We sat down with Ward 13 City Councilmember and City Council Vice President Linea Palmisano, who is running for re-election this year. We talked about her time in office, public safety, the 2040 Plan, climate policy, 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?
Linea Palmisano: I’ve worked really hard for my nine years here. I think experience matters. I’m full-in, both in the community and at City Hall, whether that’s attending neighborhood meetings, scooping ice cream at neighborhood events, picking up the trash, or meeting residents at their homes to better understand their issues. Every Friday I’m bopping around from one constituent meeting to the next so that individual residents can show me things or have complex problems that need to be solved.
At City Hall, my capacity to be effective or impactful has grown over time. I think that’s good for the whole city. I’m proud of that.
SWV: You were very involved with the full government structure overhaul. Can you explain how you were involved in that, and whether you’re happy about where it landed?
LP: It’s still in process. When the Charter Commission put that question out to voters, they left a lot of gray space in between. They intentionally left things for the institution to figure out afterwards if it were to pass. That’s the space we worked to be in. How could we set up our existing government and the new aspects of it in a way that was most equitable, most effective, and has efficiencies in it?
The picture of the prior government structure was like a bowl of spaghetti. It takes a while to sort those things out. This first year of the government restructure, which I led, was really a long push to come up with a consensus structure on the executive side. All of the existing bodies that come to work for the public are on the executive side. This year, we’re really building out the legislative branch, and how we integrate it and make it work in a meaningful way.
How do we do better at legislative oversight, creating laws, and ordinances? I think that’s a really exciting part. That couldn’t be the first part, because that’s not where the existing big departments like Public Works are at. But the legislative side really has a lot of opportunities to do better at engaging residents in our work and doing things in a transparent way.
How do we do that the most equitable way possible? I supported Question 1 because at the end of the day, it can reduce systemic racism in our government at the local level. That is about government being known to people as much as it is government being invited in. Who to go to for what, where your input can be useful, how we make our decisions, and who we hold accountable – that’s a really important piece of a government that works for everybody. I think this year and how we setup that legislative structure will help to assist that.
SWV: Would you say that the Mayor’s office is now much more accountable for how things are going in the city than they were before?
LP: I guess so? I don’t operate that much differently than I used to operate. Here’s a real-world example. There are such deep ice ruts in some of the alleys in Southwest that people can’t get out of them. I have never felt like I’m powerless to help people dealing with that. When people call or reach out, I still help send them to the right places. Do I say no, that’s the mayor’s problem? I do not.
Does he have more accountability with the division and the way the departments are run? Yes, there is more accountability in it. But I’ve always treated these things like requests. I might be very in-their-face about a request. But it’s still a request.
I think departments and department heads really like having one clear reporting structure and to not have to worry about how people on a committee that they report into are going to feel. When there are urgent needs, and they need one answer, I think this government structure works very well.
This structure is also similar to that of San Diego. That’s one of the best examples for how the Charter Commission modeled this ballot initiative. The city of San Diego would say that ten years later, they are still implementing this government structure. It’s not immediate. I think people realize that’s not a shift that took effect December 2nd [editor’s note: This is the day the ballot initiative took effect in 2021] and then, boom, we’re in a new model. I think it’s a shift that’s going to take some time. We’re still in the beginning.
SWV: In our last interview, you talked about how your biggest priority in public safety was rebuilding public safety staffing in the city. How do you think that’s going?
LP: I think it’s going as well as it can, given all the constraints on us. I think that’s pretty similar to other cities. I’m energized and excited about some of the ways our new chief is having an impact, and how the way he’s talking about things will affect recruiting.
In the past we always spoke about interest in law enforcement living in our city, and how we would incentivize them to live in the city that they serve. Chief O’Hara’s approach is a bit different. He’s focused on how we get the people that already are in our city, with deep knowledge of these neighborhoods, to want to become police officers. It’s the same goal, but a slightly different approach with slightly different tactics to it. I like that new thinking that’s coming from our new chief.
I’m excited about some of the recruitment initiatives that I’ve literally been a part of with Chief of Staff [Christopher] Gaiters. I think that one of the best things the Minneapolis Police Department has to offer to people looking at different jurisdictions to get into this field as a career choice is that there is a lot of space for upward mobility in our department. We are a very large organization. They might initially come on with a higher salary, but we think people see MPD as a place where they will have a longer career with a lot of new places to go, whether that’s into investigations or into specialty work that we’re looking to refill and grow back.
