Unanimous council vote regulates military actions

Future Defense Department training exercises will need consent from City Council members.

Nick Wicker

Black military helicopters swept Minneapolis’ skies in August, flying close to high-rise buildings and surprising residents.

Now a new ruling by the Minneapolis City Council means the U.S. Department of Defense must first seek council approval before carrying out any training exercises like the ones in August.

Council members voted unanimously to approve the measure, aiming to prevent such activity from occurring without proper public notice. Under the new rule, the city can’t authorize any funding of military training without the council’s go-ahead.

The motion, proposed by Ward 5 Councilman Blong Yang, included a second provision that calls for the development of a process through which the council would consider requests for disruptive activities in Minneapolis, like August’s training.

Most of the exercises late this summer took place at night in the Cedar-Riverside and Seward neighborhoods, along with downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, said Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon, who co-authored the proposal.

In January, the Department of Defense requested to conduct “tactical urban counter-terrorism training exercises” in the city, a spokesperson for Mayor Betsy Hodges’ office said in an email.

The mayor’s office consented, but the federal agency asked local jurisdictions to limit the amount of information shared about the training’s timing and nature, citing security and safety reasons, the Hodges spokesperson said.

Now, Hodges’ office “will set the expectation that they provide clear notice to our residents,” the mayor’s office said in the email.

But Gordon said simply notifying residents is not enough to protect them from the drills, which he said he feared could have led to a crash.

“City Council should have the authority to restrict what they can do, prohibit what they can do and control what they can do,” he said. “It’s not just notification.”

Past actions have led to a perceived breach in trust, he said, which could have future consequences.

“Because of the way they handled this incident, we might say ‘No, go to another city,’” he said.

The Defense Department had conducted similar, routine training in 2012, according to an Aug. 19 press release from the Minneapolis Police Department.

But past military exercises, which sometimes involved dive training in the Mississippi River, were smaller and never as invasive, Gordon said.

MPD’s release said the “training sites and time [had] been carefully selected to minimize the impact on the daily routine of residents.”

But a number of constituents contacted City Council members when the flights started Aug. 18, upset with the unannounced military presence, Gordon said.

Others shared their concerns on an online neighborhood forum.

“Scary [and] traumatic for some of us who survived civil war in Somalia seeing military copters in the dead of the night hovering over our home,” said one poster, named Mohamed Ali.

Another voiced distress for how the training affected any of the neighborhood’s children with autism.

“[They] are bothered by loud and un-expectant noises which can create [meltdown] behaviors that can last for hours,” posted Idil Abdull. “I think this is inconsiderate and lacks care for the safety and well-being of the residents of this area, in particular those with
special needs.”

Others argued the late-night Blackhawk helicopter flights were disruptive for anyone trying to sleep.

Gordon, as well as some of the online posters, said they would rather see military training happen at proper facilities than inhabited urban areas.

“They have training facilities that were very expensive,” Gordon said. “I heard they even basically set up pretend cities in places so they can practice these maneuvers somewhere else.”