The "woke" vs. the reactionaries.
The young DFL vs. the senior DFL. Ilhan Omar and Keith Ellison vs. Tim Walz and Amy Klobuchar.
Jacob Frey vs. the City Council.
Charter for Change vs. Yes 4 Minneapolis.
Proposed charter amendments in Minneapolis have triggered a civil war among Democrats that has brought in dark money for both sides from across the country.
Count me out.
I will vote yes on both City Question 1 — for an executive mayor and a legislative City Council — and for City Question 2 — to create a new Department of Public Safety.
Neither amendment is perfect. Taken together, however, they offer the best path forward — a path of transparency, accountability and unity rather than obfuscation, excuses and division.
My support of City Question 1 will surprise no one. In 2008 and 2009 I led an effort branded as "Update Minneapolis." Our aim was nothing less than to transform Minneapolis City Hall into the efficient, transparent and accountable institution required to navigate the accelerating changes in our community and in our world.
Conventional political wisdom characterized the effort as quixotic or, less charitably, as foolhardy. It was neither. It shared with City Question 1 the aim of eliminating the debilitating "14 boss" problem over the day-to-day management of city departments.
I was told by many quiet supporters 13 years ago that it would take a crisis for Minneapolis to finally fix its City Charter. That crisis is now upon us.
If you ask folks to describe Minneapolis City Hall as we approach the 2021 elections, several adjectives emerge. Chaotic. Rudderless. Confusing. Reactive. Applied to any one person, these descriptions are incomplete and unfair. Applied to City Hall more generally and to the governance of the city, they are spot on.
Honesty requires, however, that we acknowledge that solving the "14 bosses" problem, while essential, will not alone address the unique challenges presented by too many elements of the police culture in Minneapolis. Passage of City Question 1 will not address the shameful lack of transparency and accountability endemic to the operation of the Minneapolis Police Department.
If ever there has been a need for public hearings followed by sober and deliberative debate regarding the future of the MPD it was in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Throughout the country city councils have adopted policies ranging from qualifications of field training officers, to civilian review, to new use of force policies, to protection of the First Amendment rights of protesters and the public's right to know about sustained disciplinary proceedings.
Vigorous City Council debates of these issues, followed by the adoption of ordinances or policies subject to mayoral veto, is essential to a healthy and open democracy.
Yet here, in the city where two officers have been convicted of murder in the past few years, nothing significant has happened.
Long overdue public hearings should be held by the City Council on the city's legislative agenda and the union contract with the MPD. If state law and the contract are obstacles to reform, the council needs to weigh in on its police reform legislative agenda and on changes to the union contract it will require to ratify any new labor agreement.
The public interest requires transparency before the rights of the public to discipline officers is negotiated away behind closed doors.
I disagree with those who have called for "defunding" the MPD. We need more, not fewer, police officers. The passage of City Question 2, however, will not itself defund the police department. While it removes from the charter language requiring a certain number of police, this language is unique to Minneapolis and arguably inappropriate in a city charter. The number of police required in our city is a political issue to be determined by the elected officials, not the charter.
The best argument for the adoption of City Question 2 is the elimination of language from Section 7.3 granting the mayor "complete authority over establishment, maintenance and command of the police department."
Former City Attorney Susan Segal opined unambiguously in 2018 that the City Council "has the same authority to legislate and set enterprise policies, goals and strategic direction, hold hearings and require accountability of and reports from the Police Department" as it does in regard to any other department. Yet this provision is now being used by the new city attorney and mayor to limit the council's legitimate oversight and legislative authority.
Without the transparency that comes with council oversight, police reform will not happen.
There are arguments for and against the creation of a new Department of Public Safety. Advocates claim that this structural change will magically create a new public health approach to public safety. It will not. Opponents contend such a department will eviscerate the authority of the police chief. This is also suspect.
If both amendments pass, the new public safety director will serve at the will of the mayor. The police chief will report to the public safety director and will have one boss, not 14.
Passage of City Question 1 is long overdue. Passage of both amendments would clear the way for a strong executive and a vigorous and active City Council demanding police reform. An affirmative vote on both measures might also be the only way out of an election aftermath of recriminations and disillusionment.
Paul Ostrow was a member of the Minneapolis City Council, 1998-2009.