Sources: Rybak might ask for Olson resignation

Tom Ford

Citing two anonymous sources, the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press reported Tuesday that Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak asked police Chief Robert Olson to resign.

Neither police nor mayor’s office officials would confirm or deny the reports. Laura Sether, Rybak’s spokeswoman, said the mayor has “acknowledged there have been issues he’s had with police leadership” and has said relations with the community must improve.

Since the possible resignation is a personnel issue, Sether said, the mayor will not make any public comments.

During the past two months, Rybak has expressed concern about several incidents – including the police shooting of a mentally ill Somali man and the alleged use of excessive force by officers following the Gophers men’s hockey NCAA championship game.

Olson has nearly two years left on his contract, which the Minneapolis City Council renewed in January 2001.

Removing Olson could entail buying out his contract, which pays $116,000 annually. This measure would require City Council support.

City Council member Paul Zerby – who represents the University area – refrained from adopting a stance on Olson’s possible departure but said he would support Rybak’s decision.

“The mayor and the police chief have to work together, and there has to be confidence there,” Zerby said. “If there isn’t, then I think it’s a pretty difficult situation.”

Although a contract buyout could be expensive, Zerby said, a financial burden on the city would be acceptable.

“I wouldn’t necessarily be foreclosed by the possibility of additional costs,” Zerby said. “(The police chief) is a pretty damn important job.”

Minneapolis City Council member Dean Zimmerman said he was concerned that a rift exists between the police and minorities.

“It doesn’t look like things are getting better,” Zimmerman said.

He said he doesn’t have a strong feeling about Olson departing. But if someone else takes over, Zimmerman said, he wants assurance it will be a productive change.

“Whoever’s in place will have to convince me they can change the dynamic in the city,” he said. “If they can’t show that change will occur, then we’ll spend a lot of money on window dressing.”

City Council member Joe Biernat said people in his ward have not expressed concern about police behavior.

But he said Rybak must consider citizen satisfaction across the entire city, and he said Rybak apparently has issues with police leadership that should be resolved.

Biernat said buying out Olson’s contract would be difficult to support in light of city budget shortfalls. But he said for now, the issue is between Rybak and Olson and doesn’t involve the City Council.

Omar Jamal, Somali Justice Advocacy Center executive director, said he was surprised to hear of Olson’s possible departure.

Jamal said he remains willing to work with Olson but said he would welcome a change. Jamal said he has been disappointed by decisions the police have made since the March 10 shooting of Abu Jeilani.

In particular, he said, the Somali community was shocked to learn the six officers involved in the shooting have returned to duty.

Jamal said Olson or a new chief must remedy an apparent unwilling-ness to rein in police misconduct, as well as the lack of full-time Somali officers in the city.

“Things cannot be the way they are now,” he said.