At City Hall, aides have a hand in everything

City Council aide Heidi Ritchie is engaging with constituents and policymakers.

Heidi Ritchie, aide to Ward 3 Minneapolis City Councilman Jacob Frey, talks about her job duties at City Hall on Friday, Jan. 31, 2014.

Patricia Grover

Heidi Ritchie, aide to Ward 3 Minneapolis City Councilman Jacob Frey, talks about her job duties at City Hall on Friday, Jan. 31, 2014.

Tyler Gieseke

Though Heidi Ritchie spends part of her day dealing with frustrated constituents, she always leaves work feeling like she made an impact on Minneapolis.

As an aide to Ward 3 City Councilman Jacob Frey, who represents neighborhoods around the University of Minnesota, Ritchie prepares policy items, solves residents’ problems and more.

“We really touch people’s lives at a very personal level,” she said.

Two staffers work alongside each City Council member to keep the inner workings of government organized and sometimes influence policy decisions.

After serving eight years as an aide for former Ward 9 Councilman Gary Schiff, Ritchie has a strong sense of how to help people access government resources, said Suzanne Murphy, who works with Ritchie in City Hall.

Aides work with every council member and his or her staff to coordinate policy stances and plan future meetings. Ritchie said aides can also provide an additional perspective for City Council members to consider while making decisions, but they don’t usually get embroiled in the political aspect of the job.

If two council members are at odds over an issue, their staff might still go out together after work, she said.

While dealing with constituents, Schiff said Ritchie is particularly adept at communicating what the city can and can’t do. He said many people call an elected official’s office with high expectations, but sometimes their needs can’t be met.

“Nobody likes to say the word ‘no’ in government,” Schiff said. “Heidi is very good at letting people know the limits of government.”

Ritchie said many people she talks to have already tried calling the city’s 311 help service line and they’re often irritated. She eases their concerns by connecting them with department leaders.

“I think she does a great job of navigating the city on the public’s behalf,” Murphy said.

The work isn’t dull, said Murphy, who is currently a policy aide for Ward 12 Councilman Andrew Johnson but previously worked in Schiff’s office with Ritchie.

The aides often worked to make the city more fun to live in, she said, by doing things like changing limits on microbreweries.

The tone of the job isn’t as formal as it may appear. Murphy said Ritchie was a “good sport” when Schiff hired a mariachi band to play for her birthday. There was an ongoing competition in the office to outdo each other for birthday celebrations, Schiff said.

Though they’ve only worked together for about a month, Ritchie said she is close with Frey as well. Before he entered office, they worked on political campaigns together, and he would often visit her home for drinks, Frey said.

He even officiated her wedding.

Ritchie said she encouraged Frey to run for office when he was just considering it. She said she was pleased when he offered her a job as his aide.

“I think the ward is fascinating,” she said, because it includes diverse areas like downtown neighborhoods around the University.

Frey said he’ll often ask Ritchie to complete a task, and it will already be done.

This is extremely valuable, he said, because it allows him to spend less time “playing defense” with constituents and more time on the “offense” progressing the ward.

Ritchie said her active work with the city gives her a sense of pride, like when she drives into Minneapolis and sees some of the infrastructure that she had a role in implementing.

“It’s a sense of pride in where you live,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine not being a part of the city.”