City Council Member Cam Gordon (Ward 2) presented his proposed charter amendment to a joint committee meeting Aug. 1. If approved by voters, it would reorganize control of the Minneapolis Police Department. Photo by Dylan Thomas

Police charter amendment advances on council vote

Updated: August 13, 2018 – 1:16 pm

A charter amendment that would transfer to the City Council some of the mayor’s exclusive authority over the Minneapolis Police Department won council approval Aug. 3, but it is unlikely to go before voters soon.

The proposed amendment would strike from the charter language that gives the mayor “complete power” over the department, clarifying that the mayor has “executive” power over police and that the council “may make rules and regulations” for the department. Council members approved the amendment on a 7-5 vote and forwarded a ballot question to the Charter Commission for review.

The commission is scheduled to meet Aug. 8. Speedy approval would keep alive the possibility that the question appears on the ballot Nov. 6, but Charter Commission Chair Barry Clegg cast doubt on that scenario.

Clegg said commission members raised concerns in an Aug. 1 meeting that there had been too little time for the public to debate what has proven to be a controversial proposal.

Ward 2 City Council Member Cam Gordon introduced the police charter amendment in late June, a week after two police officers shot and killed 31-year-old Thurman Blevins as he fled through a North Side alley. That left just an eight-week window for both the Charter Commission and City Council to agree on the wording of a ballot question and forward it to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office before an Aug. 24 deadline.

Clegg said there were also calls for additional research into how similar cities organize oversight of police.

“That takes time, we’re not going to compress that into a one-hour meeting,” he said.

That much was clear to City Council members before they voted to approve the ballot language on Aug. 3, leading one of the dissenters, City Council Member Lisa Goodman, to ask: “What is the rush to pass this today?”

“It feels like making a point, not like making a difference,” Goodman said. “It feels political, not policy-oriented. And it has served to divide us rather than unite us.”

She said there was a “mutual understanding” among council members that change needed to come to the police department but insisted: “This is not the way to do it.”

In voting against the charter amendment, Goodman was joined by City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins and council members Abdi Warsame, Linea Palmisano and Alondra Cano. Voting in favor were City Council President Lisa Bender and members Phillipe Cunningham, Jeremiah Ellison, Andrew Johnson, Jeremy Schroeder, Gordon and Steve Fletcher, who tweaked Gordon’s original proposal, crafting the version of the proposed charter amendment that was ultimately adopted. (Council Member Kevin Reich was absent.)

Mayor Jacob Frey said he and Chief Medaria Arradondo remained “adamantly opposed” to the amendment, adding that Arradondo believed its passage would make his job more difficult.

Frey said council members didn’t even have enough information to act. Noting the council had instructed City Attorney Susan Segal to analyze the charter’s current language and clarify the council’s present role in police department oversight, Frey said it would be inappropriate to advance the proposal without that “baseline information.”

“Clearly there’s confusion,” he said. “Clearly there’s a lack of understanding both about the present law as well as the implications of this charter amendment if passed.”

Council Member Ellison said the issue wasn’t that he and his colleagues didn’t understand their role in police department oversight.

“The truth is there is genuine gray area,” he said, adding later that the amendment would “provide that clarity.”