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Minneapolis voters have the opportunity to weigh in on three separate charter amendments on Nov. 2, touching on city structure, public safety and rent stabilization. To pass, more than half of the votes counted for each ballot question need to be marked "Yes."

In order to cut through the noise and help you make an informed decision, we've put together a guide explaining what happens if the amendment passes, why it's being discussed, and the arguments for and against it.

Ballot question 1: 'Strong mayor' amendment

Minneapolis City Question 1

Question title: "Government Structure: Executive Mayor-Legislative Council"

If it passes: The structure of the city government would change. Administrative power over the city's various departments would be shifted away from the City Council and instead be consolidated under the mayor. The City Council would be explicitly defined as a legislative body. 

The background: The City Council currently plays a significant role in some administrative department functions. Appointing (or removing) most department heads, for example, requires the involvement of the mayor, the Executive Committee and the full City Council. This structure is sometimes referred to as "weak mayor-strong council," since the mayor doesn't have full executive authority. If this charter amendment passes, it would flip to a "strong mayor" set-up, where the mayor is explicitly defined as the city's chief executive. 

This question was initiated by the Charter Commission, a group of 15 individuals appointed by the chief judge of Hennepin County District Court, upon the recommendation of a commission-led working group.

(Note: The one exception is the Minneapolis Police Department, which the mayor already has full control over under the city charter.)

What supporters are saying: Proponents (including current Mayor Jacob Frey) argue passage would result in a more streamlined government structure, with the responsibilities of the mayor and council members more clearly defined.

Government Structure working group memo

The current structure "lacks strong accountability, is overly complex and highly inefficient, and is significantly influenced by personalities of individual elected officials. The highly diffused governance structure makes it difficult to determine who is in charge and who is accountable for any given policy, project, or proposal."

What opponents are saying: The strong council system currently in place gives all communities in the city a voice. Consolidating more power under the mayor takes away power voters currently possess. In addition, because the city charter already vests full authority over the Minneapolis Police Department with the mayor, this amendment would do little to address public safety issues.

Wedge Live!:

"Question 1 on your ballot is, at best, a giant distraction from this city’s real problems. At worst it’s a transfer of power away from those who already have too little, boosted by a campaign funded by those who have too much."

Ballot question 2: Public safety

Minneapolis City Question 2

Question title: "Department of Public Safety"

Explanatory note:

Minneapolis City Question 2 NOTE

If it passes: The responsibility of public safety in the city of Minneapolis would move from the Minneapolis Police Department to a newly created Department of Public Safety. The city charter would no longer explicitly require a police department, police chief or minimum police staffing levels — but nor would it bar any of those things from existing under the umbrella of the Department of Public Safety.

The background: City Question 2 is on the ballot because the group Yes 4 Minneapolis gathered more than 22,000 signatures in support of such a move. 

The ballot question, if approved, would indeed strike any mention of a police department and chief of police from the city charter, and replace it with a Department of Public Safety headed by a commissioner. The new charter language clearly states the Department of Public Safety can include "licensed peace officers if necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of the department," but the city would no longer be required to fund a minimum police force of 0.0017 employees per resident. The change would become official 30 days after its passage.

Powerful political figures and community members have come out both for and against its passage. The question has also been mixed in with "defund the police" narratives, and some commentators have turned the proposal into a talking point — laced, at times, with misinformation.

A memo from Minneapolis' city coordinator, emailed to council members and other city employees one week prior to the Nov. 2 election, appears to provide some clarity. It says:

  • There will be police officers in the Department of Public Safety, as state law requires peace officers to carry out certain duties.
  • MPD employees will not lose their job or benefits upon the amendment's passage, as all existing labor agreements remain in place.
  • The city council and mayor will have to pick an interim public safety commissioner within 30 days, but the creation of a department will likely go into 2022, with the current police department continuing to operate as normal in the meantime.

What supporters are saying: A Department of Public Safety, free from the stranglehold of MPD and the powerful Police Federation, is the only true way to transform public safety in Minneapolis to a holistic approach that sees peace officers working in tandem with other first responders, such as mental health, substance abuse and crisis de-escalation professionals. Crime is up in Minneapolis, as it is across most of the country, but the city's police department has shown little ability to fix this with its current approach.

Ward 11 Council Member Jeremy Schroeder:

"We need the city's efforts to prevent crime to work alongside efforts to solve crime, and that's exactly what the Department of Public Safety would do. This proposal alone will not bring about all the change we need, but without this change in the charter amendment, we will continue with the same public safety system that hasn't worked for anyone."

What opponents are saying: The Minneapolis Police Department can be reformed by implementing deliberate, strategic accountability policies, while simultaneously adding other response services. Having a head of public safety report to the mayor and 13 council members is inefficient. And can the city's residents take the risk of rethinking public safety at a time when crime is on the rise?

Mayor Jacob Frey, to MPR News:

"I think every single candidate — every mayoral candidate, council candidates — running for office right now believes in safety beyond policing. We all believe that not every 911 call requires a response from an officer with a gun. Whether that's a mental health responder or a social worker, we can pair a unique skill set with the unique experiences that are happening on the ground. And we have invested record amounts of money, almost every single budget in that exact work. We're already doing it now. Do you need a charter amendment to do that work? No, you do not.”

Ballot question 3: Rent control

Minneapolis City Question 3

Question title: "Authorizing City Council To Enact Rent Control Ordinance"

Explanatory note:

Minneapolis City Question 3 NOTE

If it passes: City Question 3 does not include any rent control or rent stabilization measures. Instead, it gives the Minneapolis City Council the power to enact rent control measures in the future — either through the regular ordinance process or as a ballot question.

The background: Minneapolis is facing a housing shortage, with the Twin Cities boasting one of the worst vacancy rates in the nation. Living spaces, including rental units, are at a premium, and property owners face few restrictions when it comes to upping rent

Some city council members want to be able to address this directly through legislation, but state law prevents it. 

This ballot question would open the door for the city council to implement rent control or rent stabilization measures (such as restricting the among by which landlords can increase rent within a 12-month period).

More than half of all residents in the city rent.

This is different from the rent control question St. Paul voters have on their ballots. That proposal would limit rent increases to a maximum of 3% each year,

What supporters are saying: Minneapolis landlords have been able to exploit the competition for rental units, hiking rents by exorbitant amounts with little notice. This is adding further financial stress to already struggling individuals and families, and has a disproportionate impact on non-white residents.

Home To Stay MPLS:

"Right now, it is perfectly legal for a landlord to increase rent by as much as they want when leases are renewed, even by thousands of dollars a year. Some landlords are doing this to kick out longtime members of the community and start over with higher-income tenants. This practice disrupts families and whole communities."

What opponents are saying: Housing shortages can be better addressed by simply building more units — something that has lagged in recent years. Legislation restricting rent increases could also discourage landlord investments and hamper their ability to repair and refurbish units. In addition, allowing the city council to tackle the issue without any established parameters would be detrimental.

Cecil Smith, Minnesota Multi-Housing Association president, via MinnPost:

”Rent control sounds like a solution to the problem of housing affordability. A closer look at rent control indicates it is the wrong solution. Building more housing that’s affordable is the right solution.” 

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