Two members of Minneapolis civilian oversight commission abruptly resign

Two members of Minneapolis' civilian oversight commission have abruptly resigned, a week after city leaders vowed to get the police review board back on track amid continued fallout from the termination of the city's civil rights director and the resignation of her top lieutenant.

Fartun Weli and A.J. Awed separately submitted their resignations in emails to the commission chair and the city council members who appointed them last spring, according to documents obtained by the Star Tribune. Both are prominent Somali Americans who lead local community organizations.

Awed resigned last Thursday night and Weli the following Sunday. They each cited the "politically motivated" removal of civil rights director Alberder Gillespie and failures of mayoral leadership as among the reasons for their exit, saying that the lack of support affected their ability to serve in the current framework.

Their departures leave the 15-member Community Commission on Police Oversight (CCPO) without a representative from the Somali community and may further stall its work to clear a mounting backlog of police misconduct complaints.

The oversight commission is the latest attempt by the city to establish a credible civilian review process. Fifteen months after the City Council created it, the commission has taken action on few complaints against police and made no policy recommendations on police reform.

Gillespie was fired last month after superiors concluded that she posed "an immediate threat" to the city's ability to reform policing in accordance with a court-approved settlement agreement. Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the city's operations officer, accused Gillespie of failing to make data available to the City Attorney's Office or to work with an assistant attorney assigned to her office, according to personnel records released to the media.

Gillespie has declined to respond to the specific allegations.

For 2 1/2 years, she oversaw the Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR), a city division dedicated to investigating civilian complaints against the Minneapolis Police Department. Hours after Gillespie's termination, OPCR Director John Jefferson resigned his post. Both Gillespie and Jefferson are Black.

In her resignation email Sunday, Weli cited concerns around the "risk of diminishing the contributions of BIPOC staff and leaders within the city administration," and the "inadequate mayoral leadership and support compromising the effectiveness of our framework."

She amplified her concerns in an interview with the Star Tribune on Monday.

"We had two Black leaders that we trusted," said Weli, the CEO of Isuroon, an organization that helps East African women and families. "We knew things would not be smooth at the beginning. But we trusted their leadership because of their skills in knowing the community and the system. Now that they are gone, there is no reason for me to be there."

She vowed to continue dedicating her life to social and racial justice causes and building bridges.

In an interview, Awed said that the commission has become "dysfunctional to a certain extent."

"I think the previous director wasn't given the latitude or support by the mayor to have a productive commission," Awed said in an interview, citing "a toxic culture" within the city government.

Awed, who serves as co-executive director of programs and policy at the Cedar Riverside Community Council, informed colleagues in his email that he had moved out of the city limits, which would make him ineligible to serve on the commission under city ordinances without a waiver from the City Council.

Weli and Awed's criticism of recent personnel changes come on the heels of several prominent Black leaders, who have questioned Gillespie's ouster and defended her integrity before the City Council.

Anderson Kelliher has defended her decision by noting that there was insufficient progress on a backlog of 297 open complaints against police and that Gillespie refused to assist pro bono attorneys helping to clear that backlog.

Late last month, Anderson Kelliher named herself acting director of the civil rights department and said a search is underway for Gillespie's replacement. She named Carolina Amini as interim director to replace Jefferson. Amini is a former investigator in the city's Civil Rights Department.