Above: Lake Calhoun and the downtown skyline (Liz Flores)
This post has been updated for the print edition. Read that story here.
Attorneys at Hennepin County believe it is legally possible to change the name of Lake Calhoun, provided a specific county-focused process is followed.
A memo (below) circulated to county commissioners last week indicates that the county would be in the driver's seat should a renaming petition be submitted. Most discussion of the issue so far has taken place at the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which owns the land.
The head of the county attorney's civil division, Daniel Rogan, said the state Department of Natural Resources will consider "a name change proposed by a County Board if it follows the statutory process outlined in [state statute]." There had previously been concern that a name older than 40 years old could not be changed.
The renaming process would require at least 15 registered voters to submit a petition, including the new name they propose for the lake. This would be delivered to the county board, which would hold a hearing and then take a vote on a resolution. The state commissioner of natural resources would then endorse the resolution.
The process should include "hearing from those individuals most impacted," including people living near the lake, the city of Minneapolis and the Park Board, according to the memo.
The lake's namesake, John C. Calhoun, has garnered extra scrutiny in recent weeks for his ardent support of slavery and racist legacy. "His name and legacy should not be honored anywhere,” reads a petition with more than 4,300 signatures.
Park Board President Liz Wielinski said the county memo is "one piece of what I would call the giant puzzle." The Park Board has asked for its own overview of the process by September.
Wielinski said if the petition must include the new name, it's important that it be a deliberate process.
"It should be a public process to come up with a new name, versus 15 petitioners picking what they want," Wielinski said.
She also noted that, based on the memo, it appears the DNR has full discretion over whether to approve the change -- regardless of the county's action.
"I believe that there's going to be levels that go ... from local all the way up to federal," Wielinski said. "And I'd want to have all the steps there so people, when they're making a decision, know exactly what they're going to be going through to get there. Because it may be long, arduous and expensive, and I think people should know that before they start."