned that public safety was the number one issue on people’s minds when you were out door knocking. Do you think that’s still the case, and if so, what have you done on public safety that you’re proud of?
EK: I do. You guys mentioned it, and I’ve read some of the articles that you’ve written where you’ve surveyed people about the top issues they want us to work on. That’s public safety. It’s the same here in Ward 11. I think we all know we need a public safety system that works for and benefits everyone.
We need to reform and rebuild our traditional law enforcement. We also know we need to be expanding alternatives to traditional law enforcement.
Some of the things I’m proud of that we’ve done this past year is around communication. I do Ward 11 meetings every month. We dedicated three of those around public safety. We’ll continue those this year. We were able to help everyone understand what the Office of Community Safety really does, and to introduce the leader. In our next meeting, we’re focusing on our Neighborhood Safety department, formerly called the Office of Violence Prevention.
This issue still dominates in people’s thoughts, and we’ll continue to communicate with and give people a space to express what they want. A few things we’ve heard – our behavioral response teams need to expand. They need to be running efficiently and effectively. I was able to help make sure we got additional funding for two additional vans for our behavioral response teams. In the last budget cycle, we were able to allocate funding for two public safety auditor positions. Those are really important to me. Those roles will help us on the legislative side oversee the entire Office of Community Safety – this isn’t just MPD, this is over the entire Office of Community Safety.
We also need to be thinking about how we recruit good officers. There isn’t one single magic button that’s going to do that. We need to think about short-term and long-term solutions when we’re thinking about recruitment. One thing that’s important to me is making sure we’re bringing in more female officers. I worked with former Chief [Amelia] Huffman to sign on to the 30x30 Pledge, which is a national organization that’s pushing for 30% of all police officers to be women by 2030 at a national level. I’m excited we signed the pledge, now we have to do the work. Now, it’s working with our new Chief Brian O’Hara to do the actual work to promote this type of career for women.
Those are a few things I’m proud of. We need to be thinking of this very in-depth, to make sure we’re holding all of the pieces in our hands at the same time.
SWV: What are your initial impressions of Cedric Alexander and Brian O’Hara?
EK: My initial thoughts are that these are two individuals that are doers and want to take action. I’m grateful for that. We can do a lot of thinking and analyzing at the city. What I’ve seen so far is two individuals that recognize issues and problems and are acting on them as quickly as government allows us to go.
SWV: Do you think you've done enough to reform the department during your term in office?
EK: I don’t think there’s ever going to be an endgame there. There’s constantly going to be thoughts and tweaking and ideas of what we can continue to do to be reforming what public safety can do.
In general, just by starting the new Office of Community Safety, that’s a huge change in the structure of the city of Minneapolis. We have all of these departments underneath this office that are coming together, communicating, working together, and coordinating things more closely. That’s a huge shift and a change.
Do we need to keep our eyes forward to figure out what we need to do to continue to reform? Yes, every day.
SWV: In your last newsletter, you focused a section on auto thefts. Looking at the data, compared to a year ago, carjackings are down but auto thefts are way up. Can you talk about what the city is doing to address that problem?
EK: I just spoke to both the officers that cover Ward 11. We’re part of both the 3rd and 5th Precincts. I meet with the inspectors every other week.
Auto thefts are up, like you said. They know who is doing it. It’s rings of juveniles. A lot of this for me is making sure people understand the risks. We know when, and how, and why the auto thefts are happening. They’re happening when cars are left running with keys inside of them. They’re taken when people leave a key inside of them. There’s also this uptick of Kias and Hyundais – over 50% of the cars that are taken are these two types of cars.
It’s back to the old school solution – The Club. We have literally driven [Clubs] to people’s homes. We have some we can give out. We’ve been trying to connect with people at public safety meetings, we’ve had some there. We’ve tried to drive home the things people can do to prevent [thefts] into their minds.
There are some issues that are upstream. A lot of these are done by juveniles. We need to be thinking about how we support these youth that are continuing to commit these crimes to stop that cycle.
SWV: At a Council meeting this month, you talked about the mayor laying out his priorities. You said the following: “We are elected to govern together, the mayor and the City Council. I feel that that’s not happening.” Can you expand on that?
EK: Sure. We just created this new government structure. This is different than what we’ve ever done before. A lot of culture and mindsets of how things work, we are shifting that. We have an executive branch and a legislative branch, but one cannot work without the other.
