Editorial: Yes to Minneapolis charter question

  • Updated: October 29, 2010 - 10:01 AM

Charter Commission should draw new district lines.

The proposed amendment to the Minneapolis charter that city voters will find on Tuesday's ballot has generated relatively little noise, compared with the sound and fury of the rest of this year's campaign. But it's about a topic that's bound to roar into prominence next year -- redistricting.

The ballot question asks voters to change the body that will draw new ward and park board districts to equalize their populations in light of the 2010 U.S. Census. Instead of keeping the task in the hands of the special-purpose Redistricting Commission, where it has resided since 1980, the Charter Commission proposes to do the job itself.

Voters should grant the request. While the 15-member Charter Commission isn't ideally suited for the task, it's better insulated from influence by political parties and special interests than the existing commission.

The city's redistricting status quo seems to invite partisan influence and cronyism in drawing district lines. The Minneapolis Redistricting Commission, unique among Minnesota cities, is composed of representatives of the City Council and each of the state's three major-status political parties -- Republican, Independence and DFL. It reserves no seats for the Green Party, which, though being the minority party on the City Council, managed to fill only one of the commission's 11 seats in 2001-02. It's likely no coincidence that the resulting ward map pitted two Green City Council members against sittng DFLers. Both Greens lost their seats in the ensuing election.

The Charter Commission, by comparison, has no partisan appointees. Its 15 members are chosen by the nonpartisan chief judge of Hennepin County District Court, who stands for election every six years.

Assigning redistricting to the Charter Commission isn't ideal. Charter commissioners are only indirectly accountable to the voters. No provision brings the map before an elected body, say the City Council, for final approval, as has been proposed for a state-level redistricting commission. What's more, the Charter Commission presently is an all-white body, serving a city that's one-third nonwhite. To its credit, it has agreed to create an advisory group containing more varied backgrounds to assist with redistricting.

But employing the Charter Commission for Minneapolis redistricting -- as St. Paul and several other U.S. cities do -- ought to increase chances that the public interest will trump party or special interests as new maps are drawn. That's a move in the right direction.

ON THE BALLOT

"Should the City of Minneapolis adopt a change in its charter by eliminating the Redistricting Commission and giving the responsibility for redistricting of city wards, park board districts and Minneapolis school board districts to the Charter Commission, with input from an advisory group appointed by the Charter Commission?"

Question on Minneapolis ballot
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