Council majority blocks discussion of minimum wage appeal

Protesters want city to drop appeal already heard by Minnesota Supreme Court

Supporters of a Minneapolis charter amendment that would set a city minimum wage of $15 hit a roadblock at City Hall this morning.

They want the city to drop its appeal of an Aug. 22 Hennepin County District Court ruling that put the minimum wage question in front of voters this fall. But City Council Member Alondra Cano’s attempt to open a discussion on dropping the appeal this morning was rejected by a majority of her colleagues on the Committee of the Whole.

The Minnesota Supreme Court already heard arguments on the appeal yesterday and is expected to release a decision before the end of the week. That’s the deadline Hennepin County has set for changes to the November ballot.

Cano successfully made a motion to amend the Committee of the Whole agenda, so that the subject of the appeal could be raised. But City Attorney Susan Segal said a public discussion of the city’s options in an ongoing legal case would require the committee to first vote to waive attorney-client privilege, and a motion to do so by Cano was supported only by Council Member Cam Gordon.

Cano said she couldn’t bring a motion to drop the appeal without discussing the issue with the city attorney first.

“I’m really disappointed our city resources are being used to keep people in poverty,” she said, eliciting applause from the charter amendment supporters who packed Council chambers ahead of the meeting.

At question in the case is whether a minimum wage is an appropriate subject for the city’s charter. An attorney for the city argued Tuesday that the minimum wage is an issue that should be dealt with through ordinance and that the city has no initiative process allowing proposed ordinances to be put directly to voters.

The lawsuit against the city was brought by a trio of local organizations: Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) and 15 Now Minnesota. Members of those organizations and other charter amendment supporters rallied outside of City Hall ahead of today’s meeting, chanting: “What do we want? Fifteen dollars! When do we want it? Now!”

NOC Field Director Mike Griffin said the Supreme Court decision was a “coin flip.” But if they lose, Griffin continued, NOC planned to organize “the largest grass roots campaign this city has ever seen.”

“City Council has a choice to make,” Griffin said. “Either we go to the ballot and win or we demand they pass it this year.”

After the majority of the City Council took the city attorney’s advice and voted against placing the minimum wage question on the ballot earlier this month, an alternative motion to have the City Coordinator’s office study the issue and bring forward a recommendation in 2017 was made and passed.

Although the moment may have passed for the city to drop the appeal, the question of what would happen if the city made the request was addressed by Kyle Christopherson, a communications specialist for the Minnesota Judicial Branch.

“The bottom line is really anything is possible,” Christopherson said, adding that the court prefers not to speculate on the possibilities.

The first step would be for the city to notify the Supreme Court that it intended to drop the appeal. The justices would have to weigh the request and make a decision, Christopherson said.

He noted an appellate procedure rule regarding voluntary dismissal states “if parties to an appeal execute and file with the clerk of appellate courts, (the appeal) can be dismissed upon approval of appellate court.”