Hearing on encampments descends into chaos as council member lashes out at colleagues, audience

A Minneapolis City Council committee meeting spiraled out of control Wednesday when one council member started hurling insults at one of her colleagues and got into a shouting match with a community activist in the audience.

City officials gave an update to the Public Health and Safety Committee on a south Minneapolis homeless encampment that had been cleared the day before.

Ward 4 Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw sat in on the meeting. She was chair of the committee during the previous term but no longer serves on it.

Toward the end of the hearing, Vetaw talked about her visits to homeless encampments and shared her personal experience with family members struggling with addiction. She also raised concerns about how council members were treating city staff and residents near the former encampment known as Camp Nenookaasi.

About five minutes into Vetaw’s speech, Ward 9 Council Member Jason Chavez, who chairs the committee, interrupted her to ask if she had a question for city staff.

“If you want to shut me down, just shut me down,” she responded. “Because I thought this was about both sides.”

Tensions rose from there.

Vetaw raised her voice and accused committee members of putting city staff “on trial” and “doing nothing” to help residents.

Chavez banged his gavel and tried to reel Vetaw in.

“You go ahead and disrespect when you are not a member of this committee. I’m going to ask you to stop,” Chavez said.

Vetaw went on to call Chavez “a fraud,” and encampment organizer Nicole Mason started trading remarks with her from the audience.

City Council President Elliott Payne sidled over to Vetaw’s chair on the panel, seemingly in an attempt to calm her down, but she shooed him away: “Don’t come down here by me.”

At that point, Chavez moved to adjourn the meeting, with a warning for Vetaw: “You will not disrespect the public.”

“OK, wah, wah, wah. I got a tiny violin for you,” she retorted.

“We all have a standard to uphold, and you have failed that standard. Thank you, we are adjourned,” Chavez concluded.

But the drama didn’t end there.

After the meeting, Vetaw walked up to Mason and got into yet another argument.

“I know you’re doing this from your heart. You worry about your people,” Vetaw said.

“So what’s the problem?” Mason replied.

“The problem is we’ve got people around there, Nicole. What about the people around the camp?”

“And I feel that. That’s why we need a solution,” Mason said back.

“What about the people around the camp?” Vetaw repeated.

“Why are we going about this wasting our time?” Mason asked. She stormed off soon after.

Over the course of the meeting, the committee learned that after the encampment at the corner of 14th Avenue South and East 26th Street was cleared, a new one formed a few blocks away. The city says it will clear that site out soon.