Here’s an early start on the holiday theme of hope, peace, love, new year, and new beginnings. I bring you tidings of comfort and joy about Minneapolis local government in 2024.
We learned a lot on election night when two open seats on the Minneapolis City Council flipped, creating a new progressive majority. A big deal — even if 7-6 is slim and subject to veto. But events of the last month indicate the council’s progressive faction might be operating with a bigger tent in mind.
You might recall Council Member Emily Koski’s surprisingly sharp rebuke of Mayor Frey’s go-it-alone approach during the debate over MPD bonuses. She referred to him as the “executive who won’t speak with us” and emphasized the need for “collaboration.” That wasn’t a one-off. It translated into a truly collaborative budget amendment process. Of 45 council amendments to the mayor’s budget, 40 were unanimous and three were 11-1.
Leverage in dealing with the mayor
A more unified and cohesive city council is a good incentive for Mayor Frey to put away his veto pen and work with the council. In addition to the seven member core of the new progressive majority, there’s a pool of three council members who progressives can plausibly work with on any given issue to get to a veto-proof nine vote threshold: Koski, Osman, and Jenkins.
During much of the previous two year term, it seemed like the mayor had control over a council majority led by Jenkins and Palmisano. Heading into the next term, it’s not clear he has enough sway to force the kind of narrowly split 7-6 or 8-5 votes that would make progressive priorities vulnerable to his veto. If council members can’t work with the mayor, they will just work with each other.
A functioning legislative branch
The 2021 strong mayor ballot didn’t just create a strong executive, it kneecapped the council’s ability to carry out their legislative function. The city’s department staff, which had traditionally been there to help the council do their jobs, were suddenly answering exclusively to the mayor. But now the city council is finally standing up and defending the institution they were elected to be a part of.
During the budget amendment process two weeks ago, Council Member Chughtai spoke to the need to staff up. “There is no tool that we have here formally to do oversight and evaluation work through the legislative department right now. We are correcting that in this amendment. And making sure that we have oversight staff to help us carry out the core function of our job.”
Council Member Ellison successfully argued for funding staff (one each) for the council president and vice president, who take on extra responsibility of running the institution while still taking care of constituents in their individual ward. “We demand a lot of our council leadership and we still have to do our ward work.”
The council added a communications coordinator too. No longer is the legislative branch “the only part of our city enterprise that doesn’t have dedicated communication staff,” as Chughtai put it. After the 2021 government restructure, the mayor took sole control of the city’s communications department, in addition to the communications staff already housed in his office.
Experience gained, experience lost
Seven of 13 council members were newly elected in 2021. And if you include Jamal Osman who was first elected in 2020, that’s eight brand new council members. I don’t know how to quantify it, but it’s such an obvious point you should take my word for it: they’re getting better at this.
And then there’s the experience lost. Lisa Goodman has retired. After 26 years of pulling strings and twisting arms at city hall, the longest serving member of the of the city council in history is done. I know the politically correct thing is to say nice things as the powerful person exits the stage after many decades of war crimes, but not me! I don’t care how fun and hilariously mean she was — it can’t be overstated what a good thing it is that she’s gone.