Attorneys for the city of Minneapolis on Friday asked Judge Mary Vasaly to throw out a petition that demands Mayor Betsy Hodges release a full, detailed budget as soon as possible.
Carol Becker, one of two elected members of the Board of Estimate and Taxation who has challenged mayors in the past over similar delays, petitioned for a "writ of mandamus" last week asking a judge to force Hodges either to file the budget "immediately" or explain at a hearing why she won't.
When city lawyers and Becker testified before Vasaly on Friday, the debate focused on what kind of budget the City Charter requires the Minneapolis mayor to file on Aug. 15.
"My contention is that this is a budget," Becker said, holding up a large white three-ring binder, "and this is not," she said, lifting a copy of the 8-page document Hodges filed on Aug. 15.
Becker argued that Hodges violated the City Charter by not filing a detailed, recommended budget by the deadline.
Hodges is planning to release a detailed budget on Sept. 12, a day before the Board of Estimate's public hearing.
Becker said that leaves citizens insufficient time to digest the document.
Assistant City Attorney Sarah McLaren said the City Charter only requires summaries and outlines of Hodges' budget recommendation, and the mayor is under no obligation by law to produce anything more.
"The plain language of the charter discusses a high-level document that may not contain all of the detail a member of the public might want," she said.
Vasaly interjected, "You believe that what she's already provided meets the charter requirement for what a budget is?"
McLaren said yes, but historically Minneapolis mayors "have gone above and beyond the requirements of the charter" in order to exert influence on the budget that's approved later in the year.
Hodges will go "above and beyond" on Sept. 12, McLaren said, and the Board of Estimate and Taxation could hold another public hearing after Sept. 13 to give citizens more time to comment, since the board isn't required to set the maximum property tax levy until Sept. 30.
Besides, McLaren argued, mayors in the past have released budgets later than Aug. 15 after major public safety incidents, and citizens will have plenty of opportunity to read the budget and respond before next year's budget is approved by the City Council in December.
Hodges said the police shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, subsequent shake-up at the Police Department and explosion at Minnehaha Academy prevented her from finalizing a full budget by Aug. 15. The mayor has been criticized for flying to Los Angeles for a fundraiser the week after Damond's death.
Hodges did not attend Friday's hearing, but several city staff members sat in the audience while McLaren argued for Becker's petition to be thrown out.
McLaren also said Becker has no standing to bring the petition, since she can't demonstrate that she is suffering "a public wrong specifically injurious" to her.
Becker said she wants the judge to set a precedent for Minneapolis mayors.
"I want to have a precedent that a little seven-pager is not a budget," she said, "so I don't have to come year after year and beg for a budget."
Vasaly ended the hearing after about an hour, and said, "I'll get a decision out as soon as I can."