Hennepin County considers keeping employees home, closing service sites

Angela Conley speaks during the Hennepin County swearing-in ceremony.
Angela Conley speaks during the Hennepin County swearing-in ceremony in January 2019. County Commissioner Conley objects to a plan that would close offices in racially diverse, low-income neighborhoods in Hennepin County.
Brandt Williams | MPR News 2019

Thousands of Hennepin County employees may continue to work from home even as other employers open their offices now that Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order has expired. Hennepin County Administrator David Hough recommended Thursday that the county continue to keep employees working remotely.

“Our workers, many of whom don’t have an office right now, are efficiently managing and interacting with clients,” said Hough during a board briefing with all seven county commissioners. “They could be doing that in the field and other locations, not necessarily a rental property.” 

Hough also proposed terminating the leases in eight buildings where the county rents office space, which would save the county more than $2 million per year.

The county either owns or rents space in more than 120 buildings. One of them is the Sabathani Community Center in south Minneapolis. 

Commissioner Angela Conley, who represents the part of Minneapolis where the center is located, is concerned that terminating the $236,682 yearly lease with Sabathani will hurt the center’s ability to help the predominantly black community it's served for more than 50 years.

"I would caution against hasty decisions and that in the name of cost savings we don't forget that this has far-reaching implications and consequences throughout the city, throughout the county," said Conley.

Other sites on the list include buildings, which house programs for Native American and Latino youth. Conley said that goes “completely against our values around disparity reduction, our values around race equity.”   

While some commissioners agreed the county will need to make some tough decisions about how it delivers its services in the near future. A few said they weren’t ready to do that just yet.

Commissioner Jan Callison said she needs more feedback from county employees and the clients they serve before she agrees to sign off on the measures.

"This is a profound change from what we've been doing,” said Callison. “It probably is the change we're looking at in the future, so we should be accepting it to a certain extent. But I do want to have more background information so I can feel as though independently I understand what the impact has been in all those different areas."

Commissioners did not vote on the proposed changes. Another budget briefing is scheduled for next week.

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