Charter Commission votes to consider amendment 90 days, blocking city council proposal from Nov. ballot

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The Minneapolis City Council’s proposal to remove the requirement for a police department from the city charter will not go on the November ballot.

The Charter Commission voted to approve a motion Wednesday to delay offering a recommendation to the city council about its amendment to change the future of the Minneapolis Police Department.

The 15-member judge-appointed group approved a motion by Jill Garcia on a 10 to 5 vote to consider the amendment for an additional 90 days as allowed by state law. It could be on the ballot for 2021.

Multiple commissioners criticized the city council for opacity, haste and a lack of community engagement.

“The city council’s charter proposal represents the most sweeping and radical change in living memory,” Commissioner Greg Abbott said. “It deserves much more scrutiny and discussion than we can give it in a mere 35 days.”

“Frankly, I’m a bit pissed off, sorry about the language, about what appears to be political manipulation by the city council,” Commissioner Jan Sandberg said.

The city council’s amendment would remove the requirement to have a police force from the city charter in order to replace it with a new community safety and violence prevention office. The commission had the option to reject, approve or provide an alternative to the city council’s amendment.

Several commissioners said they were “torn,” “split” or “conflicted” in the decision. The 10 commissioners voting in favor of the 90-day delay cited more time needed to educate voters and hold public referendums (there were four public hearings held by the commission for the city council amendment and a charter commission alternative), examining the legality, avoiding a “reactive” decision to a tragedy, and calling out the lack of engagement with Black activists and community leaders who have been speaking out about the future of police.

“If our goal is to transform a failed system and a failed department, let’s do it thoughtfully, and create a system that has the greatest likelihood of being a successful new paradigm for public safety,” Commissioner Peter Ginder said.

At a rally in early June at Powderhorn Park, councilmembers passionately stated their desire for a new model of policing, led by Councilmembers Jeremiah Ellison, Steve Fletcher, Alondra Cano, Cam Gordon and Lisa Bender. They hailed it as the first step toward transformational change within MPD and the nature of policing in the wake of the death of George Floyd with the world’s eyes on Minneapolis and how the city responded.

“There are a lot of big ideas being discussed, many of which are somewhat contradictory and we’re going to have to make decisions,” Fletcher said in a June meeting. “I want to be clear that if we wanted to pursue a Camden (N.J.)-style restart, as many have said, we need a charter change. If we want to abolish the police, as some are calling for, we need a charter change. If we want to create a more balanced department that relies less on police but maintains a police force, we need a charter change.”

Mayor Jacob Frey opposed the measure as too broad and has said he does not support abolishing police.

Those who voted against the delay said it was their responsibility to submit a recommendation and allow the voters to decide. 

“I hope there’s a plan out there to get us to either approve, reject or offer an alternative, because our role here is not to safeguard the city council amendment from the charter,” Commissioner Al Giraud-Isaacson said. “That’s not our role the way I see it.”

“It’s perfectly true we lack sufficient information to make an informed decision about the amendment, but an extension to consider it will not help us fill in any crucial missing pieces and will simply be to stall it so it won’t end up on the ballot,” Commissioner Andrea Rubenstein said.

In a series of tweets, council President Lisa Bender wrote the vote was “disappointing and creates barriers to change but it will not stop our work to re-imagine public safety in Minneapolis.” She criticized the “apolitical” description of the body.

The charter commission members claimed multiple times tonight that they are an apolitical, independent body, while arguing to keep a question of the ballot so that voters could directly weigh in. But these are folks highly involved in City politics.

— Lisa Bender (@lisabendermpls) August 5, 2020

“It is not our legacy to use bureaucratic processes to circumvent the people in an attempt to 'protect' voters from themselves,” Ellison said in a statement. “That is not democracy. In a democracy, the people decide. But I guess today the Charter Commission decided otherwise.”

Optimism that the amendment would be on the ballot deflated when last week the commission voted 8-6 to block a more narrow recommendation by Commissioner Giraud-Isaacson to remove the minimum staffing requirement for MPD, something that’s been in the charter for about 60 years as a result of influence by the police union.

The council and commissioner were working on an expedited timeline to reach the deadline for the November ballot.