SWV: Gun violence in the city is down quite a bit from where it was last year. The number of officers in the department is not up. Has that shifted your thinking on either the uptick or subsequent decline in gun violence?
LP: No, I don’t think so. I think the kinds of tactical decisions that our police force and neighboring jurisdictions are making with how to control gun crime are helping. Instead of taking these narrow windows of time, I take a much longer view.
I continue to be worried about the proliferation of guns in our society as a whole. I continue to be concerned about guns downtown. I continue to be concerned about guns in the hands of young people. Even if they aren’t being used in acts of violence, they are being used violently to threaten people while carjacking them or used by someone else because they are a juvenile. I still see that as an urgent matter, I don’t think it’s a thing we’re getting a handle on quickly enough.
SWV: Do you think the City Council this term has done enough to reform the department?
LP: Well, unlike my two previous terms, this has only been one year, with seven new people, and really eight new people because Jamal Osman had not come back to City Hall because of the pandemic. So no, I don’t think we’ve done much yet in terms of MPD reform.
My efforts and my role with MPD from when I first began here started with the Audit Committee because that was an independent unit of the council that could go and effect change in the police department, which always clearly reported into the mayor. That included work on making sure body cams were always on, storage of evidence, property, and especially DNA kits, off-duty work, overtime work, new IT systems.
All of those actions, for me and my ability to affect change, was through Audit. I was initially given the Chair of the Audit Committee and I had to rewrite the whole ordinance. Everyone in the department had left when I got here. We’ve made a number of strides in working with, and sometimes not with, the police department. I’m really excited and enthusiastic that now Audit sits within the legislative side so that we can continue to do the work.
For example, the two public safety auditors. With the new government structure, we put in a new Community Safety Commissioner so that we have all of the public safety functions under one point of coordination. We went and selected Cedric Alexander as that commissioner. We get updates from the commissioner, and will be getting updates on a regular basis from the chief.
Those were big things. You saw Councilmembers Vetaw and Jenkins having listening sessions across the city for our new chief. That selection process was long and arduous. We had public hearings and all of that. Those are big, foundational things that we’ve done to strengthen our police department from a structural level.
I think we’ve made a number of strides the last few years to proactively respond to things that were in the Minnesota Human Rights investigation. We will continue to do that until we’ve met the goals of any sort of settlement or consent decree. We’re being proactive. We’re not waiting to act. I appreciate Chief O’Hara for putting in new structures of accountability in the police department.
For example, the person who Internal Affairs rolls up into has five other jobs. This was in his presentation yesterday. He wants Internal Affairs to be important and its own thing within the police department. He’s looking to add two new positions, or four if state law changes to allow it, to structurally set up our department for more management and scrutiny and accountability, and I applaud him for that. He’s talked about how our department, unlike other cities, is very bottom-heavy. Structures where accountability works well are not so bottom-heavy.
My hope is that as he expands some of that structure in the upper portions of police management, the rank-and-file will feel more supported. Right now, there’s a sense that internal City Hall police operate like a severed head relative to the rest of the organization. That’s not ok. We need it connected on every level. That’s really important, and I hope with the right people in place, there will be more time for better communication throughout an organization like MPD. That’s the gist of what he says, and I greatly buy into that.
SWV: How do you feel about your record on climate action?
LP: We work in so many different ways as a city to do that. In the past, I’ve answered your question with things that our local residents are doing to help, and that was unsatisfying to people, they wrote into you about that.
First and foremost, at the city we have what’s currently called the Climate Action Plan, and they’re remaking it into what we call the Climate Equity Plan, and that’s our roadmap for how we reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That’s about where we get our energy from and trying to reduce those emissions. Raising the bicycle commute mode share to 15%. Increasing our bike lane rate. Having a composting rate that goes higher than our current 15% of the total waste train. Some of these things began before my time. A lot of these things have to do with buildings or transportation or energy use. Then there are typical Public Works things like waste and recycling.
We’ve added so many things like zero waste initiatives. Green Zones have been developed during my time in office, which are groups of neighborhoods that face the impacts of environmental pollution and racial and economic marginalization together. There’s a Northside Green Zone and a Southside Green Zone. It’s really important how we deal with things in those Green Zones to really push those communities towards having a healthier living environment. There are a lot of local residents that are a part of that Climate Equity Plan.
