A small group of residents urged the Minneapolis Charter Commission late Monday to hold off on advancing their own proposal that would eliminate the minimum staffing requirement for the city’s Police Department.
Speaking during a virtual public hearing Monday night — the first and only one on the commission’s proposal — people offered varying reasons for not wanting it on the ballot in November.
Some prefer a different proposal, crafted by some on the City Council, that would replace the Police Department with a broader community safety department. Others feared both proposals were premature and required more thought.
The court-appointed commission must decide Wednesday night whether to put its proposal before voters on Nov. 3. It has more time to decide whether it wants to weigh in on the City Council’s proposal or use its procedures to block it from the ballot this year. The commission will likely decide how it wants to handle that proposal at its Aug. 5 meeting.
The charter, which serves as the city’s constitution, has become a focal point of discussions as residents and elected officials debate how to remake policing following George Floyd’s death in police custody.
Monday’s hearing drew a smaller crowd than prior meetings, where closer to 200 people signed up to discuss the council’s proposal. The controversial proposal crafted by five Minneapolis City Council members would eliminate the requirement to maintain a Police Department. The community safety department that would replace it could include police officers but wouldn’t be required to do so.
One caller, Shannon Puechner, urged the commissioners to let the council’s proposal proceed instead of their own. She said she watched years ago when police shot a mentally ill man after her family called for help.
“After his death, reforms were promised,” Puechner said, “but it has been 15 years and the tragic situation has not changed. Reform is a failure.”
Others, including former Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, said they feared the council’s proposal wasn’t ready for the ballot this year.
“The City Council has not presented a plan, a plan for the Minneapolis Police Department,” she said. “They presented a resolution. My final remark is that the general outline of the vision that they put on this table does not constitute a plan that is ready for a public vote. The matter should be on the ballot next year, during an election cycle when everyone in the city is focused on municipal elections.”
One of the few people who said he wanted the chance to vote on the commission’s proposal was North Side resident Jeffrey Strand, who said he believed recent budget negotiations showed that the mayor and council already have wide authority over the Police Department.
Strand said he supports removing the minimum funding requirement but feared the council’s proposal is “vague.”
“I do support re-engineering public safety in Minneapolis, but it must be thoughtfully and planfully developed, not rushed,” Strand said.
The remarks offered during Monday’s public hearing represent a small slice of the feedback charter commissioners and elected officials are receiving from residents. People have submitted thousands of written comments; some have been released by the city and others are still under review to ensure they don’t include private data.
The proposal up for discussion Monday night was written by Charter Commissioner Al Giraud-Isaacson after residents and some of his fellow charter commissioners raised concerns about the City Council proposal.
The measure crafted by Giraud-Isaacson would leave the charter largely intact. The city would still be required to maintain a Police Department, but the charter wouldn’t contain language mandating its size. Decisions about staffing levels would be made by the mayor and City Council during separate processes.
When he introduced the measure last week, Giraud-Isaacson described is as a “simple, clear, understandable and straightforward ballot question.”
If the charter commissioners want Giraud-Isaacson’s measure to appear on the ballot this year, they will need to work quickly. There is a tight Aug. 21 deadline for adding items to the ballot.
But because of some additional processes that need to unfold, the commissioners would likely have to decide Wednesday whether they want to put it on the ballot. They have scheduled a meeting for 4 p.m. that day.
The commissioners can unilaterally decide to put a measure on the ballot. The City Council and the mayor, however, would get to choose how the question is worded when voters see it at the polls.
At the same time they’re debating what to do with Giraud-Isaacson’s proposal, the commissioners are also weighing the proposal sent to them by City Council. The commissioners will likely decide by their Aug. 5 meeting how they want to proceed on that measure.
They could offer a recommendation to approve or reject it, or offer a substitute charter amendment. The council would not be required to follow their advice.
The commissioners could also invoke their right to take additional time to review the measure, overshooting the deadline for adding it to the ballot this year. A public hearing on that proposal will begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Depending on which actions the Charter Commission and City Council take, it’s possible both items could end up on the November ballot.