After numerous public squabbles and rulings from a judge, the public safety charter amendment language Minneapolis voters will see on ballots this fall has finally been finalized.
City council members, at a Tuesday afternoon emergency meeting called by Mayor Jacob Frey, voted 12-1 to adopt the latest iteration of the ballot text. The language includes a yes/no question that involves replacing the Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Public Safety, as well as an explanatory note.
Here's the final language:
City Question #2
Department of Public Safety
Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to remove the Police Department and replace it with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions by the Department of Public Safety, with those specific functions to be determined by the Mayor and City Council by ordinance; which will not be subject to exclusive mayoral power over its establishment, maintenance, and command; and which could include licensed peace officers (police officers), if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety, with the general nature of the amendments being briefly indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?
This amendment would create a Department of Public Safety combining public safety functions through a comprehensive public health approach to be determined by the Mayor and Council. The department would be led by a Commissioner nominated by the Mayor and appointed by the Council. The Police Department, and its chief, would be removed from the City Charter. The Public Safety Department could include police officers, but the minimum funding requirement would be eliminated.
A last-minute ruling from a Hennepin County judge necessitated the emergency City Council meeting. On Tuesday morning, Judge Jamie Anderson struck down the charter amendment ballot language the City Council had approved on Aug. 21. Anderson called the wording for the question "vague, ambiguous and incapable of implementation," as well as "unreasonable and misleading."
Here's the language she rejected:
Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to strike and replace the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety which could include licensed peace officers (police officers) if necessary, with administrative authority to be consistent with other city departments to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety?
It was the latest in a string of court orders council members and the mayor have navigated in recent weeks, all amid often-public political bickering over the charter amendment.
The City Council initially approved ballot language in July, but the inclusion of an explanatory note led to issues. Anderson, in a ruling following a lawsuit, called the note "problematic" but said the city could write a new one. City Council members did just that, but faced opposition from Frey, who vetoed the initial rewrite.
That veto meant council members had to write new language again, approving the text in the final hours of a rapidly approaching Aug. 20 deadline.
It was that text Anderson struck down Tuesday morning, resulting in the passage of the revised language during the hastily called 1:30 p.m. emergency meeting. Council members had until 3 p.m. to finalize the language.
Frey, who often clashed with council members over various versions of the ballot question and explanatory note, did not sign the resolution. It moves forward as "deemed approved."
In a statement after the meeting, Frey said that the text the city council approved matched what had been drafted and recommended by the City Attorney's Office and City Clerk in August, a statement from the mayor's office said.
“Regrettably, the council ignored the advice of subject matter experts and attempted to hide the ball from voters in the language they previously drafted," Frey said in the statement.
The proposal itself has been the subject of intense debate. A local political lawyer and lobbyist, Nick Harper, wrote a clear explanation on Medium (focused on the now-outdated language, though the basic takeaways remain the same). For example, if the charter amendment passes, it would not eliminate police or the police chief, as both are still required by city statutes.