Minneapolis Ballot Question 1: City Governance

Question 1 on the Minneapolis ballot: “Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to adopt a change in its form of government to an Executive Mayor-Legislative Council structure to shift certain powers to the Mayor, consolidating administrative authority over all operating departments under the Mayor, and eliminating the Executive Committee?”

Currently the mayor and 13 City Council members determine how to create and execute policy. In simple terms, changing the charter in this way would more clearly designate the mayor as the chief executive and the City Council as a legislative and policy making body that oversees how the mayor is executing the vision and budget.

Why is this a question?

Minneapolis is unique in the state as a home rule city, which enables it to create its own constitution — the charter — and claim powers to structure its government and ordinances without state authorization, according to a League of Women Voters Minneapolis editorial and history.

The charter defines the powers and authority of the city government, as granted by the people; determines the city’s operating structure and its officers, including their responsibilities and how they are chosen; dictates how official actions are made, executed, and enforced; and can be changed only by a vote of residents or unanimous approval by the City Council, mayor, and Charter Commission.

In other words, when some members of the City Council indicated after George Floyd was murdered that they would work with others to defund the police, it was against the rules to change the charter. The mayor also cannot unilaterally make changes in city governance without the support of Council members. There have been a variety of changes to the charter since it was originally created in 1920.

This checks-and-balances system works — as we have seen in state and federal government — when the executive and legislative bodies are able to communicate and compromise on issues. When they do not, it is difficult to implement changes regardless of public opinion.

A change to the charter system with this ballot question — which was proposed by the Charter Commission — would consolidate more power in the hands of the mayor.

Does this make it easier or harder to enact public safety reform?

City leadership is already within its authority to adapt its response to 911 calls, to embed social workers and co-responder programs, as many police departments in Hennepin County have been doing, and to prioritize other aspects of public health and violence prevention. Temporary measures during riots are already under the purview of the mayor.

Find the current charter, and the changes proposed, here. One of the major changes is the addition of: “Separation of powers. Except as this charter otherwise provides, neither the City Council nor any
Council committee or member may usurp, invade, or interfere with the Mayor’s direction or supervision
of the administration for which this article VII provides.”

The specific wording related to the police department is largely unchanged and reads as follows:

§ 7.3. – Police.
(a) Police department. The Mayor has complete power over the establishment, maintenance, and
command of the police department. The Mayor may make all rules and regulations and may promulgate
and enforce general and special orders necessary to operating the police department. Except where the
law vests an appointment in the department itself, the Mayor appoints and may discipline or discharge
any employee in the department (subject to the Civil Service Commission’s rules, in the case of an
employee in the classified service).
(1) Police chief.
(A) Appointment. The Mayor nominates and, with the City Council’s consent, appoints a police
chief under section 8.4(b).
(B) Term. The chief’s term is three years.
(C B) Civil service. The chief serves in the unclassified service, but with the same employee benefits
(except as to hiring and removal) as an officer in the classified service. If a chief is appointed from the
classified service, then he or she is treated as taking a leave of absence while serving as chief, after which
he or she is entitled to return to his or her permanent grade in the classified service. If no vacancy is
available in that grade, then the least senior employee so classified returns to his or her grade before
being so classified.
(D) Public health. The chief must execute the City Council’s orders relating to the preservation of health.
(2) Police officers. Each peace officer appointed in the police department must be licensed as required by
law. Each such licensed officer may exercise any lawful power that a peace officer enjoys at common law
or by general or special law, and may execute a warrant anywhere in the county.
(b) Temporary police. The Mayor may, in case of riot or other emergency, appoint any necessary
temporary police officer for up to one week. Each such officer must be a licensed peace officer.
(c) Funding. The City Council must fund a police force of at least 0.0017 employees per resident, and
provide for those employees’ compensation, for which purpose it may tax the taxable property in the City
up to 0.3 percent of its value annually. This tax is in addition to any other tax, and not subject to the
maximum set under section 9.3(a)(4).

Sen. Patricia Torres Ray and Nekima Levy-Armstrong
Sen. Patricia Torres Ray (l) and Nekima Levy-Armstrong at the Minnesota Women’s Press “Using Your Voice & Vote” in 2018.

We asked Minnesota Senator Patricia Torres Ray — who represents District 63 in southeastern Minneapolis and eastern Richfield Minneapolis — for her thoughts on all three ballot measures being proposed to Minneapolis voters on November 2.

For Question 1, she says she will vote “no,” for technical reasons. If the measure passes, the mayor would be the City’s chief executive officer and would have the authority to appoint agency heads with the consent of the Council. That is not very different from what happens now, Torres Ray says.

She opposes the elimination of the city’s Executive Committee, which includes the mayor, city council president, and up to three other council members. “The City Council and the Mayor should work together, and the Executive Committee serves as a vehicle to connect the mayor and council members,” she says. “If the executive committee is eliminated we will have a further divide between the Mayor and City Council members.” 

She says that if Questions 1 and 2 both pass, the City will have a problem. “The council would have more control of the new public safety department, and the mayor will have control over all other divisions. This does not help our city coordinate efforts to ensure safety for all.” The bureaucratic nature of the city requires effective public safety coordination.

“People are looking for accountability and transparency in our city right now,” Torres Ray says, adding that Minneapolis residents are unclear about how to hold the mayor and  the council members accountable. People also are confused about the power of the executive committee and the charter commission. “Although I plan to vote No on Question 1, I have not taken a strong position because I believe that positioning the mayor in an executive position creates accountability,” she says. “If Question 1 passes, the mayor will be fully accountable to Minneapolis residents — we need greater accountability in the mayor’s office.”

Torres Ray indicates she would rather shelve the possibility for now of giving more authority to the mayor.

Minnesota Women’s Press asked members of the Yes 4 Minneapolis coalition, which supports Question 2, for insights on how that ballot measure impacts their position on Question 1. Kenza Hadj-Moussa, director of public affairs for TakeAction Minnesota, responded.

Kenza Hadj-Moussa: “No”

Kenza Hadj-Moussa

In Minneapolis, we value our strong local democracy. City Council members hear our voices and, in recent years, have led Minneapolis forward on major issues including $15 wages, paid sick days, tenant protections, rent stabilization, higher environmental standards and more. For City Question 1, it is critical to consider who decided to put this amendment on the ballot — the mostly white, unelected Charter Commission — and who benefits from consolidating power in the hands of the Mayor.

Our City Council represents every corner of the city equally. Mayoral control benefits the whitest, wealthiest wards who tend to vote at the highest rates in off-year city elections. The same PACs and dark money groups pushing for mayoral control also support the status quo on public safety and oppose rent stabilization.

Lastly, the mayor has exclusive control over the police department. If there is anything we have learned since the murder of George Floyd, it is that we need to transform and expand our system of public safety. We need more, not less public oversight of our police department.

Catherine Shreves: “Yes”

Catherine Shreves, who has been working with a team to educate voters on Question 1, made herself available for a recorded Zoom conversation, representing the Charter 4 Change movement. She explained why she is working to consolidate more executive power in the hands of the mayor.