Proponents of City Question 1 in Minneapolis contend that City Council members are in charge of day-to-day decisionmaking and that all problems will be fixed by a "stronger mayor." But when we actually compare Minneapolis with other cities, we see the mayor already has enough power.

Proponents rely on the tired folklore that Minneapolis has a "weak mayor" system. This is easy to refute because actual weak mayor (aka "strong council") systems are the most common form of local government in Minnesota, according to the League of Minnesota Cities. By contrast, the strong mayor system is used by "only three charter cities: St. Paul, Duluth, and St. Cloud."

Some claim big cities need pure strong mayor systems. But the International City Managers' Association notes that weak mayor cities include Charlotte, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson and Sacramento.

Minneapolis is not a weak mayor system

In typical weak mayor systems, the mayor is a member of the council who presides at meetings but has no more power than other members. The mayor doesn't develop the budget nor have a veto. Executive authority goes to an appointed manager, who develops the budget and answers to the whole council. That the staff ultimately answers to all elected officials is a feature, not a bug. Oversight is good. The mayor has no direct authority over any city departments.

Minneapolis is nothing like this. Our mayor already has much more power, including the power to develop the budget, veto authority over both the City Council and Park and Recreation Board, and "complete power" over the police and civil rights departments. The mayor also chairs the Executive Committee, which hires and fires department heads and negotiates labor contracts. Since reforms implemented by Mayor Don Fraser, only the mayor can nominate department heads, just like in a pure strong mayor system.

Minneapolis is already close to a strong mayor system

Thankfully, there's one power the mayor doesn't have as much as with a pure strong mayor system: the power to — legally — bully and intimidate council members. Unfortunately, that could soon change.

Currently, since executive authority is shared in our hybrid system, city staff must be responsive to all elected officials. But this extreme proposal would change the charter to say that council members may "seek information or assistance" but only "with the Mayor's consent or in a manner that the Mayor arranges."

Contrary to proponents' claims, this goes far beyond what exists in St. Paul. Intended or not, it constitutes a license for bullying and favoritism by the mayor. For the first time in our history, the mayor would have the power — legally — to direct staff to be responsive to allied council members and less responsive (or unresponsive) to the mayor's opponents. Voters should reject Question 1 on that basis alone.

Challenges with governance should be addressed. We should shield staff from political influence over administrative duties. This can be addressed by placing best practices for interactions between electeds and staff in ordinance — or with less radical amendments. But a drastic wholesale power shift advanced by allies of one elected official to reduce power of other elected officials is not a solution to real problems. It's a symptom of those problems.

There's no magic charter language that negates the need to elect wise leaders. But Question 1 is worse; it would backfire. It assumes the balance of power between the mayor and council is a problem and the mayor needs more. In reality, the post-Fraser balance of power in our hybrid system rewards both leadership and collaboration but guards against abuse of power.

This isn't the first time a campaign backed by wealthy interests and wealthy neighborhoods have pushed for a single decisionmaker as a silver-bullet solution to all problems. But voters have wisely rejected this before. And they should again. Those promoting this amendment opposed minimum wage, paid sick leave and other progressive policies. They were fine with the council having power when their preferred candidates won, but they lost recent elections and now want the charter to help their side.

Voting no on Question 1 is needed to ensure the people of Minneapolis get the strong leadership we deserve from both our council and mayor.

Elizabeth Glidden was on the Minneapolis City Council from 2006 through 2017, Robert Lilligren was on the City Council from 2002 through 2013. Both Glidden and Lilligren served as vice president of the council. Peter Wagenius served in the mayor's office for 16 years under Mayors R.T. Rybak and Betsy Hodges.