Charter Commission Considers Competing Police Ballot Questions

The Minneapolis Charter Commission is considering an alternative amendment to the city charter regarding police and public safety. This means voters could be faced with competing ballot questions in November.

The newest proposal would eliminate a minimum staffing requirement for the Minneapolis Police Department — same as the City Council proposal. But it would leave in place language specifying how that department is embedded within city government. It would also preserve language giving the Mayor “complete power over the establishment, maintenance, and command” of MPD.

The City Council’s original proposal would do more than simply eliminate the minimum police staffing requirement enacted in 1961. It creates a new department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention. It gives the council the option to create a law enforcement division within that new department. Council members have previously stressed how important it is for the new department’s law enforcement capacity to take a subordinate role to the “holistic” public safety approach of the new department.

City Council Proposal

  • Eliminates minimum police staffing requirement
  • Traditional policing is subordinate to holistic approach
  • Shifts some authority over public safety from Mayor to City Council

Charter Commission Alternative

  • Eliminates minimum police staffing requirement
  • Leaves MPD in place as a required, standalone department
  • Leaves Mayor with “complete power over the establishment, maintenance, and command” of MPD.

Commissioner Al Giraud-Isaacson, who put forward the alternative, said department staffing levels shouldn’t be set in the charter and that his proposal has the advantage of being a “simple, clear, straightforward ballot question.”

The Charter Commission will meet again tonight at 6 p.m. to conduct a public hearing on the City Council’s original proposal. A public hearing for the alternative ballot question is set for next Monday at 5 p.m. If you want to testify at any of the city’s public hearings you must register to call in at this link (note: next Monday’s hearing hasn’t been posted yet, so check back later).

Commissioner Andrew Kozak expressed disappointment in how last week’s public hearing was conducted. Though each caller was given the same one-minute time limit, opinion was tilted heavily in favor of the Council proposal. The vast majority of callers expressed a desire to have the City Council’s amendment put on the ballot. Kozak, a lobbyist for the tough on crime Downtown Council and other business interests, said he wanted future public hearings to be structured in a way to guarantee opponents get “equal time to talk.” (I have never seen public hearings conducted this way in Minneapolis. If you want to talk, you get to talk. Time isn’t divided equally between two sides.)

It’s unclear at this time how or whether two somewhat contradictory proposals can be put to voters on the same ballot. The question arises: what if both are approved? It’s expected that the city attorney will weigh in on how this works.

Commissioner Andrea Rubenstein noted a conflict between “may” and “must.” While the City Council’s language offers flexibility (“may maintain a division of law enforcement services”), the alternative proposal leaves in place the existing requirement (“must establish” a police department).

Rubenstein added, “On the other hand because the comments and the emails have been so divided, it’s giving the city of Minneapolis a choice that they want to have.”

In order for either proposal to end up on the ballot this November, the Charter Commission would need to act by their August 5 meeting. They have the ability to take additional time which would keep one or both amendments off the ballot this year. Some commissioners have expressed a desire to do that (which I have called out as a delay tactic meant to kill the proposal and deny voters a chance to weigh in).

While several commissioners liked the idea of competing proposals, Commissioner Dan Cohen spoke strongly against both. He argued the commission “has a legal and moral obligation to uphold the strong Minneapolis police force for the benefit of citizens of this city. I believe these proposals punish the many brave and law abiding police for the sins of the few, such as the horrible crime against George Floyd.”

The City Council’s 13 members are elected every four years by Minneapolis voters. The Charter Commission’s 15 members are appointed by the chief judge on the Hennepin County District Court.