Civic beat: Independence of Park Board not going on ballot

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September 14, 2009 // UPDATED 9:48 am - September 14, 2009
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
Independence of Park Board not going on ballot

A proposed charter amendment to increase the financial independence of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is unconstitutional, a Hennepin County District judge ruled Sept. 10. That means voters won’t see the question before them in November.

Judge Cara Lee Neville’s decision largely came down to one issue: How separate and new of a governmental unit would the Park Board really become?

The charter amendment would deem the Park Board “a separate and independent governmental unit of the state of Minnesota.” More than 17,000 people signed a petition to get the amendment on the Nov. 3 ballot, but the City Council, citing a city attorney’s memorandum, decided not to move forward. Asking the city charter to create a new independent governmental unit is beyond its powers, Deputy City Attorney Peter Ginder argued.

But during a court hearing on Sept. 3, petitioners’ attorney Fred Morrison said the city had read too much into something that actually came down to semantics. What the proposed charter amendment would really do, Morrison said, is expand the Park Board’s authority within its current semi-independent, within-the-city position.

Ultimately, Neville sided with the city.

“The language of the petition which was circulated clearly states the intent of the proposed amendment is to create a ‘separate and independent governmental unit of the State of Minnesota,’” she said in a memorandum. “Only the legislature however has the constitutional authority to create a ‘state governmental unit.’”

Neville said city charters can make changes to city departments, but this seemed to go beyond that.

“The proper entity to create another state governmental unit is the legislature,” Neville wrote.

The petitioners also had argued that if any part of the proposed charter amendment were considered unconstitutional, the parts that are deemed OK should be retained and still go before voters. But Neville said that after all the unconstitutional parts are chopped off, a very different question would end up before voters. The 17,086 signatories wouldn’t necessarily back that question; therefore, Neville said, it should not go before voters.

Although voters definitely won’t see the question in November — the state-mandated cutoff date for ballot changes was Sept. 11 — the petitioners are expected to appeal. Attorney Brian Rice said more time would help the courts better evaluate the arguments. If a court overturns Neville’s decision, the charter question could go on a ballot during a later election.

The appeals process could take years, Rice added.

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No primary Sept. 15; still a chance to vote

On Sept. 15, Minneapolis residents won’t make any historic decisions. They won’t be entering official voting booths. They won’t whittle down lists of candidates to their favorites.

No — because of the introduction this fall of the city’s new voting method, there will be no primary election. Yet that doesn’t mean there won’t be any voting Sept. 15 in Minneapolis.

Hoping to prepare the city’s voters for the shift to ranked-choice voting, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party will be hosting a mock election that evening at locations throughout Minneapolis.

“Majority Rules” will be split up into three community meetings, which will be from 7–8:30 p.m. Each meeting will begin with an explanation on how to fill out a ranked-choice ballot, after which attendees will rank their top three declared and presumptive DFL 2010 gubernatorial candidates. The mock election is followed by a presentation on the intricacies of ranked-choice voting.

Before the end of the meetings, individual location results will be announced and explained. The ballots will then be combined for a citywide result to be announced later.

The meetings’ locations are Tiger Sushi, 2841 Lyndale Ave. S.; North Commons Park, 1701 Golden Valley Road; and the headquarters of Communication Workers of America Local 7200, 3521 E. Lake St.

The election is free and open to the public. DFL membership isn’t required.

More information — eventually including a sample ballot — is at majorityrulesmpls.org.

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Staff: Voluntary leave’s impact on budget likely to be small

A voluntary leave program proposed by and for city staffers might not make a big difference when it comes to the city’s finances, according to a report from Pam French, director of human resources.

French spoke before the City Council’s budget committee a few days after Mayor R.T. Rybak mentioned a voluntary leave program while unveiling his proposed 2010 budget. Rybak said it was an idea he had heard suggested several times by staffers to prevent layoffs.

But the city’s smallest departments are unlikely to benefit from such a program, French said. It would take about 35 people each taking 10 unpaid days off to save just one person’s job. That’s a number that could be impossible to manage in a small department, French said.

Large departments, however, could be a different story. Budget committee Chairman Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) said every little bit would help.

“Even if we can save five or 10 positions,” Ostrow said, “… that would be a big deal.”