Days before a crucial vote, Mayor Jacob Frey is working to head off a proposal to cede some control of the Minneapolis Police Department to the City Council.
Frey signaled at a news conference Monday that he has at least six votes on the council — one short of what’s needed to kill the proposed charter amendment before it even goes to the committee process.
The amendment, which would split police governance between the mayor and council, is still several steps of bureaucracy away from being on the ballot for voters this fall. Friday’s vote will determine if it will continue through the committee process or die on arrival.
On Monday, Frey held a news conference alongside Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, business owners and faith leaders who spoke in support of the existing system. Six council members either spoke or signed on to written statements favoring Frey’s position. “As you can see, this is a broad and diverse, strong coalition,” Frey said.
Frey acknowledged a difficult past few weeks in law enforcement news that have raised concern over public safety, but he said the change in power structure would only add more bureaucracy and make it more difficult for the city to respond quickly to pressing police matters.
“The truth is that they would have been far more difficult without the ongoing and steadfast and unwavering partnership from our Chief Arradondo,” Frey said. “As mayor, that relationship with the chief is invaluable. For our city, that dynamic is indispensable.”
Council Member Cam Gordon floated the idea for the charter amendment at a meeting late last month following outcry from two officers’ shooting of Thurman Blevins, a black man in north Minneapolis. In a statement Monday, Gordon said the idea of giving the council more power over police has been debated for a decade, and it’s time to let voters decide if the current system needs to be updated.
“Even if you oppose the idea, affording time for the public to debate it, for everyone to hear both sides of the issue and allowing the people to vote on it, is a reasonable and appropriate thing to do,” he said.
Those publicly aligning with Frey on Monday included Council Members Alondra Cano, Linea Palmisano, Kevin Reich, Abdi Warsame, Lisa Goodman and Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins.
Cano praised Frey and Arradondo’s relationship as “responsive, collaborative and committed to serving the good people of Minneapolis.”
“The proposed amendment would shortchange that very hard work,” she said. “I hope my colleagues will hear me out. I hope that we will have more conversations so that we can stand together and oppose this charter amendment and support our leadership team and give them an honest try at doing the work that they signed up to do.”
Several council members have spoken in favor of the idea, including Andrew Johnson, Jeremiah Ellison and Council President Lisa Bender, lamenting that the current power structure limits their ability to shape policy over an important city department.
Johnson said that in his time on the council, it’s been unprecedented for a proposed topic to be voted down before going to the committee phase for discussion. He disputed arguments from opponents that the change would overcomplicate the power structure, calling opposition to more public hearings and presentations on police “undemocratic.”
“You just look at this past month and all of these different negative headlines coming from the police department, and pair that with the fact that they have 1/14th elected civilian oversight from other departments,” he said. “I think it’s reasonable to question whether more oversight would have prevented some of these headlines.”
In the middle of the debate sits Council Member Steve Fletcher, who is undecided on how he will vote.
Fletcher said he likes the idea of more open and deliberative power for the council to shape police policy. But he also believes that quick and decisive action is necessary when responding to police issues, and he worried bringing 13 council members into the fray could be burdensome.
He said he’s open to a middle ground that would allow the mayor to retain executive power but allow for the council to ratify decisions after the fact and help shape policy.
“I may vote yes on that so we can continue the conversation on how it would be worded,” he said.