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Minneapolis City Council Member Robin Wonsley's proposal to change the charter to allow for citizens to vote directly on city laws (Minnesota section, Feb. 27) has some appealing aspects and raises several questions.

This process, often referred to as initiative and referendum (I&R) or a form of direct democracy, offers a further option for citizens of Minneapolis to play a more significant role in the voting booth by accepting or rejecting proposed changes. Other cities, like St. Paul, have used this process, although not without some serious problems, like a rent-control ordinance that had to be amended almost immediately by the City Council and mayor because the new law had severe unintended consequences in the creation of new housing.

It is interesting to note, in thinking about the impact such a change would have on Minneapolis voters, that states with I&R procedures have 3% to 8% higher voter turnout in elections with such ballot initiatives compared with states without this option (from ballotpedia.org, the Encyclopedia of American Politics). So Wonsley may be correct that increasing voters' access to making or changing our laws results in more voters turning out to vote across the board.

However, there are some serious questions and possible unintended consequences that must be addressed.

First, whenever these kind of ballot initiatives show up on particularly controversial issues, large amounts of money are spent by all sides to win over voters. This proposal may result in Minneapolis politics becoming even more embroiled in money politics in which the big spenders are often the winners.

Second, the money spent on lawsuits and the extensive lobbying over wording and procedures related to these ballot initiatives could skyrocket out of control.

Third, this proposal could weaken the City Council's role in setting policy and making laws. Right now we can hold the mayor or our City Council members accountable by voting them in or out of office or lobbying them personally. This proposed change to the Minneapolis Charter could result in less direct accountability.

Fourth, how many of these initiatives in the future would be fueled by supporters who have an ax to grind on some issue and will succeed in putting such a ballot initiative before voters who couldn't care less. Since 1904, in states with I&R voting options, only 43% of the proposed ballot initiatives actually passed, according to Ballotpedia. Minneapolis needs to look at the cost of such a track record of failure across the country.

Finally, if as the Star Tribune article suggests, Wonsley is proposing this initiative to get around the mayor, especially his ability to veto City Council decisions — then we have to ask: Is this is a healthy addition to our city governance or just a further nod to those who choose performance and money politics rather than substantive negotiation and compromise to reach agreement? I hope Mayor Jacob Frey, Council Member Wonsley, the entire council and the Minneapolis Charter Commission will carefully consider all the public input as well as the history and use of these type of ballot initiatives.

David Gagne lives in Minneapolis. A public hearing on this issue is set for 1:30 p.m. Monday during the meeting of the council's Administration & Enterprise Oversight Committee in Room 350 of the Public Service Center, 250 S. Fourth St.