Shep Harris Reflects on 12 Years as Golden Valley Mayor
After more than a decade as Golden Valley’s top elected official, Shep Harris feels good about the job he’s done.
“I feel like a lot has been accomplished over 12 years, and the city is a good position,” he said. “This is a good pivot point.”
Harris did not run for re-election this year. His last day in the mayor’s seat is Jan. 2, 2024.
He said he came into this final term as mayor with a specific goal in mind.
“What was really motivating me was a number of residents who wanted to see change in the area of racial justice,” he said.
But, after years of fighting, he’s ready to move on.
“There has been a small but vocal backlash on some of the racial justice changes and improvements that we’ve wanted to make — and that was hard, it was not easy,” Harris said. “I would say that honestly wore me down quite a bit.”
His recent years as mayor were sometimes controversial. Issues related to policing and diversity were often in the forefront. He’s also at times been an outspoken critic of the Golden Valley Police Department.
On March 1, 2022, he publicly read a statement during a city council meeting accusing the police department of having a “toxic culture” of racism.
This came as the city was searching for a new police chief.
“What I have come to realize is some ugly truths,” Harris said in March 2022. “I believe that the search process has been negatively influenced by a group of people within the police department … It has infected the department and created a toxic culture of hostility, intimidation, paternalism and unfortunately, racism.”
Harris endorsed police chief candidate Virgil Green for the full-time role.
Following the incident, former interim Golden Valley Police Chief Scott Nadeau resigned and withdrew his name from consideration for the chief role. The city eventually hired Green.
Nadeau has since filed a reverse discrimination lawsuit in federal court against the city.
Harris later apologized for his comments.
Police staffing levels also fell. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s office has covered the department’s day shift.
Outgoing Mayor Harris Reflects on Police Issues
“I do think often of how that could have been done differently,” Harris said on Dec. 28. “But at the same time, how to honor the voices of people that were coming forward that were seeing some pretty awful things.”
Harris said he’s not sure a different approach would have resulted in a different outcome.
“I think the changes that we’ve made still needed to happen,” he said. “The question is just could the route that we took be done differently. Would we have still run into some of these controversies? I think we would have.”
But even with the controversies, Harris said he feels the police department is well-situated for the future.
“I have a lot of confidence in the police leadership and the people they’re hiring,” he said. “I think the challenge now is to continuing to be persistent on these [racial justice] goals.”
‘This Will Always Be Home’
Harris looked back fondly on some of the decisions the council made.
“We have increased our housing diversity, we have passed regulations that better protect our kids when it comes to tobacco,” he said.
Harris also mentioned President Barack Obama’s 2012 visit to Golden Valley as a highlight.
But it’s not only policy decisions that Harris said he’ll miss when he leaves office.
“One of the things I’ll miss the most is how this job has allowed me to create friendships and relationships, and learn that we have some really amazing residents who do amazing things on a daily basis,” he said.
An even if he moves away from Golden Valley at some point in the future, “this will always be home,” he said. “We’ll always have some kind of footprint here.”