The head of the Minneapolis Charter Commission says they wrote a proposal to restrict the City Council's authority because the public isn't well served by the city's "14-boss" system of government.
"If the personalities mesh and the times are good, it works. It has worked," said Barry Clegg, chairman of the commission. "Minneapolis has been a very successful city, but in times where the personalities don't mesh or where the city is under stress or a crisis, it doesn't work."
The commission has jettisoned its most controversial idea, creating a criminal penalty for council members who meddle in the mayor's business. But it's still pushing a charter change that would bolster the mayor's authority over daily operations, taking a prominent stand in the power struggle at City Hall.
High-ranking city employees privately told the commissioners they struggled to manage conflicts among 14 elected leaders during crises like the coronavirus pandemic and George Floyd's death.
"We clearly have a 14-boss problem in Minneapolis," Clegg said.
The volunteer commission is tasked with reviewing changes to the city's charter, which serves as its constitution, before they land on the ballot for voters to decide their fate. The commission has rejected the City Council's past attempts to gain more authority over police.
Under the new proposal, the council would focus primarily on legislative duties like writing ordinances and vetting city budgets. It would retain sway over the clerk's office and auditor to support its "legislative function" and "oversight function," Clegg said.
The mayor would serve as the "chief executive" for most of the city's largest departments, including police, fire and public works, among others. Council members would not be permitted to "usurp, invade, or interfere with the mayor's direction or supervision."
The proposal also changes the terms of many city department heads to align them with the mayor's, and it raises the number of votes required to remove an elected official from office to a two-thirds vote.
"It shouldn't be possible for seven council members who disagree with the mayor to remove the mayor over a political disagreement," Clegg said.
Clegg said he expects the commission will decide at its April or May meeting whether to put the proposal before voters this fall.
The city's current elected leaders have varying opinions on the plan. In a meeting earlier this year, some urged the commission to go even further while others said they felt the current system helps ensure that people who live in areas with lower voter turnout have more representation in city government.
A public hearing earlier this month drew a dozen speakers.
One caller, Heather Magnuson, welcomed efforts to rein in a "rogue City Council."
"It has become glaringly obvious there are too many cooks in the kitchen," Magnuson said.
Another speaker, Jennifer Wilson, supported the effort but worried about implications for the council in creating a public safety department in the wake of Floyd's death.
"I strongly urge this committee to table a vote on this particular amendment and rewrite it so that it encompasses a change to the Police Department so that this amendment is not set up as pitted against the other and causing voters who are very strongly in favor [of] some sort of reform of the Police Department to vote against this particular amendment," Wilson said.
Clegg said he doesn't see a conflict between the two proposals. If both were to end up on the ballot and voters approve them both, Clegg said language in the commission's proposal that mentions the Police Department would be swapped out with the new language referencing a public safety department.
The commission will hold a second public hearing at 4:30 p.m. Thursday. People interested in speaking can sign up on the city's website.
Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994