Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said Thursday that he would veto the City Council's latest ballot language on a proposal that will decide the future of the city's Police Department.
At a downtown news conference, Frey said he believed the council's current language failed to inform voters about significant aspects of the proposal, including parts that would eliminate a minimum staffing requirement for police and remove the mayor's "complete power" over officers.
"We should tell the truth, and voters should know what they are voting for," Frey said. "Sadly, yesterday, there was an effort by some council members to hide the ball, to prevent residents and voters throughout our city from understanding the full consequences of what the ballot initiative involving police would be."
The mayor's veto threat set the stage for a dramatic series of last-minute negotiations with council members. Members of the City Attorney's Office have warned elected officials that they risk being held in contempt of court if they blow past an 11:59 p.m. Friday deadline for finalizing the wording and submitting it to county elections staff.
A political committee called Yes 4 Minneapolis wrote the proposal, but city officials are tasked with crafting the precise question that appears on the ballot.
Late last month, city officials approved a plan to ask voters if they want to change the charter "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."
Below that question, the ballot would have included a 198-word explanatory note that listed additional parts of the proposal, including some Frey said he wants mentioned.
Yes 4 Minneapolis filed a lawsuit challenging the city's use of the explanatory note, and last week, Hennepin County Judge Jamie Anderson ordered the city to remove it from the proposed ballot language. She said the city had the power to write such notes, but the language it chose was "problematic." She noted that the explanation was longer than the question itself.
City staff worked over the weekend to rewrite the question, and Yes 4 Minneapolis asked the judge to stop them. Terrance W. Moore, the group's attorney, argued the judge's order did not give the city power to revise the wording. He said they should delete the note and proceed with the original question.
In a meeting of the council's Policy & Government Oversight Committee on Wednesday, some council members made similar arguments. They voted 9-4 to proceed with the original question, without an explanation attached.
Judge Anderson issued a decision Thursday morning saying that Yes 4 Minneapolis "misstates" her prior ruling. "The Order does not preclude [the city] from including any explanatory note and in fact finds that the City is not barred from including one," Anderson wrote. Her order, she wrote, instructed the city to remove the specific explanatory note it had previously included.
Anderson's order is likely to be a topic of conversation in negotiations among city officials. So, too, is advice from Sarah McLaren, an attorney for the city, who said in a public meeting that officials should be careful "to contain all key points both of what is coming out [of the charter] as well as what is coming in."
Frey said Thursday afternoon that he was working on a possible compromise. An early draft released by his office would ask voters if they want to amend the charter "to remove the Police Department, remove the funding requirement for a minimum police force and remove the position of Chief of Police, and replace it with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach to be determined by the Mayor and City Council, including licensed peace officers (police officers) if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety."
The council must meet Friday morning to take a final vote on ballot language, and could either stick with their wording or change it. If Frey vetoes, the council could try to muster nine votes to override it. If the veto stands, they'll need to come up with new wording that gets support from at least seven council members and the mayor.