A working group of the Minneapolis Charter Commission voted Tuesday to recommend keeping a police reform measure off the November ballot — an indication that the commission could slow down the movement to dismantle the police department.
The full commission is scheduled to vote Wednesday on the proposal, but the 4-2 vote of its working group signaled that some members of the commission feel the push to change the city’s charter is moving too fast.
The proposal, brought by Commissioner Al Giraud-Isaacson, was widely described as the simpler of two measures up for consideration as the city debates how to remake policing following George Floyd’s death. Giraud-Isaacson’s proposal would remove the requirement to maintain a minimum police force based on the city’s population, but leave intact the requirement for a police department.
“I’m going to assume that taking more time on my amendment, it probably means that we’re going to do the same thing with the City Council’s proposal, so I’m opposed to that,” he said.
The debate about how to change policing has centered on the city’s charter — which serves as its constitution — and it has raised fundamental questions about how the city should be governed. It has also challenged the commission, which is made up of 15 volunteers appointed by a judge. It generally takes months to debate proposals but is now tasked with evaluating them in just over a month.
Some have questioned whether the Charter Commission truly reflects the community it is meant to serve. The Charter Commission Chairman, Barry Clegg, said at least three of the 15 commissioners describe themselves as people of color. The 12-member City Council has three Black council members and one Latina council member.
The City Council wants Minneapolis voters to consider its own proposal, which eliminates the charter’s requirement for minimum police staffing and replaces the department with a new safety agency.
But all such changes have to go through the Charter Commission, which can’t stop the council’s measure but could delay the process beyond the deadline for adding items to this year’s ballot.
Giraud-Isaacson offered his proposal as a possible compromise after some people said the City Council’s amendment went too far.
On Tuesday, he urged his fellow commissioners to recommend his proposal. He said he understood their desire to do more research on the measure before it heads to voters. But, he added, “As a person of color and as a member of the LGBTQ community, that’s something that we hear a lot when we are advocating for a change, or for rights.”
He said it took decades for LGBTQ people to get assurances that they wouldn’t be able to be fired from a job, solely because of their sexuality or gender identity. “It’s not the right time,” they were told over and over again, he said. “These are the things that we hear a lot when we’re trying to make change, so I struggle with that while understanding the complications of these amendments.”
Another commissioner, Jill Garcia, also offered thoughts, but because she is not a member of the work group, she could not vote Tuesday on Giraud-Isaacson’s proposal. She will be allowed to vote when the commission convenes Wednesday.
Garcia said she has grown frustrated with some people who have tried to — falsely — paint the court-appointed Charter Commission as an all-white body. Giraud-Isaacson’s remarks, she said, “added to the complexity of the whole picture that I am wrestling with as a person of color.”
Unlike Giraud-Isaacson, Garcia feels the commission should save this question for next year’s ballot. She said she feared that conversations hadn’t included enough input from Medaria Arradondo, the city’s first Black police chief. She said she thought it might be helpful to have a more thorough examination of the police department and the police union. And, she said she believes there is plenty that the mayor and City Council can do to change policing without first changing the charter.
“Having a plan, having conversations on multiple levels to prepare for this on the ballot next year, when it is a municipal-focused ballot and the City Council members are also up on the ballot, I think is a very appropriate coalescing of both council members and this ballot question,” Garcia said.
Her comments echoed those of some of the work group members who raised concerns about putting Giraud-Isaacson’s proposal on the 2020 ballot.
Charter Commissioners Andrew Kozak, Matt Perry, Lyall Schwarzkopf and Clegg voted against recommending the measure. Giraud-Isaacson and the work group chairwoman, Andrea Rubenstein, voted in favor.
Similar divisions have played out in the community, where people’s thoughts on police reform do not always fall predictably along racial, geographic or gender lines.
Some people who support abolishing the city’s police department have identified the Charter Commission as an obstacle. Others, who fear the proposals are advancing too quickly, are asking the commission to act as a safety net.
The commission will have until Aug. 5 to decide what it wants to do with the council’s measure. Minnesota law dictates that the commission can offer a recommendation to approve or reject a proposal brought by the council, or offer a substitute in its place. The council is not bound by their recommendation.
The commission could also invoke its legal right to take additional time to review the measure, ending its chances for getting on the ballot this year. Both items could come up again in 2021.