Voters approve charter amendment to change Minneapolis government structure

The balance of power in Minneapolis is shifting.

On Tuesday, voters approved ballot question No. 1, the charter amendment that changes the structure of city government, creating what’s often referred to as a "strong mayor" system.

Standing with his campaign staff on Wednesday after declaring victory in the Minneapolis mayoral race, Jacob Frey said this was a "founding mothers and founding fathers" moment for the city.

The change shifts certain powers to the office of the mayor, creating a "chief executive" role at city hall. The mayor has authority over all the city departments. Before, that authority was shared with the city council, leading proponents of the measure to argue that it’s too difficult to have 14 bosses.

What’s also stripped away is the executive committee. Before, the mayor, city council president and three city council members made up the committee that together came up with proposals for the city council to approve. Voters who opposed the question worried that doing away with the committee would further alienate the mayor from the city council.

In his first one-on-one interview after his reelection, Frey said the change creates clarity and gives him the same authority that his counterpart in St. Paul has.

"Previously, you know, you spend almost as much time arguing over who has the authority as you do the substance of an issue," he said.

Frey will now control the day-to-day activity in the city, while the city council will remain the legislative body.

The charter amendment has been proposed at various times over the last four decades, former city council member Barb Johnson said.

"The reaction to the pandemic and the George Floyd murder exacerbated and brought to people’s attention the continuing tension between the mayor and the city council," she said.

Johnson, the longest-serving city council president in Minneapolis history, said the charter change shouldn’t change the working relationship between the executive and legislative branches.

"I think… it will be clear to the mayor and the soon-to-be-chosen council president that they need to work more closely together," she said.

Johnson said, even with the charter changes, the city council still has great power.

"They pass the laws, the ordinances," Johnson said. "They pass the budget, how much departments are allocated, you know, to do their work. The city council still has the authority to fire a department head with a two-thirds vote."