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The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. —George Orwell

My roots run deep in Minneapolis. I was born in the city and spent early childhood there, later becoming a homeowner and landlord on the south side for decades. My office is downtown to this day.

I've long had a couple pet names for my hometown. To me it's not just the "City of Lakes" but the City of Flakes. More seriously, I've long liked to call Minneapolis "the town that cannot be wrecked."

Minneapolis often has been misgoverned, in various ways, from its beginnings in the latter 19th century. Yet a complex combination of advantages in its geography, a dynamic blend of immigrant communities that set the town's cultural course and in generations of visionary business and civic leaders, gave it a social and economic vitality that repeatedly overcame political malfunctions.

In "Minneapolis in the 20th Century," local historian Iric Nathanson notes that neighboring St. Paul secured Home Rule autonomy in 1900, decades before Minneapolis, and adopted a more decisive "strong mayor" governmental structure, precisely because the capital city "was not keeping pace" with the "economic powerhouse" Minneapolis had become from its early days.

Feeling threatened, Nathanson suggests, St. Paul political factions appreciated the need to compromise and pull together. In booming Minneapolis, rival interests felt more at liberty to scramble for advantage among themselves.

And so it has remained. For well over a century, Minneapolis has staged a messy political slugfest every 10 years or so over efforts to reorganize its Byzantine government structure, where ungainly amounts of power reside in assertive City Council committees and a swarm of boards and commissions.

Some may recall how in 2009 the city's autonomous Park and Recreation Board was the target of a series of proposed charter amendments, contested in several lawsuits. First came an effort to abolish the board, then one to redouble its independence, and finally an indirect attempt to, well, "defund" it you might say. Nothing much happened in the end.

Way back in the 1940s, a charismatic young mayor named Hubert Humphrey had tried to streamline Minneapolis government. He failed and left to take on something easier, like restructuring the politics of civil rights in Washington.

So a lover of Minneapolis wanting to cheer himself up could reflect that this fall's daredevil, three ring circus of charter amendments is almost business as usual for the city of flakes.

But only Minneapolis voters can ensure that theirs will remain the town that can't be wrecked.

Their most critical decision is of course whether the city should "defund police." This admirably clear, even astoundingly clear statement of purpose — emblazoned in supersized letters across a Powderhorn Park stage in June 2020 as a City Council supermajority unleashed this crusade — has ever since become a ponderous ball and chain for the idea's proponents, and indeed for progressives generally.

The result has been a relentless, almost comical attempt by defunders to obscure and misrepresent the provisions of the so-called public safety amendment and its replacement of the Police Department with, well, something.

It will be something comprehensive and inclusive, we've been assured, something research-based and data-driven, something bursting with transparency. Details to come.

All this has led, in the best Minneapolis tradition, to multiple lawsuits and court orders, mainly over the language that will appear on the ballot.

Last week, Hennepin County Judge Jamie Anderson ruled that the language the council had approved for the ballot in August, over Mayor Jacob Frey's protest that voters needed more information, was "vague to the point of being misleading" and likely to create a "chaotic situation" in the city.

"The record," wrote Judge Anderson, "does not reflect the existence of any plan ... as to what the proposed Department of Public Safety would look like, other than that it would have 'administrative authority to be consistent with other city departments to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety[.]'"

The "essential purpose" of the amendment "is not clear," Anderson mildly concluded.

Prominent proponents certainly have tried to simplify things. In a commentary for these pages, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, who represents Minneapolis in Congress, insisted that the amendment "has nothing to do with funding levels." Attorney General Keith Ellison, Omar's predecessor in Congress, told WCCO radio's Chad Hartman that "nothing in this defunds the police." And mayoral candidate and former legislator Kate Knuth wrote in a commentary that the amendment "does not abolish police or remove the chief of police."

Yet new ballot language adopted after Judge Anderson ruled now informs voters: "The Police Department, and its chief, would be removed from the City Charter ... and the minimum funding requirement would be eliminated."

Any questions?

It's true, of course, that even if the amendment passes nothing would prevent the city from maintaining and funding a Police Department. But then, nothing in the charter as it stands prevents the city from creating a new Department of Public Safety with the mental health and social work professionals many believe should handle situations armed officers are ill-suited to deal with.

For that matter, nothing in the charter prevents the city from creating the new department while enlarging its police force (a plan, come to think of it, that might have the incidental advantage of attracting diverse support across the community.)

The only thing the current charter prevents is ... defunding — reducing the police force below a defined staffing minimum, and stripping the mayor of executive control over policing.

Making those divisive innovations possible might well be called the amendment's "essential purpose." On Monday Judge Anderson will hear still more arguments about whether the ballot language makes its effects clear enough.

As usual in the long history of Minneapolis structure battles, there's a case to be made for the change being proposed in this amendment. Setting department budgets in a hard-to-amend charter is at most times a debatable governing model.

And maybe Minneapolis is a city that can't be wrecked even by shrinking its police force in the middle of a crime wave.

But voters at least have a right to know — in clear language — what experiments they're being invited to conduct.

D.J. Tice is at Doug.Tice@startribune.com.