Minneapolis Charter Commission Chairman Barry Clegg said Thursday that he had no intention of holding a hearing this month about the City Council’s proposal for shared oversight of the police, dimming the controversial measure’s chances of making it on the ballot in November.
On Wednesday night, as activists shouted through a tense, five-hour council meeting over the proposal, the Charter Commission met across the hall and decided not to hold a public hearing next week, which is mandatory for the Aug. 24 election deadline.
The council is scheduled to vote Friday on whether to move the amendment forward to the charter process. The commission has up to 150 days to consider the council’s action, and Clegg said it doesn’t want to rush to a decision without ample public comment and research time to meet the council’s expedited timeline.
“Frankly, I don’t know how I would vote on this proposal, just because I don’t know enough about it,” Clegg said. “And I think most of the charter commissioners felt the same way. And if we feel that way, I’m pretty sure a lot of the citizenry does as well.”
The proposal to change the city’s charter to give some of the mayor’s power over police to the council came up earlier this summer, as the council responded to renewed calls for police reform after two white officers fatally shot Thurman Blevins, a black man in north Minneapolis. Some council members have been rushing to put it before voters this November.
The most recent language, introduced Wednesday night, would allow the mayor to retain “executive power,” but give the council authority to “adopt policies, rules and regulations of the police department, subject to approval of the Mayor.”
Council President Lisa Bender, who’s been supportive of the charter change, was not optimistic that it will pass in time to get on the ballot this year, but said that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be put to voters in the future.
“At this point, it seems likely that this is on track for a 2020 ballot vote based on my understanding of what the charter commission discussed [Wednesday],” Bender said.
The charter commissioners — a group of 15 people appointed by the chief judge of the Hennepin County District Court — could still change their minds and decide to hold the hearing at their meeting next Wednesday. But they would have to make the decision by Monday. The commission could also hold a special meeting with a public hearing in the next few weeks, said City Clerk Casey Carl.
“As long as I have all of that in my hands by Aug. 24 and get it to the county, we’re good to go,” said Carl. “That’s three full weeks left. It’s down to the wire.”
As of this week, the commissioners have no plans to do so, said Clegg, noting that the language of the charter changed Wednesday.
“We would start promptly, because we’re aware of the calendar ticking away,” Clegg said. “But it’s not gonna happen before Aug. 24.”
Council Member Cam Gordon, who introduced the charter amendment earlier this summer, said it’s also possible for the charter commission to suspend its own rules and allow it to move forward without public comment.
But Gordon acknowledged the amendment is “probably” dead this year.
Veto threat looms
There’s also the lingering threat of a veto.
Mayor Jacob Frey would not say whether he’d exercise his veto power, given that the council hasn’t passed final language. But he’s come out strongly against the charter change over the past few weeks. In order to override his veto, the council would need a two-thirds vote, and so far six of the 13 members have opposed it.
In an interview Thursday, Frey said he agreed with the charter commission’s call not to rush the process. “Given the weight of this proposal and the impact it could have, the city deserves more engagement than it’s gotten,” he said. “And we shouldn’t forgo the standard community engagement process.”
Frey said it doesn’t appear that council members have a full understanding of the amendment, referencing a staff direction at the Wednesday City Council meeting asking the city attorney to clarify what power they currently have over police. He questioned why the City Council would still have a vote scheduled Friday to push the amendment forward.
“This is a moment in time when our city needs clarity,” he said. “Based on the staff direction noting the council doesn’t even understand the present law and the discussion that took place [Wednesday] night, I don’t believe we’re delivering clarity by moving forward.”