The perennial question of renaming Lake Calhoun has been revived with a new directive to Park Board staff to look into the issue again as an online petition against the name topped 1,700 signatures.

Park Board President Liz Wielinski announced at a special board meeting Monday that staff had been directed to report back to the board by its first September meeting on the issue on the naming process.

Efforts to change a name that honors a champion of slavery and states rights date back more than a decade. In 2011, the board was advised by its legal counsel that it lacked the unilateral power to change the name.

Asked about that, Wielinski responded, "That doesn't mean in today's climate that wouldn't happen."

The petition was launched by Mike Spangenberg of Minneapolis after last week's killings of nine people at a Charleston, S.C., church, He said the petition represents confronting the nation's past and addressing systemic racism. Park Commissioner Brad Bourn also has advocated for a name change.

During his 30 years on the national stage as a lawmaker, vice president and secretary of war, John C. Calhoun argued that slavery was a positive good for those enslaved, and espoused such states rights doctrines as the ability of a state to nullify federal acts with which it disagreed.

His tie to the area now known as Minneapolis comes from his action as secretary of war to President James Monroe to establish Fort Snelling at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers.

But changing the name faces obstacles.  In 2011, lawyer Brian Rice advised the Park Board that it doesn't have the power under its rules to name lakes, and that state law reserves that right to the commissioner of natural resources, who is barred by the law from changing a name after 40 years after the name designation.

The Minnesota constitution bars the Legislature at Article 12, Section 1 from passing a special or local law that changes the name of "persons, places lakes or rivers."  Rice said Monday that in theory the Legislature could pass a general law that delegated authority to change the name.

Of course, another issue is whether one of the proposed replacement names would be new.  According to the Minnesota Historical Society, the Dakota name for the lake was Mde Medoza, translating to "Lake of the Loons." The Park Board reportedly took steps to rename the lake to that name in the late 19th century, but the change didn't stick.

Moving beyond the lake itself, any name change poses the issue of a ripple effect. At least four Minneapolis neighborhoods take their names from the lake, as do a parkway, and several commercial buildings, such as Calhoun Square.

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