There are those kinds of things going on, broadly speaking. There are things the city is offering to residents to deal with our climate crisis, like the Health Department’s food initiatives and air quality monitoring, energy efficiency lead control, there is our sustainability department that’s focused on clean energy.
There’s also our partnerships in terms of climate. I had a ward forum with David Wilson, and part of his climate resilience steering committee is about how we use public and private partnerships together to address climate change in our area. My work with him has mostly been focused on trees, on both public and private land, and standing up the first carbon credit offset program in the whole Midwest. I get to be part of that program, and that is a huge lift to climate here in the metro area.
We also have a number of things we’re doing as a city that I’m really proud of, like putting your taxpayer dollars where our mouth is on climate. Putting solar arrays on city-owned properties, stormwater infrastructure upgrades, clean fleet policies, and different kinds of smart salt. Some people are upset that we do salting differently than nearby communities, but we’re working to use a minimal amount of salt on our roads to protect our lakes and everything beyond that. We’re getting charging stations installed in our public and commercial areas. Part of that is through zoning, where we require new buildings to have charging stations in their parking spaces. Improving our bike infrastructure to reduce auto usage is really important. The whole Transportation Action Plan.
We do a lot of work on energy reductions like electrical work at water plants, which is a huge usage, and LED bulbs across the city and in our street lights. All of these have been Public Works ideas, but one that isn’t is that we’ve added five e-bikes to our Inspections team for employees that want them – and they really like it.
So yes, climate. Thank you for asking about it. That’s a critical piece.
SWV: Are there any pieces of the 2040 Plan that you think were a mistake?
LP: I stand by my comments I made in 2018. A modern zoning code deserves a fine-tooth comb that strategically builds commerce centers with clear distinctions from neighborhood nodes, and clear building rules that lead to less variances.
I still think that the broad brush approach, the “stripe” zoning method of the 2040 Plan doesn’t do those things, and it really jeopardized a lot of our naturally-occurring affordable housing, especially our affordable home-ownership opportunities.
I also stand by my comments from 2018 where I said that the process was flawed and deceptive. Resident feedback was not only ignored, it was vilified. I couldn’t support a process that asks residents to give their time and effort and then demonizes them for it.
My best efforts for improving the plan now are focused on improving our city’s building requirements and construction codes. If we can’t directly change the zoning code overlays of the plan, we can at least make sure that the buildings coming in are the least disruptive to residents and that they add the most public benefit.
To the credit of some of these changes, what we have seen over the last couple years are less and less variances being requested for building. Hopefully, as we move into recovery from the pandemic, that will continue. Clear rules for how land use gets considered in our city will help some of the important things I said about good government.
I will make certain that we’ll be able to make some sensible changes as we move into the implementation of these changes as we look at what works for people who are trying to age in place. One example of that would be allowances for elevators for some of these floor area ratio calculations, like for triplexes and beyond. These small kinds of considerations are going to be important.
SWV: Where do you hope to see housing policy go in the city of Minneapolis in the next couple of years?
LP: The city invests between 200 to 250 million dollars per year in housing initiatives. There are a few handfuls of different types of programs that money flows through. That’s highly leveraged money that we put into these initiatives, like the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
While we as a city don’t receive the kind of funding that other state agencies do for direct support services around housing, it’s clear that there are gaps in the system around very affordable housing and beyond. We need wraparound services in some of our lowest income housing initiatives. That’s hard to provide. I will continue to support the creation of programs that provide emergency assistance and direct subsidies to families, much like our Stable Homes Stable Schools program that provides direct rental assistance money to the children of public school families, or our rental assistance program, or our Basic Income pilot program.
I think that’s an avenue to housing. There are too many people getting lost in the system, and the only way to help them is not to think we’re going to be able to stand up a building for them right away, but to lower the bureaucratic red tape and provide direct assistance. I think those types of temporary programs are how we as a city can work on filling the gaps right now.
SWV: I want to ask about the items you brought before the Council this week about behavior at City Council meetings and increased penalties for assaults or threats of violence against city officials. Can you talk about what precipitated that?
LP: It’s been an issue that’s been growing over time.
First and foremost, we have our own work to do as a City Council, in terms of how we manage meetings better. I own that, the Council President owns that. We also don’t have the kind of security they have at the Federal Building, County Building, or other places. We don’t have that. That’s been an intentional choice over time at City Hall that we don’t have much or any security.
