As a resident of Minneapolis and a League of Women Voters Minneapolis member since 1975, I concur with the league's endorsement of the government structure charter amendment. I have been a researcher and writer on several of the league's local government studies; I have also served on the city's Ethical Practices Board for nearly 10 years, and I have an academic background and have done research on organization design in large, complex organizations.
The league early this year endorsed the government structure charter amendment (City Question 1) that will appear on the November ballot in Minneapolis. The league's early endorsement was based on years of study of the issue. The amendment reads:
"Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to adopt a change in its form of government to an Executive Mayor-Legislative Council structure to shift certain powers to the Mayor, consolidating administrative authority over all operating departments under the Mayor, and eliminating the Executive Committee?"
In simple terms, City Question 1 would designate the mayor as the city's chief executive and clarify the City Council's role as a legislative and policymaking body.
The League of Women Voters, among other principles, believes that efficient and economical government requires competent personnel, the clear assignment of responsibility, adequate financing, and coordination among the different agencies and levels of government.
The league uses the following criteria to determine whether to support or oppose charter amendments. Does the amendment:
1) Fill a need? Are the functions being handled efficiently and responsibly at the present time?
2) Provide sufficient flexibility in scope and authority to adjust to future growth and development patterns?
3) Simplify the governmental structure rather than complicate it?
4) Define clearly the lines of authority and responsibility so that the voter understands the governmental procedures?
5) Lead to separation of administrative and legislative functions?
6) Assist in coordinating all the city's services so that they may be planned together?
7) Provide sufficient checks and balances to permit considered thought and public opinion to play their roles in determining public policy?
Since its founding in 1919, the league has taken a keen interest in the structure and functioning of city government. The city's first charter, adopted in 1920, was simply a codification of all state laws applying to the city.
In 1921, the league went on record approving a complete change in city government. In 1923, it endorsed a city manager plan and in 1925 reaffirmed its belief in the principle of home rule. The league worked for adoption of city-manager charter changes in '26 and '36 without success. It worked for a strong-mayor charter in '48, '60 and '63, but those attempts also failed. At that time, the league and others interested in charter reform concluded that a complete new charter was politically impossible and that piecemeal charter revision was a more realistic goal.
In 1965, after a study ("In 'League' with the Charter"), the league adopted a set of criteria for determining whether to support or oppose charter amendments as they are proposed (see above). On the basis of these criteria and positions, in '69 and '70 the league supported establishing four-year terms for council members and other elected city officials, and electing some council members at-large.
In 1971, the league reaffirmed its support for four-year terms and for at-large council members after a study, "New Trends in City Government," and added a position in support of establishing a politically responsible leader for city government, leaving open the question of whether this should be the mayor or a city manager.
In 1974, the league did a short study of the office of the city coordinator, which again pointed out the need for a politically responsible leader for the city. That fall, the league supported charter amendments calling for placing planning and budgeting functions under the mayor, strengthening the mayor's veto power, and merging the offices of the comptroller and the treasurer. The first was narrowly defeated, and the others passed.
Again in 1976, the league cooperated with other organizations in supporting a charter amendment that placed planning and budgeting functions under the mayor. The amendment passed and went into effect in January 1978.
In 1980, the league produced "Minneapolis Government Structure: Help or Hindrance?" to clarify and update previous positions and to analyze the effects of the 1978 charter change. The league reaffirmed its support for several positions, including four-year terms for council members and the mayor. It also confirmed its support for a politically responsible leader elected citywide and specified that this person should be the mayor.
In 1983 and '84, the league testified in support of charter changes that established the mayor as the presiding officer (nonvoting) of the City Council and created an Executive Council of the City Council.
In 1989, the league published "View from the Inside: The Structure and Functioning of Minneapolis City Government." Based on this study, the league reaffirmed its support for electing the mayor to a four-year term as the politically responsible citywide leader.
In 2005 and '06, after member study and reports — "Minneapolis Government: A Balancing Act" ('05) and "Minneapolis Government: A Balancing Act II" ('06) — the League of Women Voters Minneapolis confirmed that the role of the council should be primarily policymaking and planning and that city staff should have direct accountability to one authority, not to the council.
From this hundred-year overview of League of Women Voters Minneapolis study and positions, it is easy to see that the decision to support the current government structure charter amendment has not been taken lightly nor without serious consideration of alternatives.
I urge Minneapolis voters to check out the league's website (lwvmpls.org) and to vote "yes" on the government structure charter amendment to ensure that our city is positioned to address the important issues facing it and to provide the structure to move into the future.
Patricia Kovel-Jarboe, of Minneapolis, is a retired academic.