We’re still figuring out how we govern and how we communicate. How do we come to an agreement of what my role is as a legislator? That’s the role of the mayor on the executive side. There are still continued conversations and strategies around what we need to be doing. We have to be doing it together, but we’re not always doing that. We’re so concentrated on our own branches, the executive and the legislative, that we forget that we do need to do this together. The one can’t work without the other.
SWV: Given the new structure, do you think it’s the mayor’s responsibility to take the next step there?
EK: In working together? Yeah. It’s on all of us, but the mayor is the executive of the entire city. We have one person we look to. It’s different than other cities that run things with a city manager. We have an elected head of our entire city. That person needs to be the leader of everything we do. There are 13 of us in the legislative branch that represent different areas.
It’s our responsibility to make sure we’re representing and supporting our constituents and bringing their voices forward. We want to make sure we’re doing that. But it’s the responsibility of the mayor to implement it and to do it.
SWV: Do you agree with how the city has approached homelessness as a policy issue? If not, is there anything you’d like to see changed?
EK: I’m a huge believer that everybody’s voice needs to be at the table. A lot of times, we make decisions in vacuums. We may think we’re doing the best thing, but we forget to bring in certain voices that need to be at the table. When we think about our unhoused, some people will say this is very complicated, but other people will say this isn’t complicated at all, we know the answers. We know how to do this.
I think we need to work together. We need to have the right people at the table. There’s always room for improvement on that so we can actually do the work instead of sitting around talking about what policy we can make or what process we can do. We need to sit down and think about it, then we need to take action on it.
I do think the city of Minneapolis has done a good job thinking about what the process looks like.
SWV: If you were in charge, would the encampment sweeps policy continue like it is now?
EK: I think there’s always room for improvement.
I did a shadow day with Avivo Village. That’s something that I like to do. I’m going on a ride-along with the fire department this week. I’ve been on behavioral response. I’m trying to get into the shoes of our boots-on-the-ground people to understand what their days look like.
When I look at how we close down encampments, it comes down to us having lots of partners like Avivo Village, like the county, and we need to make sure that our communication to all of them and also to those living in the encampments is really clear. We need to make sure there’s an understanding so that we can help any individual that needs help prior to doing any movement or change with any type of encampment.
SWV: You voted last week to move ahead with the Roof Depot plan. Can you talk us through that vote?
EK: I feel like I have to answer that by going back in time a bit so that you can understand why and how I continue to move in this direction. If you look back at the last council term, and where we were, they had gotten to a place where the Roof Depot site was going to go up for [a request for proposal] to any organization. That’s where the last council left it.
I really believed that we could go further than that. I kept hearing questions about why this didn’t include a training center, why don't they have exclusive development rights to this land, and what are the environmental impacts? There were a lot of things missing. A lot of things were left at the table.
I supported Councilmember Chavez in his first motion last year. That was vetoed by the mayor. We didn’t override that veto. A theme here is that I don’t think we had done the work to really bring the parties to the table. That was the work that Councilmember Chavez and I started to do together. We brought community members together – the heads of the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute, representatives from Little Earth, the mayor, and Public Works to sit down and have a real conversation about how we move forward from here.
We did have two options on the table at that time. The community could either raise dollars to buy the land, or we could move together towards another option. That other option, which I’ll call option B, was what we decided to work on together. That was the [memorandum of understanding] that was passed in the summer. That’s the furthest that any council has ever gotten for this community. We worked on that together with representatives from the East Phillips neighborhood.
There was lots of back-and-forth. Lots of questions. Exploring the environmental impacts. Requests to meet with certain individuals. Over the course of time, we continued that negotiation, and we had a 13-0 vote at the City Council. Then, Councilmember Chavez and Councilmember Johnson continued working with representatives from [East Phillips Neighborhood Institute] to get to a better place.
From the very beginning, once we chose option B, the Roof Depot building was going to go down. The three acres that were going to be given to the community were in a different spot. We’ve worked side-by-side with the community. There are lots of voices and thoughts, and a lot of emotion. It’s been a project that’s been in the works for a decade, far before my term.
I can’t wait for this community to get to decide what’s on this three acres of land, and to build and get excited for how that can help the community. I can’t wait to have this training center, where we will prioritize people who live within a two mile radius of this neighborhood. It’s an incredible opportunity. We’ve worked together to get to this spot, so I want to continue to move in that direction.
SWV: After the council meeting where you took that vote, you filed a police report. Can you talk a bit about what precipitated that?
EK: I think that we are always going to have communities or individuals who agree or disagree on different topics. That is democracy. That is freedom of speech. I get lots of emails from people that agree and disagree with me.