The only tool in our tool box as a city when meetings are being shut down is to recess. There have been many times over the last year when we’ve had to recess because of what’s happening in front of us. We couldn’t hear each other or continue to conduct the meeting. The piece I put in front of the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, which was largely misunderstood by and blown out of proportion by Twitter, was asking the state legislature to help us define open meeting laws.
Once you define open meeting laws, it can help us and other jurisdictions come up with clear and concise rules about how we can conduct meetings alongside and with protests in the same place at the same time. That first piece is about how we can close a meeting or under what circumstances we can remove people from meetings.
That’s not really that practical, because the situation we found ourselves in last week at the City Council meeting was that it wasn’t just one unruly person. There were over 100 people there. Only 30 were allowed in at a time. We need to be able to do the work of democracy while having protests in the same place at the same time. We need more tools in our tool box other than just being able to recess or adjourn. Some of the political math as to how to have that meeting is to just adjourn, and then the important things we have to transact like business licenses, permits, land use applications, and that type of thing wouldn’t have happened. We wanted to simply proceed, and that was difficult for us to do.
Asking the state to simply help us better-define open meeting laws will help us have some clearer rules for people that are in that space at that time. Yes, upset, yes, dissenting. I think that’s important to have. We also have to be able to do our work. Both at the same time. That tied to some of the many people in front of us screaming personal threats and advocating personal violence in the faces of my colleagues.
The second amendment that I brought forward seeks increased penalties for those that threaten violence against public officials. That’s employees, that includes our housing inspectors that are followed, that includes Public Works employees that have been shot at, that includes the car bombed pickup truck from one of our public employees this past year. This also includes my colleague that got pinned to the top of an escalator after the council meeting two weeks ago.
It’s about increasing penalties against people who assault or threaten violence against any public official, even if they are not at their place of work, but because of their status as a public official. This includes, when your dad was mayor, threats against you, at home. Threats against you, at school. This is about the people that are at the mayor’s house, putting really icky anti-Semitic shit on his door more often than is ever shown. This increases penalties for things like that.
As I said in my comments at the beginning yesterday, my need to bring these things comes from a place of sadness. It also comes from a place where public employees need to feel safe in their workplace. We have AFSCME employees at our meetings, and they don’t get to recess the meeting. They don’t get to decide when it’s gotten too hot in there and leave. That’s up to the elected officials, and it’s not discretionary to them. That’s not fair. We did this resolution last year. Councilmember Chavez brought this up. Yeah, while that was while Public Works employees were out doing their work. That wasn’t about people following them home at night. That wasn’t about people pasting posters around Uptown suggesting threats to Director [of Regulatory Services] Saray Garnett-Hochuli because of her encampment policies. That’s what that second piece is looking to address.
Unfortunately, these are being highly politicized. I believe in peaceful protest. I do not believe what happened in the City Council chambers two weeks ago was peaceful.
SWV: On that second piece, do you wish you had done more to push for stronger penalties like these back in 2020 when certain members of the City Council had to go get private security?
LP: Sure. I wasn’t in a position to be able to do that back then. We were also in pandemic mode. I feel like it’s more on me because I’m part of council leadership now. Had I felt threatened as an individual, I could’ve gone and gotten some remediation. I could’ve gone and gotten some sort of security, too. This is something I’m really trying to do for the collective.
One of my anecdotes, Councilmember Ellison talked about it before me, it was about my colleagues whose security was so threatened that they had to have security at their homes. That is never going to help us attract good people to run for public office. That is never going to help us attract good people to lead our Regulatory Services department, or keep people as our Public Works director, or any of those things. That is serious.
A school board member who lives in my ward had protesters come to his mother-in-law’s house in the far suburbs, and to his own house. He resigned that day because he knew that what was good for his household was to not literally bring that thing to his front door. These things have been growing over time. The Angie Craig situation was scary. Nancy Pelosi’s house. At every level of government, this is happening. There have been a handful of stories, only in Minnesota, in the past few weeks, of meetings getting out of hand and public officials getting threats of violence levied against them in their personal spaces. So, I do think we should be taking a stand together around how we dialogue things.
SWV: Any other issues you want to cover today?
LP: I would say this. Nobody comes into local government with a magic wand. I’ve worked incredibly hard to establish relationships at the local level, state level, and federal level to move things forward and get things done for our city.