Duluth City Council Halts Measure to Remove Chief Title

DULUTH, Minn.– The Duluth City Council tabled a resolution Monday night that halts Mayor Emily Larson’s push to remove the word “chief” from employee titles after she and her administration said it is offensive to Indigenous people.

The vote specifically involved changing the title of Chief Administrative Officer to City Administrator. A unanimous vote by the council is required because it’s a title change to the city’s charter.

The resolution was tabled after Councilor Derek Medved said he would vote against the measure — saying he is not against the idea of changing the name of CAO but that he opposed the language behind the name change.

(To watch the discussion and the vote to table this resolution, click here and go to the 2:45:35 mark on the timeline

Medved, who is on the finance committee, said city officials should be focusing their energy on a projected $25 million budget shortfall from COVID-19.

“It kind of changes the direction I want to go in conversations,” said Medved. “As a member of the finance committee, I want to focus on the budget and this takes away from that conversation so I feel that we should be focused on other things and not this current topic.”

Mayor Larson weighed in on that critique saying leadership is about doing multiple things at once. She added in a written statement to FOX 21, “There is no cost to this title change, and it does not add or take away and budgeted staff positions. It simply changes the title of the person who is in the role, and does so with an eye for inclusion and modernity.”

Council Vice President Renee Van Nett said the word “chief” is “hurtful” and has historically been used against Indigenous people.

“When somebody calls me chief, yeah that is bad you guys and that happens, and that’s the context that not everybody in this town is like, I understand,” Van Nett said. “I voted for it because the work has to be done, and that’s kind of the way that happens for indigenous people, we have to have to make concessions even though it hurts us.”

Van Nett did say she is not for changing the titles of police and fire chiefs.

At a press conference last week, the city’s community relations officers explained why the word “chief” is offensive. “Oftentimes the word chief is used as I would say a racial epithet and it turns into a microaggression,” said Alicia Kozlowski, community relations officer. “I think that there are other titles that we have the opportunity to use and to steer away from language that may put people down based off of their race or culture.”

Mayor Larson also made her point at last week’s press conference by saying it’s important for the city to distance itself from potential situations that could be offensive. “We are dropping the name “chief” with intention and purpose so that we have more inclusive leadership and less language that is rooted in hurt and intentional marginalization,” Larson said.

For other titles, Mayor Larson can immediately change the Chief Financial Officer title to Finance Director as she has said she wants to do because it’s not a title in the city charter that would need council approval.

There are also no immediate plans to change titles for police and fire chiefs, but discussions are happening about possibly doing that.


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