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Cedric Alexander will serve as Minneapolis’ first community safety commissioner after the City Council – in a split vote – confirmed his nomination Thursday.
During a tense conversation, some council members welcomed Alexander’s nomination, saying they believe he is the right man to help the city fulfill its promise to transform public safety following George Floyd’s murder by police two years ago.
Others raised concerns about his track record elsewhere or the process for setting up the new agency he’ll be tasked with overseeing.
“This is a very hard vote, one of the most important votes, I think, of this term,” said Council Member Elliott Payne, one of two who ultimately abstained.
Alexander will take a first-of-its-kind job in Minneapolis helping to oversee the leaders of the city’s police, fire, 911, emergency management and violence prevention programs. That job has been at the center of recent discussions about how elected leaders should respond to residents’ demands to improve police accountability and combat an increase in violent crime.
“Today is a historic day in the city of Minneapolis,” said City Council President Andrea Jenkins, one of eight council members to vote in favor of Alexander’s nomination. “We have been talking for two and a half years about reimagining public safety.”
Alexander is on track to run a new Community Safety Office, which elected officials are expected to set up in separate processes later this year. He will serve in Mayor Jacob Frey’s cabinet, helping him oversee the daily operations of the city’s safety-related offices.
Alexander, 67, spent decades working in law enforcement and has a doctorate in clinical psychology. Before retiring, he worked in a variety of local, state and federal offices, including in Georgia’s DeKalb County, where he served as public safety director, a role similar to the one he’s taking on now.
Council Member Andrew Johnson kicked off the council’s discussion on Alexander’s nomination Thursday, saying: “This is a big role, and it’s a really big moment, and I think based on the information that we have … I think he’s the best person I can imagine. in this role right now.”
Council Member Aisha Chughtai said she could not vote in favor of Alexander’s nomination because she left Tuesday’s public hearing with “more questions and even bigger concerns” than she had before. She said she found his answers about what he learned from handling officer-involved shootings inadequate and was troubled by what she read in a report outlining the details of an investigation into a sexual harassment allegation involving Alexander in DeKalb County.
“I know that we need culture change in policing in this city … and after seeing the responses and having the conversations that I had, I don’t believe that this is the right person to change that culture. I sincerely hope that I Am wrong,” she said.
The Star Tribune has asked DeKalb County officials for a copy of the report; So far, they have released only an executive summary. The summary said local investigators looked at two claims: one alleging that he had made unwanted sexual advances toward a lieutenant (a claim Alexander “categorically denied” and that investigators described as a “she said he said”), and a second claim that he retaliated against that employee (a claim the summary said was “without merit”).
Alexander told reporters after the vote that he has been “thoroughly vetted” by multiple agencies, including the Minnesota state agency that does background checks, and he believes those issues are “distractions.”
“Quite frankly, none of this has ever been an issue anywhere, until I came here,” he said.
Alexander said he was glad that council members raised their concerns and he is committed to working with all of them moving forward.
Frey defended Alexander, calling him a proven leader with a long record of implementing changes. “Anytime that you’re in a leadership position in this country, you are subject to criticism,” the mayor said. “That, inevitably, will be the case.”
The council ultimately approved Alexander’s nomination on an 8-3 vote. Jenkins, Vice President Linea Palmisano, and Council Members Emily Koski, LaTrisha Vetaw, Michael Rainville, Lisa Goodman, Johnson, and Jamal Osman voted in favor. Council Members Chughtai, Jeremiah Ellison and Robin Wonsley voted against. Council members Payne and Jason Chavez abstained.
The vote clears the way for Alexander to officially begin work as early as Monday, although he said he intended to begin meeting with city employees on Thursday to learn more about their offices, what they’re doing well and what they need to improve.
Alexander has said his priorities include improving staffing, accountability and cooperation among the city’s safety agencies and working to rebuild trust in a community still recovering from the aftermath of Floyd’s murder and an increase in violent crime.
“We’ve got to come up with a strategy now,” Alexander said. “Not Monday, but now.”
Cedric Alexander gets council approval as Minneapolis’ first community safety commissioner
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