In Minneapolis, a bid to centralize power

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 7, 2011 - 12:02 AM

The mayor and the City Council president oppose the effort. Supporters hope the Charter Commission will put the proposal to voters in 2012.

A proposal for a significant shift in power within Minneapolis City Hall was offered Wednesday to the Charter Commission, but the idea is getting pushback from Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council President Barbara Johnson.

The proposal from nearly a dozen people with significant City Hall experience would centralize authority over department heads under a city administrator serving at the pleasure of the mayor.

Although the public might not notice, supporters say such an arrangement would make running City Hall more efficient because department heads now spend considerable time trying to lobby or mollify all 13 City Council members.

"The key thing in our view is that we get away from the 14-boss problem in Minneapolis," said former Council Member Paul Ostrow, referring to split departmental oversight by the council and mayor. The proposal moves toward the city manager form of government that's dominant in suburbs but retains more council oversight of the administrator.

Among the bipartisan group that developed the revised administrator proposal are former Mayor Donald Fraser, three former council members, former City Coordinator Lyall Schwarzkopf, former Budget Director Jay Kiedrowski and former Congressman Martin Sabo.

The proposal tweaks one that surfaced in 2009 as part of a controversial package of three charter amendments. In 2009, voters defeated one of the three proposals, one to abolish the Board of Estimate and Taxation and give its powers to the council. Proposals to bring the park system under City Hall control and create the administrator position were rejected by the commission.

"I don't see what the problem is here. We have fantastic department heads here," Johnson said. "I get tired of dealing with these sorts of shots from people who were here in the past. We've got a lot of things to worry about, and this is not one of them."

A spokesman for Rybak said: "This proposal only further hybridizes an already hybrid system and does not provide residents, staff or policymakers with any additional clarity."

But that opposition doesn't necessarily keep the proposal off the ballot. The Charter Commission doesn't need approval from the council or the mayor to put a proposed charter amendment before voters. The council determines only the wording of the measure.

The proposed administrator would serve as the boss of city department heads, now answerable to the City Council and the mayor. The mayor would propose an administrator at the start of each term. The Executive Committee and City Council could block the nominee. The mayor could fire the administrator at any time after consulting the Executive Committee.

The last significant charter change involving how City Hall works was Fraser's successful 1989 proposal to put the mayor in charge of selecting department heads. The Executive Committee, on which the mayor sits, and council committees also direct the work of department heads. Unlike suburbs, where the city manager system prevails, the Minneapolis council and mayor are full-time jobs.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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