City council approves new ballot language after judge throws out original Minneapolis public safety question |

City council approves new ballot language after judge throws out original Minneapolis public safety question

City council approves new ballot language after judge throws out original Minneapolis public safety question Photo: KSTP.

Tommy Wiita
Updated: September 07, 2021 06:11 PM
Created: September 07, 2021 09:50 AM

Tuesday morning, a Hennepin County judge tossed the initially approved language by the Minneapolis City Council to be on the November ballot regarding the public safety charter amendment.

The city council reconvened to set new language Tuesday afternoon. An emergency meeting was held by council members at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday was the deadline for the ballot language. The meeting concluded with the city council passing new language 12-1.

"We continue to march on. We got into this fight because we knew it was time to lift and raise up the standard of public safety in the city of Minneapolis," said Minister JaNaé Bates, the communications director at Yes 4 Minneapolis. "This gives us the opportunity to finally have some accountability, and transparency with those who protect and serve."

The revised ballot language reads as follows:

"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?"

Voters would then select a "Yes" or "No" option. The explanatory note reads as follows:

"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 finding requirement would be eliminated."

Minneapolis Mayor Frey, who spoke at a press conference Tuesday afternoon, shared his thoughts on the revision.

"As local elected officials, we have a responsibility to the people we represent to be up front and honest in developing ballot language for proposed charter amendments," said Frey. "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."

District Court Judge Jamie L. Anderson noted that the original language was "vague, ambiguous" and "unreasonable and misleading." The judge also wrote that it would amount to "substantial harm" if the ballot question were put off to a future election. 

The original question was worded as follows:

"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?"

Voters would be asked to vote "yes" or "no" on the question.

Last week, some Minneapolis residents filed a lawsuit against the language, calling it a "misleading ballot question." Three Minneapolis residents claimed that the city council "approved an incomplete and misleading ballot question regarding an amendment to the City Charter that would eliminate the Minneapolis Police Department without any plan for replacing that department's critical public safety functions."

"It was vague as the judge said, it was vague, it was insufficient, it was misleading — it was unjust for all those folks who have to walk up to that ballot booth and make a decision," said Don Samuels, a former Minneapolis City Council member, who filed the lawsuit. "Many people would be making a decision just because, their best guess, that's unfair that's going to affect 450,000 people in the city of Minneapolis into the future."

All of Mpls issued the following statement on the updates Tuesday:

"The Hennepin County Court affirmed today what has become increasingly clear to Minneapolis residents--that the City Council and Yes 4 Minneapolis have not only tried to mislead voters about the most basic facts about the changes this ballot initiative makes to the charter but also about the complete absence of a plan for replacing the Police Department.  There is nothing  the City Council and Yes 4 Minneapolis can do between today and Sept. 17 when voting starts to fix the fact that they've failed to come up with an alternative plan which voters can vote on."

"Make no mistake, we are here today because of the disingenuous actions of Yes 4 Minneapolis and their allies on the City Council. 

"We need significant, structural reform to the way we do policing and the manner in which we approach public safety in Minneapolis, but unfortunately this amendment and the misleading behavior of charter amendment proponents has distracted from that vital work.

"The Mayor and City Council should develop a real, comprehensive plan for how to reform the Minneapolis Police Department, including changes to police training, accountability and discipline, recruitment, and better integration of mental health and other experts into the public safety system. If that comprehensive plan requires a charter change, then voters should have an opportunity to vote knowing what the plan is."

A Yes 4 Minneapolis spokesperson told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on Tuesday night that the group did file an intent to appeal but probably won't move forward, as they want voters to be able to have their say on it.

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