Minneapolis officials on Friday approved ballot language for a proposal that will determine the future of the city's Police Department, capping a dramatic day when City Council members met three times and the mayor twice vetoed their wording.
In an evening meeting, council members voted to override Mayor Jacob Frey's second veto of the day — allowing them to send ballot wording to the county roughly five hours before the deadline outlined in state law.
"Everybody's very pleased. This is an important hurdle," said Terrance W. Moore, an attorney for Yes 4 Minneapolis, the political committee that wrote the proposal and sued the city over an earlier version of the wording. "That said, there is a campaign in front of them, so it's a night to celebrate, and organization continues tomorrow."
Groups opposing the proposal were quick to blast the City Council's new wording. "This language should be recognized for what it is: an attempt by some members of the Council to hide from voters the most basic facts of what the amendment does so that they're more susceptible to political propaganda that misleads," another political committee, All of Mpls, wrote in a statement.
City officials faced intense pressure from all sides as they raced to meet an 11:59 p.m. deadline for finalizing the wording — or risked being held in contempt of court. It was the first time in at least 35 years that the council convened three times in one day.
The council's debates centered on a question of how much detail it needed to give voters so they could make an informed decision and how much could be construed as a "cautionary note" that might sway voters.
The proposal to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new public safety agency has become a central issue in the November election, and the precise wording that appears on the ballot could have implications for its chances of passing or failing. National and local groups are donating to political committees seeking to sway voters. The vote will play a large role in determining how Minneapolis seeks to transform public safety in the wake of George Floyd's murder by a police officer.
The proposal would remove the requirement for Minneapolis to keep a department with a minimum number of officers based on population. The city would then be required to create a new agency responsible for "integrating" public safety functions "into a comprehensive public health approach to safety."
The proposal also would strike language from the charter that gives the mayor "complete power" over police operations, a move that likely would grant council members more sway over officers.
Frey and the council would decide how to design the new department and whether — and how — to employ police.
Last month, city officials approved ballot language asking voters if they want to "strike and replace the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach, and which would include licensed peace officers (police officers) if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety." It referred voters to a 198-word note providing more details about the proposal.
Yes 4 Minneapolis sued over the note. Hennepin County Judge Jamie Anderson granted their request to remove the note, saying the particular wording that officials chose was "problematic." She said the city, though, had authority to write a new one.
On Friday morning, the Council voted 9-3 to use the original question without a note attached. It was the outcome Yes 4 Minneapolis previously hoped to get from the courts.
Frey decried the language, saying it failed to inform voters about key parts of the proposal. He thought they should mention that it removed the minimum staffing requirements for police, removed the mayor's "complete power" over police operations and deleted a line referencing the police chief's job.
The mayor issued his first veto around noon Friday. Activists sent notes on social media asking people to call their elected officials urging them to pass fair language. Elected officials swiftly tried to negotiate, having already rejected the mayor's first attempt at compromise language.
City staff rushed behind the scenes to keep tabs on the latest developments. The clerk's office, meanwhile, worked on sending ballot language on two different proposals pertaining to government powers and rent control off to county officials for printing on the ballot this fall.
When the council returned about 3:30 p.m., it voted to sustain the mayor's first veto. Council President Lisa Bender, Vice President Andrea Jenkins and Council Members Andrew Johnson and Jamal Osman then presented a new version. It asked if the charter should "be amended to strike and replace the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety which could include licensed peace officers (police officers) if necessary, with administrative authority to be consistent with other city departments to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety."
The fight over an explanatory note was done, but elected officials still fiercely debated which parts of the proposal should be listed on the ballot. "Why? Why are we afraid to share the language that this petition clearly states and that would clearly be removed from the charter?" Frey asked in the meeting.
Johnson said he believed their wording did reflect the fact the minimum staffing requirement would be eliminated. "I think that is reflected in this, about 'including licensed police officers if necessary.' It is right there in 'if necessary,' " he said.
The mayor and council members, who were divided on the issue, debated what the implications would be for removing the line in the charter that references the police chief's job — and what they could say without misleading voters.
Frey suggested they change the language to say there would be "shared authority by the mayor and City Council." Council Member Cam Gordon said he thought about similar wording, but also believed the language covered that by saying authority would be "consistent with other city departments."
Council Member Lisa Goodman pushed back. Earlier in the day, she had warned colleagues they "should expect litigation on the other side of it" if they didn't include enough information about the proposal.
"This is not sufficient," she said. "It does not explain what's coming out. It doesn't exactly explain what's coming in. What it is is a poor compromise to get the number of votes needed by the deadline."
The language passed along a 9-4 vote, with Goodman, Linea Palmisano, Alondra Cano, and Kevin Reich casting votes against. Frey vetoed a second time. In the evening, council members returned and voted along the same lines. This time, they were able to overturn his veto.
What the ballot says now
Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to strike and replace the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety which could include licensed peace officers (police officers) if necessary, with administrative authority to be consistent with other city departments to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety?
Staff writer Alex Chhith contributed to this report.
Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994