Commission rejects police charter amendment

The Charter Commission voted Jan. 2 to reject a proposed amendment to the city’s charter that would divide authority over the Minneapolis Police Department between the mayor and City Council.

Ward 2 City Council Member Cam Gordon, who introduced the amendment in June, aimed to strike language from the charter that gives the mayor “complete power” over police. He proposed to retain executive control of the department within the mayor’s office while granting the council new powers to set rules and regulations for police.

At the time, Gordon described the charter provisions in question as “outdated and unwisely authoritarian.” But the Charter Commission found a number of shortcomings in Gordon’s proposed alternative.

A report issued by the commission found the proposed amendment contained “contradictory and confusing language.” The commission’s research found little precedent for the change in Minneapolis’ peer cities, and the report raised the possibility that sharing authority between the mayor and 13-member City Council — referred to in the report as the “‘14 bosses’ scenario” — would erase clear lines of accountability.

In a social media post, Gordon maintained it should be up to voters to decide whether the council may exercise the same policy-making authority over the MPD as it does the city’s other departments. He described the commission’s decision as a “double blow against democracy & police accountability.”

Gordon initially aimed to place the amendment before voters last November, but that would’ve required the Charter Commission to conduct a speedy review. Instead, the commission chose to extend its typical 60-day review period by another 90 days, the maximum allowed by statute, in part to allow for three public hearings. The commission’s decision pushed the review period beyond the deadline for submitting a 2018 ballot question to the Minnesota Secretary of State.

The council may choose to ignore the Charter Commission’s recommendation to reject the amendment, but even then the it won’t go before voters until the next election in 2020 at the earliest. A “yes” vote from at least 51 percent of voters is required for adoption.

Both Mayor Jacob Frey and Medaria Arradondo, the chief of police, opposed the amendment. The commission’s report echoed concerns raised last year by Frey, who warned the proposed changes would “dilute” accountability for police, hamper the city’s ability to respond in emergencies and create a “ward-by-ward patchwork” of policies for the department.

The report also noted the authority over police currently held by the council, including its role in reviewing and approving the mayor’s nominee for police chief and its legislative power over department budgets.