In a rebuke to Mayor Jacob Frey, the Minneapolis City Council took a major step Friday toward a charter change that could give it shared authority over the police.
After a contentious debate, the council voted 10-2 to consider a potential amendment to the city’s charter that would, for the first time in more than a century, change the police power structure to split governance between the mayor and 13 members of the council.
Though the question is several steps from making it onto the ballot this November, the vote marks the first major showdown in the new makeup of the council. It’s also a setback for Frey, who came out strongly against the proposal this week, alongside Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and several council members.
The proposal will go to an Aug. 1 joint meeting of the council’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee and Public Safety and Emergency Management Committee for further discussion on what the council’s role would be if the charter amendment were to succeed.
For the question to come before voters in November, the council would need to pass a final version by Aug. 24. Frey could then veto, and the council would need at least nine votes to override. Though the measure passed with 10 votes Friday, the discussion signaled that many council members are skeptical.
Council Member Cam Gordon introduced the idea for the amendment late last month following protests over two officers’ shooting of Thurman Blevins, a black man in north Minneapolis, and concerns from the public about police oversight. In the weeks since, council members have publicly taken sides on whether the conversation should continue. Several members stood with Frey this week at a news conference criticizing the proposal as bad government that would weaken public safety.
Immediately following the vote Friday, Frey and Arradondo released a joint statement condemning it.
“We both want to collaborate with this Council and are disappointed the opportunity to do that has so far been bypassed,” they stated. “Let us be clear: passing this amendment will make both of our jobs more difficult to effectively perform.”
Debate over whether to pass the proposal to the committee process lasted an hour and a half, which is unusual at this early stage of the proposed amendment.
The conversation ranged from heated comments that council members criticized as personal attacks, to confusion over what was even being voted on, to cordial expressions of unity.
Council President Lisa Bender emphasized that the vote will only continue the conversation in the coming months and not in itself change the charter. She supported the proposal, saying the change could allow voters to decide if the power structure should change to put more accountability on City Council members.
“I think the people of Minneapolis deserve a chance to weigh in on whether this system is working or not,” Bender said.
Council Member Linea Palmisano spoke adamantly against it, saying the amendment will only make the responsibility of government in policing more opaque. “There is no world in which this change enhances accountability,” Palmisano said.
Palmisano accused others on the council of attempting to rush the legislative process to put the measure on the ballot in November in lieu of proper community discussions. She introduced an amendment to postpone the proposal, but it was voted down.
Council Member Jeremy Schroeder rejected the idea of waiting any longer. “I don’t know how else to put this,” Schroeder said. “We are talking about actual reform that is needed. Maybe this doesn’t get us there, but this is the only proposal I’ve seen in my time here. And to say that you may not have heard about it, that you need to look more into it — I’m getting angry about it.”
Council Member Alondra Cano, who chairs the public safety committee, started strongly on the offensive, echoing some of Palmisano’s comments and calling her colleagues irresponsible for proposing the amendment without adequate conversations with her, Frey, police and Latino community members.
“I am disgusted by the privilege presented by this move,” she said.
Yet she ultimately voted for keeping the proposal alive after successfully introducing a motion to include the public safety committee in the next steps, which will allow for public comment.
Phillipe Cunningham, whose north Minneapolis ward includes the neighborhood where Blevins was killed, spoke in support of the proposal, saying his colleagues were using “lazy narratives” to portray those in favor as failing to understand the process or what’s at stake.
“I have to say that that is incredibly insulting,” he said. “Especially when Wards Four and Five are being completely decimated with trauma.”
Cunningham said he “deeply, deeply” respects Arradondo, but believes the council should continue the conversation about how it can be more involved in police accountability.
Frey appeared briefly at the meeting and expressed disappointment with the council for not being collaborative. “Our office was not involved,” he said. “The chief of police was not involved. This is a nearly unprecedented move that changes the department structure that has been in place for about 100 years.”