MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minneapolis City Council approved new ballot language for the Minneapolis Public Safety Amendment Tuesday afternoon after a judge earlier in the day struck down the previous question.
In her ruling, Judge Jamie Anderson blasted the amendment language writing, “it is vague and ambiguous to the point of misleading voters.”
The judge’s ruling was on a civil lawsuit brought by three Minneapolis residents, who oppose the amendment, including north Minneapolis residents Don and Sondra Samuels.
“We are constantly needing the police,” said Don Samuels. “The number one number to call from our community, from any neighbor, is not grandma, is not Mom, is not siblings, it’s 911. So we are constantly in touch with the police.”
Minneapolis residents are set to vote this fall on whether the city’s police department should be replaced by a Department of Public Safety. Tuesday is the deadline for ballot language.
The ballot language asked:
“Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to strike and replace the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety which could include licensed peace officers (police officers) if necessary, with administrative authority to be consistent with other city departments to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety?”
The City Council voted 12-1 on new amendment language that reads:
“Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to remove the Police Department and replace it with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions by the Department of Public Safety, with those specific functions to be determined by the Mayor and City Council by ordinance; which will not be subject to exclusive mayoral power over its establishment, maintenance, and command; and which could include licensed peace officers (police officers), if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety, with the general nature of the amendments being briefly indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?”
The explanatory note reads:
“This amendment would create a Department of Public Safety combining public safety functions through a comprehensive public health approach to be determined by the Mayor and Council. The department would be led by a Commissioner nominated by the Mayor and appointed by the Council. The Police Department, and its chief, would be removed from the City Charter. The Public Safety Department could include police officers, but the minimum funding requirement would be eliminated.”
The city clerk said Mayor Jacob Frey returned the resolution without signing it, meaning it is “deemed approved.” The new ballot language will now be filed with Hennepin County.
Council adopted a new resolution setting ballot language for the proposed charter amendment to create a new Public Safety Department.
Pursuant to City Charter Section 4.4(c)(2), the Mayor has returned that resolution unsigned, which means it is now "deemed approved."
— Minneapolis Clerk (@mplsclerk) September 7, 2021
Frey released a statement, saying the city council forced through the language despite his two vetoes.
“As local elected officials, we have a responsibility to the people we represent to be upfront and honest in developing ballot language for proposed charter amendments,” Frey said. “Regrettably, the Council ignored the advice of subject matter experts and attempted to hide the ball from voters in the language they previously drafted. Regardless of what you think of the amendment, the changes required by court order and approved by the Council more accurately reflect the consequences of this charter amendment, and it is therefore our legal obligation to advance it to the ballot.”
Councilmember Lisa Goodman was the sole no vote. The group Yes4Minneapolis says they don’t like the new language but want voters to support it anyway.
“We will continue to say yes, yes, yes, yes we should absolutely be voting yes on ballot question two,” said JaNae’ Bates, the group’s director of communication.
Yes4Minneapolis filed an intent to appeal the judge’s ruling early Tuesday evening. But Bates says they may not actually go through with filing an appeal.
The Samuels say they are not on board with the changed language. They feel that while it’s better, it’s still misleading.
Mayor Frey, who is opposed to doing away with the police department, shared his skepticism on timing if voters choose to create a department of public safety.
“I also have concerns with this notion of getting an entire Department of Public Safety set up in 30 days when you don’t know exactly who’s going to lead it, don’t know exactly how it’s comprised. There’s a massive lack of clarity right now,” Frey said.
Councilmember Phillipe Cunningham says work is being done behind the scenes, working with fellow Councilmembers Steve Fletcher and Jeremy Schroeder. The trio led the city’s push for a public safety charter amendment change.
“Out in the open, we are working on it to have a preliminary ordinance in place that will still have law enforcement services under a division head, would be the police chief, and office of violence prevention. That would be our initial ordinance that we would then later amend,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham plans to start the process of presenting the plan to city council on Friday. Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison, one of the strongest voices for defunding the police, says he is just glad that voters will get a say on this issue.
City council president Lisa Bender said 30 days is standard. She says if the amendment passes, change would be incremental.
Early voting begins on Sept. 17.
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