Judge Mary Vasaly on Thursday quashed a petition to force Mayor Betsy Hodges to publish a detailed budget as soon as possible, a vindication for the mayor that settles a dispute she called frivolous and politically motivated.
Hodges filed a summary of her proposed 2018 budget on Aug. 15, the City Charter’s deadline for the Minneapolis mayor to produce a budget. She promised to release a detailed version by Sept. 12.
Carol Becker, an elected member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation who has challenged mayors in the past over similar delays, filed a petition two weeks ago asking a judge to force Hodges either to file the budget immediately or explain at a hearing why she wouldn’t.
Attorneys for the city of Minneapolis argued at the hearing last week that the document Hodges filed on Aug. 15 met the charter’s requirements, and Vasaly, who went through those requirements point by point in a judgment filed Thursday afternoon, agreed.
“The Court must conclude that the Mayor satisfied her official duty to provide a recommended ‘budget’ by August 15, as that term is defined in the Charter,” Vasaly wrote.
Becker had to show that Hodges failed to perform a duty that is “so clear as not to admit of any reasonable controversy,” Vasaly wrote, and “although the Budget Letter does not provide the level of detail contained in full budget books, the language of the Charter could reasonably be interpreted to require only summary figures that include estimates.”
Hodges said Thursday she still plans to release a detailed budget with a speech Sept. 12.
“With this common-sense decision, the law prevailed over Carol Becker’s frivolous lawsuit,” the mayor said in a statement. “Minneapolis residents should be appalled that Ms. Becker wasted taxpayer dollars on defending against a politically-motivated, election-year stunt.”
The $1.4 billion budget will not get final approval from the City Council until December.
Becker, who filed the petition as a taxpaying resident, said she was disappointed in the judge’s decision, and that she will look for an attorney to see if she can appeal. The Board of Estimate and Taxation, which must set the city’s maximum property tax levy by Sept. 30, will hold its public hearing on Sept. 13, a day after Hodges plans to release her detailed budget. Becker had argued citizens need more time to digest the full document.
“Just because it’s not illegal doesn’t make it right,” Becker said. “We need a charter change.”
Hodges said her budget letter met the charter requirements when she filed it on Aug. 15. She also said she wasn’t able to finalize a detailed budget because she was responding to the police shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond and the explosion at Minnehaha Academy. Past mayors have delayed releasing a detailed budget after major public safety incidents.
Vasaly wrote that she agrees with Becker that “a recommended budget that does more than meet the bare minimum requirements of the Charter would be a much more useful document,” and she acknowledged that Hodges’ plan to release the minimum and later supplement it, “disadvantages those in the public who could add value to the process by contributing to a full discussion of all aspects of the budget, including the details.”
But satisfying the charter was what mattered in this case, Vasaly said, and Hodges has done so.
“It does not matter whether the budget Mayor Hodges provided is a ‘detailed’ budget, an award-winning budget or a budget comparable to any previous year’s budget,” Vasaly wrote. “If it meets the five Charter requirements, it is a ‘budget’ for the purpose of determining whether Mayor Hodges ‘failed to perform a duty imposed by law.’ ”