The Minneapolis City Council approved a hotly debated proposal Friday to take some authority over the Police Department from the mayor, though even supporters on the council acknowledged the charter change is unlikely to make the citywide ballot this year.
In its 7-5 vote, the council sent the proposed change to the city's Charter Commission for review. In order for it to go before voters in November, the Charter Commission — a group of 15 people appointed by the chief judge of Hennepin County District Court — would have to move quickly to hold public meetings and approve the amendment by the Aug. 24 deadline. But commission Chairman Barry Clegg said Thursday the commission doesn't believe that's enough time to study the change and get public input.
The proposal to divide governance over police came up earlier this summer, after two white officers fatally shot Thurman Blevins, a black man in north Minneapolis, during a foot chase. Prosecutors say the officers acted lawfully, in part because Blevins was carrying a gun, but the incident has reinvigorated activists demanding police reforms in the aftermath of several high-profile police shootings in recent years.
The police governance issue has split a generally united council, and supporters have been advocating to push it through the system quickly to put it on the ballot this year. Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo both oppose the change.
Details of how it would work have evolved in council meetings. On Friday, Council Member Steve Fletcher successfully introduced a new version, which would allow the mayor to retain "executive power" over police, but gives the council authority to introduce "rules and regulations" that would still be subject to the mayor's approval or veto.
Fletcher said he introduced the new language to provide clarity after speaking to Frey and several attorneys, who worried the previous version was too ambiguous and may be interpreted as giving more power to the council than he intended.
Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, a supporter of the charter change, said the council should continue the conversation to work toward the change in authority, even if it doesn't come to fruition this year.
Cunningham has repeatedly emphasized the amendment wouldn't split police power equally between the mayor and all 13 members of the council, disputing critics who assert the added layer of bureaucracy would make it more difficult for the city to make quick decisions on police matters. He said the increased authority would instead create an avenue for the council to shape higher-level policy, such as how officers respond to and collect data on domestic violence calls.
"I do not think it's going to be on the ballot this year; I think that's been made pretty clear," said Cunningham. "But stopping the conversation right now is not productive."
Frey appeared during the meeting to reiterate that he and Arradondo "adamantly" oppose the amendment, even in its new form. He said city leadership still didn't seem to fully understand what authority the City Council currently holds over the police, and urged the council not to hastily pass the language.
"If we can't promise to the voters baseline information on the issue, how in good conscience can we ask them to make a decision on it?" asked Frey.
The council members who voted to advance the measure were Cunningham, Fletcher, Andrew Johnson, Jeremiah Ellison, Jeremy Schroeder, Cam Gordon and Council President Lisa Bender. Those who voted against were Linea Palmisano, Alondra Cano, Lisa Goodman, Abdi Warsame and Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins. Council Member Kevin Reich was absent.