When local a ballot measure is put before voters either by petition or by the will of the city council, the definition of “what is, is,” comes to play. Because referenda is a change of course the interpretation of what the course correction is, is left to the governing authority. At the state level, a ballot question is a measure passed solely by the legislature and the governor has no role in determining this course of action, other than to use the bully pulpit and express his/her opinion on t the question.
In Minneapolis, the saga over ballot measures continues. Initially, the Vote 4 Minneapolis Coalition consisting largely of ACLU Minnesota and Reclaim the Block, secured the 20,000 signatures required for a ballot question to be put before the voters. Afterwards, the city council, as is their purview, drafted the following language,
“Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to strike and replace the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach, and which would include licensed peace officers (police officers) if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety, with the general nature of the amendments being briefly indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?”
It was felt that this language was not informative enough and in turn explanatory language was drafted to accompany the proposal, which read.
This amendment would create a new Department of Public Safety, which would:
Combine public safety functions of the City of Minneapolis into a comprehensive public health approach to safety, with the specific public safety functions to be determined.
Include licensed peace officers (police officers) if necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of the Department of Public Safety.
Be led by a Commissioner of Public Safety. The appointment process for the Commissioner would include a Mayor nomination and a City Council appointment. The Mayor would not have complete power over the establishment, maintenance, and command of the Department of Public Safety.
This amendment would also do the following:
Remove from the Charter a Police Department, which includes the removal of its Police Chief, and the removal of the Mayor’s complete power over the establishment, maintenance, and command of the Police Department.
Remove the City Council requirement to fund a police force of at least 1.7 employees per 1,000 residents.
Remove City Council authorization to impose additional taxation on taxable property in the City of Minneapolis of up to 0.3 percent of its value annually to fund the compensation of employees of the police force.
Last month, the Vote 4 Minneapolis took the matter the Minneapolis City Council to court because of what it took upon itself to do, by putting explanatory language to accompany the referendum. On July 13th, Hennepin County Judge Jamie Anderson, ruled this explanatory language to be “problematic” and she called the for the language to be stricken. This set off a flurry of activity, where the council proposed and the mayor disposed with a series of vetoes. Later, on Friday, the city council approved new language, Mayor Jacob Frey (DFL-MN) again vetoed the proposed language on “Police Reform,” proposed by City Councilmember Andrea Jenkins (DFL-Ward 08, Minneapolis) Jenkins Proposal and took to social media to explain his action. https://www.facebook.com/JacobFreyForMpls/videos/269652311315937
After the veto was upheld on an 8-4 vote with one abstention (Osman). The city council voted on a new language brought forward by Council Members Jenkins, Matthew Johnson (DFL-Ward 12, Minneapolis), Jamal Osman (DFL-Ward 06, Minneapolis) and Council President Lisa Bender (DFL-Ward 10, Minneapolis). The new language reads:
“Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to strike and replace the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety, which could include licensed peace officers (police officers) if necessary, with administrative authority to be consistent with other city departments to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety?”
This passed on a 9-4 veto proof majority and will be brought before the Minneapolis voters. To simplify, the question, a vote “Yes” we be to remove current Minneapolis Police Department to something different and undefined as the Department of Public Safety, and a vote “No” will be for the status quo.
To throw more problems into the issue another ballot question will potentially decide what the power structure in Minneapolis will look like. The current “weak mayor system” and the overly broad powers of the city council are up for change in an amendment proposed by the city charter commission.
“Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to make the Mayor the City’s chief executive officer and administrative authority, and to make the City Council the legislative body with general legislative, policymaking, and oversight authority in the City, with the general nature of the amendments being briefly indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?”
This too came with an explanatory note which reads:
- Divide municipal powers and functions between an elected chief executive, the Mayor, and an elected legislative body, the City Council.
- Define the City Council as being the City’s legislative body with all legislative, policymaking, and oversight authority and remove reference to governing body. The City Council would continue to appoint and discharge the City Clerk. The City Council would be required to fund nonpartisan administrative staff and could also choose to fund their own aides as they do now. Require the City Council to establish an independent City Auditor’s Office in charge of audit services for the City’s finances and operations and an Audit Committee to oversee the City Auditor’s Office. The Audit Committee would appoint the Auditor for a term of at least four years and the City Council may remove the Auditor for cause.
- Eliminate the Executive Committee and its role in appointments, suspensions, and discharges of officers.
- Define the Mayor as being the City’s chief executive officer and administrative authority. The Mayor would appoint, with City Council’s consent, the heads of charter departments and other appointed officers, unless the charter or any applicable law provides otherwise. All employees appointed by the Mayor would have a four-year term that coincides with the Mayor’s term and could be disciplined and discharged by the Mayor.
- Define the City’s administration under the authority of the Mayor as being all administrative and operating departments not under the City Council or a board or commission created by the charter, or as otherwise provided by any applicable law. The City Council, its committees, and members would not be allowed to issue orders to, to direct, or to supervise those departments and employees under the City’s administration, nor request information not classified as public data. The City Council may seek information or assistance from the City’s administration and the Mayor must furnish any information that the City Council requests to carry out its legislative function.
So, at the end of the day, the Police Reform measure could pass or not and if it does the then either the current configuration will decide what that means or a new mayoral based executive structure will determine the final outcome. Seem confusing, not at all, it’s just Minneapolis.