Minneapolis residents smartly voted this month to adopt a "strong mayor" system of government. They decisively approved City Question 1, an amendment that gives the mayor clear authority over day-to-day operations of city departments and prohibits City Council members from directing or supervising city employees.
Now the work to make the welcome transition from governance-by-committee to an appropriately empowered executive branch is in the works.
Re-elected Mayor Jacob Frey got off to a good start on that front by appointing a commission to give guidance on how to craft that new executive authority. This week he announced the formation of an 11-member work group to study the various ways that cities structure their chief executive's powers and reporting structures.
The commission will be chaired by Pizza Lucé CEO JJ Haywood and former City Council member, University of Minnesota administrator and Question 1 advocate Kathleen O'Brien. Also serving on the volunteer group are Barry Clegg, chairman of the Minneapolis Charter Commission, as well as P. Jay (Jay) Kiedrowski, Pat Born, Myron Frans, Tim Marx, Kim Nelson and Pahoua Yang Hoffman.
The mayor also wisely included former City Council Member Robert Lilligren, who had opposed Question 1. It's good to have that kind of diversity — a panel of smart thinkers from the public, private and nonprofit sectors with executive track records in government, philanthropy and business.
After working under the current system during his four-year term, Frey told an editorial writer that precious time was wasted "arguing over who has the authority to get things done, rather than accomplishing those things." In the past, he said, he and his staff could make a decision that nearly always was followed up with, "But what will the council do?"
Now Frey says he'll be able to meet with department heads and more effectively use data and make decisions that can be carried out quickly. City business and services should be conducted more efficiently, and residents will be clearer on who does what at City Hall.
As this Editorial Board has long argued (and restated in an editorial supporting Question 1 pre-election), Minneapolis has operated for nearly a century under an antiquated system. City staff were often juggling competing and contradictory demands of the administration and those of individual council members. Having 14 bosses sometimes interfered with handling basic services — from garbage collection to street repairs.
The last two years of crisis — including the murder of George Floyd, policing issues, demonstrations, riots, property damage and the COVID-19 pandemic — laid bare the problems with that structure. Several top department leaders were believed to have quit their jobs, in part, because of the unclear lines of authority.
Frey said it is important to get this next stage right because of the impact it will have on the city for generations to come. "This is not about me, not about the council or individual council members … Politics have no place in this … this is about creating a longstanding, effective form of governing."