The 2019 Community Leadership Awards
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman introduced the people who were receiving Community Leadership Awards from his office as men and women who do the tedious and sometimes frustrating work of helping people and get them on the right path.
“These folks we are honoring don’t issue press releases to give long speeches,” Freeman said Wednesday afternoon. “They work at the street level. They know that there is no quick fix to the enormous challenges we face today.”
The exception may have been the keynote speaker to the 19th Annual Community Leadership Awards, Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Lillehaug. He spent 32 years in private practice, but also was the U.S. Attorney from 1994 to 1998 and was part of Paul Wellstone’s successful campaign for U.S. Senate and Walter Mondale’s unsuccessful campaign for president in 1984.
Lillehaug spoke passionately about the rule of law, noting that when the Minnesota Supreme Court has its oral hearings at the courtroom in the Capitol, he frequently looks up and sees one word painted on the domed ceiling: Lex, Latin for law.
“The law is above us all,” Lillehaug said. “The rule of law is greater than any one of us.”
Minneapolis Police Sgt. Sara Metcalf received the law enforcement award for her fine work as an investigator for the department’s gangs unit and for being lowered in a harness into the support structure of a bridge over the Mississippi River to talk a woman out of jumping.
“I asked her about it,” said Senior Hennepin County Attorney Thad Tudor, who introduced her. “She said, ‘yeah, I rappeled down and talked her into not doing it. ‘ That was about all I could get her to say. It did not surprise me at all. That is Sara. Quiet, competent and someone truly deserving of recognition for the outstanding work she does.”
Muna Galbayte, now attending Augsburg University, and Austin Berger, a junior at the University of Minnesota received the education award for their work with Protect Minnesota the past couple of years, working to pass sensible gun laws. They produced videos and organized other students to volunteer. They spoke at rallies and testified at the state Capitol, Berger for a bill that would require background checks for firearm transfers and Galbayte for a bill that would allow a judge to remove guns from a person deemed a significant danger to themselves or others.
Galbayte thanked her mother, who inspires her, Nancy Nord Bence, the executive director of Protect Minnesota “who let me use my voice” and the community of Eden Prairie. Berger thanked the politicians in the room, including Freeman, who have inspired him.
The collaboration award went to the people working on reducing the number of juveniles who are forced into the court system. Tom Arneson, managing attorney for the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office Juvenile Prosecution Division, said that their efforts have resulted in a full third of the youths who commit a crime being diverted into alternatives, rather than going through court.
The county employees honored were Willie Bridges, Deb Larson, Roberta Gitchel, Tari Sudduth and Laurie Kuzel. Those honored from Headway Emotional Health Services were Jennifer Gustafson, Alisha Hayes, Corey Harland and Trey Fails. Abdi Ali of the Center for Multicultural Mediation also was honored.
“It is up to each of us to support the children in our community,” said Bridges who has been working on diversion for 25 years. “I always ask, ‘how are our kids?’ ”
The Community Engagement award went to Kimberly Spates, Tee McClenty, Brandon Jones and Rose McCullough of NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center. The center, which serves residents in North Minneapolis and surrounding areas, makes sure people receive health care, but also provide programs ranging from anti-truancy, a food shelf, a co-parenting court and other trauma-informed services.
“We are excited to provide services to our community,” Spates said, adding that they exist “to bring our community together.”
The County initiatives award went to Hennepin County employees who worked on the scanning project. Dan Rogan, managing attorney for the Civil Division, said their work is saving the county tens of thousands of dollars. They took 8,000 bankers’ boxes of paper legal records and evidence from private storage warehouses and turned them into electronic files. That is the equivalent of five semi-trailer trucks.
John Jensen of Hennepin County Compliance led the project and he was assisted by Rob Dane of the county attorney’s criminal division and Valeria Maroto, Jill Aldes and Mark Berkley of the county’s IT Imaging Unit.
Finally, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney John Kirwin was honored for his long career and specifically his work in helping to create the sexually dangerous person commitment law and defending it, twice, before the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Kirwin said he has been fortunate to have a job with “challenging legal issues” and to work with people with “integrity, compassion and a commitment to others.”