Minneapolis

Minneapolis leaders to discuss policing, rent control and mayoral power this afternoon

2021-07-21 13:49:06 –

Minneapolis City Council members will meet this afternoon to discuss the wording of ballot questions that will determine the future of the police department, rent control, and the city’s power structure.

As they meet, activist groups and members of the court-appointed Charter Commission will be closely watching to see how the council members proceed.

Some of the measures have elicited strong reactions in the community and have become key issues in the November elections, where the mayor and City Council races are also up for grabs.

Council members could make preliminary decisions on some of the ballot questions today, or they could postpone. The city has an Aug. 20 deadline for submitting ballot wording to the county.

Policing and public safety

Earlier this year, a new political committee called Yes4Minneapolis gathered petition signatures to place a question about policing and public safety on the ballot.

Their proposal asks voters to approve a plan that would create a new public safety department that would include police officers “if necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of the department.”

It would eliminate requirements to keep a minimum number of officers based on the city’s population and remove the mayor’s “complete power” over police operations, likely granting the council more sway.

When a group collects signatures to place an item on the ballot, as Yes4Minneapolis did, the mayor and council members work with the City Attorney’s Office to determine the precise wording.

They can’t change the substance of the proposal itself and are required to present the question to voters in a nonpartisan way.

If past meetings serve as an indicator, the discussion today will likely focus on which aspects of the proposal to include in the ballot question and an explanatory note accompanying it.

Power balance in City Hall

A separate proposal written by the Charter Commission will ask voters to decide whether to change the power balance inside City Hall. restricting some of the council’s roles and giving the mayor more influence over departments’ daily operations

Under that proposal, the council would focus primarily on legislative duties such as writing ordinances and vetting city budgets. It would retain sway over the clerk’s office and auditor.

The mayor would serve as the “chief executive” for most of the largest departments, including police, fire and public works, among others. Council members would not be permitted to “usurp, invade, or interfere with the mayor’s direction or supervision.”

Elected officials have expressed varying views on the proposal. Some describe it as a welcome change that would help avoid a “14-boss problem” that hampered the city’s response to crises like the coronavirus pandemic and George Floyd’s death. Others have said they believe the city’s ward system is crucial for ensuring that people who live in areas with lower voter turnout have representation in City Hall.

In a meeting last month, some council members said they had questions about how the new system would work and needed additional information before finalizing the ballot language.

In a separate meeting earlier this month, some charter commissioners said they feared council members were crossing the line into politicking. The commission authorized its leaders to retain an attorney and “take any steps necessary … to ensure that accurate and impartial ballot question language is forwarded to the ballot on a timely basis.”

Rent control and stabilization

Two measures with the potential to limit rent increases in Minneapolis are also in the mix. Both were written by Council President Lisa Bender and Council Members Cam Gordon and Jeremiah Ellison.

One version would give residents the ability to write a rent stabilization ordinance. If they collect enough signatures supporting that effort, the city would be able to “enact the ordinance without change,” or instruct the clerk to put a question about the ordinance on the ballot, if it passes a legal analysis.

The Charter Commission, during its required review process, recommended rejecting that proposal. It argued that state law would prohibit the city from enacting the new ordinance without an additional vote by residents.

While state law largely limits rent control for private properties, it has a provision allowing cities such as Minneapolis to enact such measures “to the extent that the power or authority is otherwise provided for by law, and if the ordinance or charter amendment is approved in a general election.”

In its report, the commission also said it believes voter initiative is “not appropriate for the City.” While acknowledging there are some arguments in favor of them, the commission also wrote that citizen initiatives sometimes result in “a badly drafted law,” while lawmakers can negotiate and consult with attorneys to draft versions that are more likely to hold up in court. It also cited criticism from some who believe voter initiatives can pose “threats to minority rights.”

Those comments have drawn ire from activists who accused the commission of being undemocratic and using a legal analysis as cover for a racist argument.

“When the Charter Commission says they want to protect minority interests, they mean the economic elite, like corporate landlords, developers, and out-of-state investors who continue to profit off this housing crisis. The feared majority in this case, are renters, working-class homeowners, and Black, Indigenous, and immigrant communities, who are the most impacted by these skyrocketing rent increases,” Qannani Omar, an organizer with Minneapolis United for Rent Control, said in a news release.

A second proposal would allow the City Council to write a rent control or rent stabilization ordinance and says they “may” put it before voters.

The Charter Commission has suggested making tweaks to that proposal, based on state law. It suggested adding a provision stating that “before the ordinance can take effect,” council members must place it before voters for approval. The city attorney’s office, in a newly released memo, backed that suggestion.

Council members must decide which, if any, of the rent control measures to place on the ballot. They can choose to put either or both of their original proposals on the ballot, to adopt the Charter Commission’s proposed tweaks, or to keep all of the measures off the ballot.

This story is developing and will be updated.

Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994

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Minneapolis leaders to discuss policing, rent control and mayoral power this afternoon Source link Minneapolis leaders to discuss policing, rent control and mayoral power this afternoon

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