After their plan to get a police overhaul on the November ballot fell short, Minneapolis City Council members are recalibrating their plans for transforming public safety in the city.
The 2021 budget process, which kicks off next week, could provide an opportunity to do just that — though it wouldn’t necessarily be easy.
Mayor Jacob Frey will outline his first budget pitch Aug. 14, and council members will then have several months to negotiate changes.
Some on the City Council wanted voters to decide whether to eliminate the minimum police staffing requirement from the City Charter and replace it with a new community safety agency. But the Charter Commission on Wednesday blocked that initiative from getting on the November ballot.
Council Member Steve Fletcher said this week that he expects some on the council will want to consider creating a community safety department as the budget negotiations proceed. Creating that department has been at the center of a plan to remake policing following George Floyd’s death.
If they do, they will have to find a way to fund it while still complying with a charter provision that requires Minneapolis to keep a police department with a minimum force based on its population. They will also have to work within the confines of a city budget stretched thin by the coronavirus pandemic and the riots in the nights after Floyd was killed.
“These are real constraints,” Fletcher said. “We have had real problems getting MPD, with the current leadership configuration, to collaborate with the alternative structures that we have created. And so I think that that would continue, as well.”
Others, including Council President Lisa Bender, appear to be more reserved about trying to create the new department this year.
“We could consider that,” Bender said, adding: “The value of having a question on the ballot, of course, is now it would allow every voter to weigh in.”
The five council members who wrote the charter amendment, including Bender and Fletcher, have promised to work to get a policing question on the 2021 ballot.
More broadly, the City Council has promised unanimously to “create a transformative new model for cultivating safety in our city” and to spend a year getting feedback from residents about how a new system should function.
They are trying to do that at a time when skepticism of city government is on the rise.
Some people are urging City Council members to fulfill a promise nine of them made to end the Minneapolis Police Department, saying change is urgently needed.
Others have asked the council to slow down, saying they feel proposals pitched so far have been vague or riddled with flaws.
Some City Council members have suggested they would like some sense of the community’s preferences by the time they vote on a budget in December, while others question whether that’s realistic.
“Unfortunately, they say change moves at the speed of trust, and right now there is not trust between government, in this case the city of Minneapolis, and residents,” Council Member Phillipe Cunningham said during a public meeting Thursday.
Cunningham is part of a group that is tasked with gathering residents’ input on how a redesigned public safety system could function.
The goal, Cunningham said, is to ask residents: “What does it look and feel like if the city were to get this right? ... If we work together and coproduce the exact right results, what does that look and feel like?”
He and city staffers are still working out the specifics of the community engagement process but expect it will involve some virtual meetings and surveys, as well as efforts to research how other cities are changing their systems. The dates when residents can provide their thoughts will be provided in the “near future,” he said.
Staff writer Miguel Otárola contributed to this report.