An effort to temporarily halt the closing of homeless encampments across Minneapolis failed Thursday after City Council members were told they don't have the authority to do so.

City attorneys told council members pushing for the moratorium on city staff closing the camps that the workers are following the city's laws. If the council wants to stop them — change or rescind the law. Their opinion reflects the consequences of a new government structure concentrating executive power in the hands of the mayor.

Council Member Aisha Chughtai proposed that the city temporarily pause forced removals of homeless encampments until April in order to analyze the health and fiscal impacts of all closures the past five years, such as spread of HIV/AIDS and overtime costs associated with the large police presence that has typified recent actions.

The city's response to homeless encampments has splintered and proliferated camps rather than moving people off the streets into safer living conditions, argued Chughtai.

"Over the last few weeks, several encampments have been forcibly removed with a heavily armed police presence, resulting in the destruction and loss of unsheltered residents' belongings, several arrests of community members, and the creation of new encampments or growth of other existing ones," she said. "Making it impossible for people to gather their belongings with no advance notice, destroying people's belongings, including essential documentation, medication and other important items, creates further displacement and harm."

The city's current practice is to post no-trespassing signs at homeless encampments that may be closed. However, staff members have said the exact date of enforcement is kept secret to deter organized backlash from protesters. Closures typically happen in the early morning, before emergency shelters open.

Before the staff direction could get to a vote, however, City Attorneys Kristyn Anderson and Erik Nilsson informed the council that they do not actually have the authority to prevent staff from enforcing ordinances, such as the city's prohibition against temporary outdoor shelters.

"[Staff] are enforcing things that are on the books. That's what they do," said Nilsson, who suggested council members could use their legislative powers to repeal or craft exceptions to the ordinance against camping.

Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw scolded Chughtai for bringing her staff direction straight to the full City Council meeting on Thursday instead of moving it incrementally through the committee process, with its opportunities for study and debate.

"It feels performative," she said to scattered heckling from members of the public holding signs calling for an eviction moratorium for encampments. "If you want to really have solutions for our unhoused people. You work with your colleagues, you work with the mayor, you work with partners like Hennepin County, the governor, all these solutions around housing."

Council Member Andrew Johnson came to Chughtai's defense, asking other members to avoid ascribing motives to colleagues with differing opinions, which "inflames and escalates discourse."

Council voted on Chughtai's motion in two parts. The first, to pause encampment removals, failed 8-5 with Council Members Chughtai, Robin Wonsley, Elliott Payne, Jason Chavez and Jeremiah Ellison voting in the minority.

The second, to request data from Mayor Jacob Frey about the cost of closures, passed 9-4 with Council Members Vetaw, Michael Rainville, Lisa Goodman and Linea Palmisano voting against.

Payne also brought a complementary motion on Thursday to direct Regulatory Services — the city department tasked with responding to homeless encampments — to incorporate more humane measures in its encampment closure process. These include determining how many people live at each encampment slated for closure, confirming everyone can access a shelter bed, giving at least a week's notice for a specific date to vacate, and providing storage for people's belongings over the duration of that notice.

The city attorneys advised that Payne's motion was also out of order because it dealt with the operational — rather than lawmaking — business of the city, and was therefore under the mayor's sole purview.

It failed on a 8-5 vote with Wonsley, Payne, Chughtai, Chavez and Ellison again in the minority.

Chavez proposed a final motion related to homeless encampments, directing the Office of Performance and Innovation and the Race, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Department to study the city's existing encampment closure strategies and develop better methods.

That motion passed 8-5 with Vetaw, Rainville, Goodman, Emily Koski and Palmisano voting against.