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A Minneapolis city attorney on Wednesday warned City Council members not to use city resources to advocate for ballot initiatives on policing — or they risk violating the law.

"This is an area in which I think I'm going to be sending some legal advice to each and every one of the council members, because there are concerns that I have related to the promotion or laying the groundwork for a particular ballot question," said Susan Trammell, a city attorney who also serves as Minneapolis' ethics officer.

Trammell's remarks came Wednesday during a presentation by three council members about a new public safety department, if voters in November sign off on the idea.

Part of the plan called for launching a citywide survey over the summer and some council members said they have been using their staff for outreach work.

Questions about how and whether to replace the Minneapolis Police Department have dominated conversations in City Hall since George Floyd's death and quickly became the dominant issue in the November races for mayor and City Council.

There are three proposals that seek to overhaul how Minneapolis undertakes policing. Council members wrote one of them.

If any of the proposals meet the requirements for landing on the November ballot, council members and the mayor will determine the wording that voters see at the polls.

In a presentation Wednesday before the council's Committee of the Whole, Council Members Phillipe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher and Jeremy Schroeder described a timeline for creating a new public safety department.

A citywide survey would launch in June and public meetings would occur in June and July.

In September, they would draft an outline for an ordinance creating the new department.

From October through December, they would post a "draft ordinance outline" for public comment.

The council members said they envision a new department that would pull together violence prevention, emergency response and community outreach services that are scattered across city departments.

Schroeder said the presentation expanded on a proposal he wrote with Fletcher and Cunningham but parts of it could also apply if a similar proposal written by political committee Yes 4 Minneapolis gets on the ballot and passes.

The clerk's office is verifying petition signatures gathered by Yes 4 Minneapolis and is expected to announce in the coming days whether that group's proposal meets qualifications for inclusion on the November ballot.

Council Member Lisa Goodman asked if the council members would withdraw their proposal if the other one makes it on the ballot, and Schroeder "speaking for myself" said he would be "amenable to dropping our amendment."

Goodman then questioned why they would use city resources "to generate support for a citizen-led charter amendment."

During the ensuing debate, Trammell gave her warning.

Citing opinions from the state auditor and attorney general, Trammell said that when there are ballot questions, "there must be an evenhanded use of city resources and that neither ballot question should be promoted."

City resources may be used to explain differences between the proposals.

"I want to caution this group that using city resources to generate support for a charter amendment either proposed by the city or by the community and not providing a comprehensive comparison of the facts and implications of all the ballot questions could be viewed as a violation of the prohibition against using city resources for ballot question support," Trammell said.

Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994