Lawsuit filed against Minneapolis City Council regarding policing ballot language |

Lawsuit filed against Minneapolis City Council regarding policing ballot language

Lawsuit filed against Minneapolis City Council regarding policing ballot language Photo: KSTP.

Tommy Wiita
Updated: August 31, 2021 06:08 PM
Created: August 31, 2021 12:55 PM

Some residents of Minneapolis have filed a lawsuit against the city and the city council for the "misleading ballot question" the council and Mayor Jacob Frey traded opinions on recently, regarding the public safety charter amendment. 

The approved language for the ballot, finalized on Aug. 20, goes 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 can then vote "yes" or "no" on the question. It was approved after the city council overrode a veto by the mayor, the second time Frey faced that result.

"Mayor Frey is unable to comment on active litigation and the lawsuit as is currently being reviewed by the City Attorney, but his position has remained consistent: the voters of Minneapolis deserve transparency from their elected representatives and essential information about what they're voting on," the Minneapolis mayor's office stated on Tuesday. 

However, in the lawsuit filed Tuesday, three Minneapolis residents claim 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."

The three residents who filed the suit are identified as Don Samuels, Sondra Samuels and Bruce Dachis. They are asking for better transparency in the language regarding the outcome and timeline if the amendment is passed. 

Attorneys for the city of Minneapolis say they are reviewing the filing. 

More than a year after George Floyd's death sparked a failed push to abolish the police department, a well-funded group of activists and several city council members are trying again. Their initiative would ask voters in November to replace the police department with a "public safety department" that employs licensed peace officers.

It's the second time in a month that Minneapolis has been sued over how it chose to ask voters whether they want to clear the way for city officials to replace the police department with a new agency.

The proposal was written by a new political coalition called Yes 4 Minneapolis, which sued after the city attached an explanatory note to the ballot question. The coalition argued the city didn't have authority to include the note and that the language was "misleading."

Before the court now is a question of whether Minneapolis officials should revise the language that appears on the ballot when voters decide the fate of the department. Early voting begins Sept. 17.

The proposal Yes 4 Minneapolis wrote would remove language in the charter that requires the city to keep a police department with a minimum number of officers based on population. The city would then create an agency responsible for "integrating" public safety functions "into a comprehensive public health approach to safety." The new agency could have police "if necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of the department."

Attorneys representing the three individuals named argue that the question should mention that, if approved, it would remove three things from the charter: minimum funding requirements for police, a reference to the police chief's job and a line that gives the mayor "complete power" over police operations, according to the filing.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo issued the following statement on the matter to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS:

The leadership reporting structure for a major city chief is critically important. The department's operational readiness, effectiveness along with decision-making ability and approval process requires clarity and timeliness. 

Over a thirty-year career of service, I've pushed to create change In our public safety systems and been grateful to play a role in advancing new, community-led safety initiatives. I've also seen firsthand that operational efficiency is essential to both building trust and public safety. And our city's public safety could be compromised with additional layers of bureaucracy.

If the current city charter amendment to the reporting structure passes and results in bringing 14 different people Into Minneapolis' daily reporting structure, it would not just be confusing — it would be a wholly unbearable position for any law enforcement leader or police chief.

The lawsuit asks the courts to block city, state and Hennepin County officials from issuing ballots with the current question listed on it. They want a judge to send the question back to the city for revision.

A Hennepin County judge will hear the case on Thursday at 1:30 p.m.

To see the full lawsuit, click here, or see below. 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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