Scale of public safety amendment questioned by commission work group

This article was written by Connor Cummiskey

Discussions began anew on the Minneapolis City Council’s public safety amendment in Ausust, after the Minneapolis Charter Commission voted to continue its discussion.

At its August 5 meeting the Charter Commission voted to take an additional 90 days to consider the amendment proposed by the city council. That leaves the commission until November 27 to make a decision on whether to approve, reject or substitute the proposal with their own.

The amendment would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention that would have “a holistic, public health-oriented approach.” While the department could maintain a division of law enforcement, it would be led by a director required to have non-law enforcement experience in community safety services. The director would be nominated by the mayor and appointed by the city council.

Since that early August meeting the commission elected to form a work group to further study the new amendment. During an August 18 meeting, the work group appeared to agree largely with five tests for an amendment laid out by Chair Barry Clegg. Members also discussed what additional information they wanted and how to go about gathering the facts as it moves forwards.

The work group also discussed the possibility of suggesting a substitute amendment. Some members were concerned that the council’s amendment functioned better as two amendments – one focusing on police and another addressing the balance of power between the council and the mayor.

Commissioner Gregory Abbott argued the proposal “bit off more than it could chew.” He floated the possibility of submitting a substitute amendment focusing on police and leaving concerns over the powers of the council and the mayor to another discussion.

Currently the charter gives power over the police to the mayor. The proposed amendment would place the public safety department largely under the purview of the council.

During discussions of the amendment throughout August the charter commission has wrestled with what exactly its role is in this process. The commission oversees the charter, however, there is little guidance for charter members on exactly how to consider an amendment.

Because the amendment was proposed by the council, instead of by the commission itself or via a citizen petition, the commission has room to approve, reject or substitute its own proposal. Whatever the commission chooses to do the city council still has the power to place the amendment on the ballot, though the mayor could veto it.

Clegg laid out his own set of tests for each amendment to pass. While additional tests may be needed, Clegg argued that every amendment should be germaine to the charter, well considered, clear and specific, should not interfere with voters’ rights and should follow state law.

At the commission’s August 5 meeting Clegg laid out his arguments for why the amendment needed further consideration. Clegg argued it was indeed germaine to the charter, because it deals with city departments. However, the amendment failed to clear Clegg’s further tests. First he argued that it was not a well-considered amendment.

“This amendment was literally written on a Wednesday and passed on a Friday,” Clegg said. “That’s not a rhetorical device. It really was written on a Wednesday and passed on a Friday. The council had to suspend its own rules to bypass committee referrals and public hearings.”

He also argued the amendment was not clear on the function of the new department and would interfere with voters’ right to determine the structure and function of a public safety, or police, department.

As for the amendment’s legality, Clegg pointed out that by eliminating the police department – which has a collective bargaining unit – the city would violate the state’s unfair labor practice laws. Citing the city attorney’s office, Clegg argued the amendment would either be considered unfair business practice, or the current police union and all of its members would be reinstated under the new department of public safety.