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Hennepin County elections

Questions answered by candidates for County Commissioner & Sheriff

By JOHN CHARLES WILSON

With the help of my friends Lee Leichentritt and Peter Molenaar, and our editor Harvey Winje, I developed a questionnaire for candidates for Hennepin County Commissioner District 4 and Hennepin County Sheriff. Each candidate was asked to pick two topics from a menu of four or five, and explain how they intended to handle them if elected to office.

Topics for Commissioner Candidates:

  1. Housing for low income persons, senior citizens, and persons vulnerable due to mental illness.
  2. Public transportation in the Twin Cities metro area.
  3. Diversity in hiring Hennepin County employees.
  4. Mentally ill people being held in the County jail.

Angela Conley
1. Housing for low income persons, senior citizens, and persons vulnerable due to mental illness:
We need to rethink housing as a basic human right and make strong investments in solutions to the housing crisis. Housing is expensive and in short supply. I should know—my house is multigenerational and rented. A growing proportion of the homeless population are seniors and those with mental illness. Phillips residents need more options when it comes to housing, especially seniors who can’t just go out and get another job. I will pursue creative solutions, like the cooperative housing programs seen in other parts of Minneapolis. We, too, can have an apartment building where rent is based off tenant income. To ensure long-term investment in a more equitable community, I will require low-income units to be included in new developments in our district.

4. Mentally ill people being held in the County jail:
Working with our partners at the county attorney’s office and the city, I will bring restorative justice practices to our community. Ending the practice of cash bail would help diminish disparities within our jails. We know that mental illness is an issue across races and income levels, but it’s easy for these conditions to go untreated when a person lacks wealth. By eliminating a system that penalizes the poor and decreasing the overall jail population (particularly for low-level offenses), we can alleviate the problem of people with mental illness being held in the county jail.

Peter McLaughlin
1. Housing for low income persons, senior citizens, and persons vulnerable due to mental illness:
Lack of decent affordable housing is eating up household budgets, forcing people into bad housing, fostering exploitation by landlords and moving children from school to school. We lack an adequate supply of housing with services for people with mental, chemical health problems, seniors or those returning from the criminal justice system. Many are homeless, as the camp shows. As Commissioner, I will build on years as chair of PRG, a non-profit affordable housing development corporation. I will lead the County by doubling the County Affordable Housing Incentive Fund, expanding investment in health-related housing, maximizing healthcare dollars, converting a county building to mental health housing and advocating for state legislation to re-balance the tenant-landlord relationship and create a large dedicated statewide affordable housing fund.

3. Diversity in hiring Hennepin County employees:
People can wring their hands about disparities, but Hennepin County is doing something about it. Nothing is more important to eliminating disparities than linking people to good jobs and great careers. Three years ago we set a minimum wage of $15/hour, provided paid parental leave and raised tuition reimbursed to the maximum permitted (free tuition) for all County employees, well before other units of government. As Commissioner I will double the size of the highly successful Pathways program into jobs with the County and other public and private employers. We’ve created pathways into 23 separate jobs, advancing 1,269 individuals within Hennepin County alone, the vast majority of whom are people of color. PPL and HIRED provide support services. We will also expand internal training to promote leadership opportunities and careers, particularly for existing employees of color.

Topics for Sheriff Candidates:

  1. Mentally ill people being held in the County jail.
  2. Deployment of Sheriff’s deputies outside the boundaries of Hennepin County and/or Minnesota.
  3. Diversity in hiring Sheriff’s deputies.
  4. Cooperation between the Sheriff’s Office and the County Board of Commissioners.
  5. Additional resources needed by the Sheriff’s Department.

Hutch Hutchinson
2. Deployment of Sheriff’s deputies outside the boundaries of Hennepin County and/or Minnesota:
The duties of the Sheriff’s Office is to protect the people of Hennepin County. I would only deploy deputies outside of Hennepin County in extremely limited circumstances, such as assisting with a natural disaster relief effort.

On the other hand, the current sheriff has deployed deputies to break up protests on the Standing Rock reservation against the Dakota Access Pipeline. I will never send deputies to break up peaceful protests, especially those outside of the county. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office is here to protect people, not large companies. The right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed by our Constitution, and I will never work to constrain that right.

4. Cooperation between the Sheriff’s Office and the County Board of Commissioners:
The Hennepin County Commissioners recently released a memo about the need to create a policy around ICE behaviors in Hennepin County properties. This policy would require ICE agents to identify themselves to County officials and inform them if arrests are being made on the property. I completely support this policy and it is a great opportunity for the Sheriff’s Department to work hand in hand with the County Commissioners.

It is not the duty of the Sheriff’s Office to enforce immigration policy. Undocumented individuals shouldn’t need to worry about deportation for minor offenses. As Sheriff, this will become the department’s official policy. By working with the County Commissioners, we can strengthen Hennepin County’s protections of all people, regardless of how they came here.

Rich Stanek
1. Mentally ill people being held in the County jail.
3. Diversity in hiring Sheriff’s deputies.
(Note: Stanek issued a single answer meant to cover both topics.)
As a young boy growing up in Northeast Minneapolis, I wanted to be a police officer. I wanted to help those in need—and that same desire has helped guide my career for the past 35 years. Now as Sheriff, I work with the community every day to create positive change and advocate for all who come in contact with law enforcement.

The desire to help those in need while advancing public safety has led to two of my top priorities as Sheriff of Hennepin County—advocating for the mentally ill in the criminal justice system and increasing diversity hiring of Sheriff’s Office personnel.

We are seeing crisis levels of mental illness among Hennepin County jail inmates. On any given day in our jail, we have approximately 200-300 inmates with mental illness. For this reason, we continue to implement new initiatives to better serve all inmates; such as Crisis Intervention Training for all jail personnel, round-the-clock inmate medical assessments during the booking process, and adding a mental health caseload advocate to our staff.

As an agency, we are committed to increasing community participation, and one of the best ways to accomplish that is by increasing diversity hiring. We have more than doubled our diversity hiring rate by utilizing community engagement, social media, and our Community Advisory Board. I believe that having deputies who represent the communities they serve can lead to increased resident trust and decreased crime.

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