Jim Bernstein, a longtime member of the Minneapolis Charter Commission and its chair since 2004, has been dumped by a judge, to the surprise of other commissioners.

Chief Judge James T. Swenson of Hennepin County District Court opted instead to appoint Richard Gerdes to the commission, which hears proposals to amend the city's foundational governing document.

Gerdes gets a seat that Bernstein has held since May 1999 and will be one of six new commissioners Swenson appointed this year to the 15-member body.

"I was floored," said Todd Ferrara, who was reappointed.

"I was shocked," said Lyall Schwarzkopf, a new appointee.

Swenson said Friday that it would be inappropriate for him to comment on why he didn't reappoint the southwest Minneapolis resident. But he said that he generally receives little information on which to base his choices.

"I get a bunch of applications, no letters of support, no explanation of whether someone has been a good or a bad charter commission member," Swenson said. He also said he questions whether having one judge make the appointments is the best way.

Four political parties are represented on the commission. Bernstein once described himself as a moderate Republican, but he left for the Independence Party and worked as state commerce commissioner for Gov. Jesse Ventura.

For the past 10 years, he's called himself a DFLer. He oversaw tumultuous debates last year over ultimately unsuccessful charter proposals to abolish the Park Board and Board of Estimate and Taxation. He also helped sidetrack a medical marijuana proposal because it ran afoul of state and federal law, and he oversaw a massive rewrite of the charter with an eye toward simplifying it.

Approval or denial of that last effort has been pending before the City Council for more than a year.

The shift in membership comes as the Charter Commission is poised to take on the time-consuming job of redrawing political lines for city elections if a proposal headed to voters in November is approved.

"It's a mystery to everyone I've talked to," Bernstein said of Swenson's decision. He didn't attend Wednesday's commission meeting, though technically he's eligible to serve until Gerdes confirms by affidavit that he's accepted the appointment.

Barry Lazarus, the commission's vice chair, said an election to fill the chair's position will occur at the commission's Aug. 4 meeting.

"I want to express my displeasure and unhappiness at a lapse in the reappointment process," Lazarus said Wednesday, adding that the commission will be the poorer without Bernstein's knowledge of the city and its political leaders and his ability as chair.

Other new commissioners include Barb Lickness, Jan Sandberg, Andy Kozak and Jeff Peltola.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438