I believe that you cross the line when you threaten to verbally attack us, find us, and look for us in restaurants. When you talk about my children, or tell me you know that I have two kids and that you aren’t going to leave me alone, you’re asking for people to inflict violence on somebody else. That’s where the line got crossed for me.
I understand that this is an extremely emotional and very personal vote. But I think we have to protect our councilmembers and elected leaders. There’s a line that we just can’t cross.
SWV: In our last interview, you mentioned Jeremy Schroeder’s work on climate as being something you wanted to emulate. Are you proud of what you’ve been able to do on climate action at the city level so far?
EK: We have a work group that’s working on our ten year climate and equity plan. The work group is going to be coming out with their recommendations. I’m anxious to see what the results from this work group are and really dig into this more.
I’ve been personally thinking about how, in our own house, we think about this. That’s helped me realize some of the barriers we have around communication, and education, and the monetary barriers to this work.
We have monthly meetings, and sometimes they’re pretty regular meetings that focus on a variety of topics, but some of them have a specific topic. Our main meeting is going to be around climate and environment. That will come after the ten year climate and equity plan comes out. There will be time for public comment, and it will be a good time for us to reconnect with the community on what their needs, goals, and thoughts are, and to re-center us in that work as well.
SWV: Josh Martin put together an analysis of divided council votes for us that really shows which Councilmembers vote together most often. The person you vote with most often on the divided votes is Ward 13 Councilmember Linea Palmisano. Can you talk a bit about the partnership between you two?
EK: I think it’s interesting that you call it a partnership, because there isn’t really any inherent discussion before any vote where we ask each other how the other one is voting or what they think. Does that make sense? When you call it a partnership, I don’t look at it as that.
Is it a coincidence? It’s more of that than a partnership. I think very deeply and thoughtfully about every vote that I take. I think about the constituents of Ward 11 and their voices. This is why I started a few community groups last year. I started one for our seniors so I could get their lens. Another one for our Black and African-American community members.
I’m taking in all of the information that I’ve absorbed from the office hours and community meetings that I’m having. Are Ward 11 residents like-minded to Ward 13? I think it’s more that than any partnership that I have with Council Vice President Linea Palmisano. Do I respect her? Absolutely. Am I grateful for her leadership? One hundred percent. But it’s not the kind of thing where we have a conversation before every vote.
SWV: Anything else you’d like to cover?
EK: When I was looking at some of the things community members told you they were interested in, we already talked about the unhoused a little bit today. We haven’t talked about our other housing initiatives.
For me, we need to make sure we’re growing the city of Minneapolis. We need to make sure we’re growing our housing sector. That means all types of housing. I’m looking in every nook and cranny in Ward 11 to try to find where there are great places for us to build density in a smart and efficient way. I’m excited, we have a lot of projects that have come up in the last year. I’m really looking forward to connecting with the community on them.
We have a lot of different ideas about where we can continue to expand. There was a Lyndale Gateway Master Plan that was done in 2006. It was a 20 year plan, and we’re coming up on 20 years, so we’re dusting that off to see how we can expand along Lyndale Gateway. There are two very exciting projects there – the county purchased two of the motels there, the Aqua City Motel and the Metro Inn. One of those is going to be turned into [single room occupancy], and we just learned that the county is going to be tearing down the other one and building affordable housing units there. That’s so exciting for Ward 11.
We also have another development going up on the corner of 54th and Chicago. He’s going to be using our 4d program, which has 60 percent of the units at [Area Median Income]. These are things I’m really excited about.
In the past week, I’ve learned about a couple other developments that people have already contacted our city planners about. People are looking at Ward 11 as a place that they want to expand to, both businesses and housing. To me, that’s really exciting.
I have my eye on the prize that we’re thinking about our seniors and those that want to age in place. I have a community group of them that I meet with monthly. Their top priorities are public safety and livability, in their homes and in the community. If you look around Ward 11, around South Minneapolis, and really in Minneapolis generally, we don’t have a lot of options for them. We’re behind for people that want to age in the city and how we’re taking care of them.Those are things I have had my eye on.
The other thing that’s important to address is the 3rd Precinct. We need to make sure we have a 3rd Precinct building in the 3rd Precinct. We have a group that’s going to be doing some community engagement work starting in the next month. It’s important that we take action on this, make decisions, and get that building back up, whether it’s in the original location or a new location. We have to get that plan going for our community members.
As you see in my newsletters, I want to make sure we’re always thinking about how we’re supporting those in Ward 11, because it means a lot to our community members that we have all of these small businesses around.