A calling to public service

Meet Commissioner Angela Conley

Meet Commissioner Angela Conley

Angela Conley felt called to public service while applying for public assistance.

The newly elected District 4 commissioner, who faced housing and food insecurity as a young single mother, vividly recalls standing in line at the Century Plaza building. And she remembers feeling like the process could — and should — work much better.

“I know what it's like to be dependent on a system that is daunting. That is siloed. That ultimately is where folks go when they're at the bottom…" Conley said. “That was a calling for me, saying that 'Angela, you have to work here and you have to change it so it's better for people who are in your shoes when they come to apply.'"

Those experiences led to an 18-year career in human services with Hennepin County and the state of Minnesota before she ran for election last November.

“I've pretty much dedicated my career to making sure that we are serving in the best way possible those who are the most vulnerable in our county," Conley said.

From employee to commissioner

Being able to help families brought Conley joy. But over time, she said she saw disparities increase and she wanted to make a bigger difference.

Now, as chair of the board's Health and Human Services committee, Conley said she is able to shape policy decisions that she thinks will help the county reduce disparities in Health and Human Services and beyond. Getting to partner with staff to creatively problem solve and improve conditions for clients is important to her.

“I've waited 20 years to do this," Conley said.

Early impression and big challenges

Through her career in human services, Conley said she came to know the inner workings of state and county government like the back of her hand. As a commissioner, however, she has a broader view of how issues interconnect and how the county is trying to address them.

“We are operating a $2.4 billion budget," Conley said, adding it still feels surprising that an initiative costing millions of dollars and affecting thousands of residents might be represented as a single bullet on an agenda.

For Conley, the county's greatest strengths exist within its size and dedicated workforce.

“We have a far reach into communities. We have the opportunity to really create substantial change in a lot of different areas, a lot of different lines of business," Conley said, adding that she is proud of the new disparity reduction work being implemented countywide.

She said there is more work to do, however.

“We're facing some of the greatest disparities in the state of Minnesota… Minnesota ranks at the bottom in terms of best places for people of color to live," Conley said. Working to reduce those disparities is one of Hennepin County's greatest challenges. That work will take all staff and commissioners to be successful.

Conley said she wants staff to know the work they do makes a difference.

“We're making an impact in people's lives. We are often in a position where we can change people's lives for the better," Conley said. “It's a rewarding experience and we should feel privileged and humbled that we have the opportunity to be in a position to change people's lives for the better."

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