Mayor Larson Responds to Criticism Over Ordinance to Remove ‘Chief’ From CAO Title

DULUTH, Minn. – Mayor Emily Larson responded Tuesday after Duluth city councilors voiced their frustrations at Monday night’s council meeting involving an ordinance to remove the word “chief” from the Chief Administrative Officer title that failed to pass.  If passed, the new title would have been City Administrator.

“I really think the title should have been changed. And you know, my job is to keep on keepin’ on,” Larson said Tuesday.

Larson has said early on that the word “chief” is offensive to the Indigenous community, but some councilors felt her handling of the topic did more harm than good, especially by not including the Indigenous Commission in the discussion at the beginning.

“Being an Indigenous Commission member, I heard about it from Facebook,” said member Kassie Helgerson to councilors Monday night when talking about when she first heard about the ordinance.

“This, backing all the way back to the mayor’s office, was proposed with division in mind. And we could have fixed that point blank if the mayor and all of us were on the same page to have a better conversation,” Councilor Derek Medved said at Monday night’s meeting.

“The mayor’s handling of this proposal has been terrible and that we, as a council, have been left holding the bag for something that could have been handled much better and would have never had created the controversy that it has created in this community,” Councilor Joel Sipress said at Monday night’s meeting.

The ordinance failed to pass with Councilor Medved abstaining.  For background on the ordinance’s changing Statement of Purpose, click here.

A unanimous vote is needed when changing job titles in the city charter.

Meanwhile, Mayor Larson agreed she would have liked the Indigenous Commission to be front and center, but working remotely during COVID-19 caused some challenges. Either way, she’s pleased the commission was able to voice their concerns at the council meeting Monday night, and she says the ordinance should have easily passed.

“I know what we are about, I understand my values, I believe in the conversations we had about the title and I respect that everyone gets to have their own opinion on how they would like to see a process done,” said Mayor Emily Larson Tuesday. “I really think that we did a good job with a complicated topic and this is where it landed for now and I think that in the future people will look back and see that we were actually having a conversation that was far ahead of its time.”

Larson was able to change the Chief Financial Officer title to Finance Director because that title is not in the city charter. Larson says this is all part of a bigger plan to change language throughout the city to be more inclusive, gender neutral and with the modern times.

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