Minneapolis voters are sending Mayor Jacob Frey into a second term with more executive power than any leader in the city's history — and allowing him to maintain sole command of the Police Department.
Two proposed charter amendments gave voters a choice about whether the City Council or the mayor should wield more power at City Hall. They sided with the mayor, jettisoning a push from progressives to overhaul policing in part by giving the council oversight of a new public safety department.
They also diminished the council's sway over city operations, consolidating authority over city departments in the mayor's office for the first time since the city was founded.
Frey stressed the importance of that change to city government at his election night party.
"I would say it's one of the most important parts of this entire election because it allows us to get real and serious," Frey said.
"It will allow us to have a delineation between who's in charge, and I think that'll also push back in a lot of the silly disagreements that we've seen over the last year and a half."
The main opposition to Frey could not settle on a single candidate to support. Mayoral challengers Sheila Nezhad and Kate Knuth, who both ran to the left of Frey, supported the policing change and opposed consolidating executive authority under the mayor's office.
They tried to maximize their chances by encouraging supporters to list the two of them first and second and to leave Frey off their ballots.
The plan did not pay off, with Frey winning over Knuth in the final round of vote counting by nearly 11 percentage points.
As the Twin Cities have seen a wave of violent crime, keeping Frey in the mayor's office and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo at the helm of the Police Department maintains some stability, said Patricia Kelly, a longtime resident of the city and chair of the Minneapolis-area chapter of the DFL Senior Caucus.
"People are going to know what's going to happen next week," she said.
Kelly previously worked in City Hall and said she "understood the plight" of department heads trying to operate in the current system where City Council members and the mayor clash over directions for employees — a situation that she said has gotten worse since her time in city government.
Minneapolis is a growing city that has often been criticized for its fragmented power structure, said Hamline University political science Prof. David Schultz, who recently sat on a national commission that drafted different model city charters.
The change to the city's charter that passed Tuesday will shift to a strong mayor system along the lines of what almost all of the largest U.S. cities have, he said.
"Once a city gets to a certain size and structure there seems to be some kind of a need for consolidating authority within the mayor's office," Schultz said.
"A lot of cities reach this conclusion and say that, 'Well, dividing power up between a City Council and a mayor doesn't really make sense. We want to do a more traditional model where the City Council is the legislative body, is the appropriations body.' The mayor's office becomes a more traditional chief executive office."
The Minneapolis Charter Commission, an unelected body that wields considerable influence over the city's future, played a decisive role in changing the balance of power.
The commission proposed question 1, the so-called strong mayor amendment.
But when the City Council tried to get the policing amendment before voters last year, in the months after George Floyd was killed, the Charter Commission extended its review and blocked it from inclusion on last year's ballot.
The group Yes 4 Minneapolis collected signatures to get it before voters this year.
"After a year of looking at the proposal and seeing what it means and what the plan was or wasn't informed the voters and I think they made a better decision this year than they would have last year," Charter Commission Chair Barry Clegg said.
He said both the public safety question and the proposal to give the mayor more power came down to one thing: "Fundamentally, I think the two questions were both about how executive authority is divided in the city."
"Hopefully this will make Minneapolis a lot more efficient," he said of new city government structure, and should help retain staff instead of the current "revolving door." He noted Minneapolis has six interim department heads.
City Council President Lisa Bender, who opted not to run for re-election, is among those who raised concerns about the change.
With the mayor getting more executive authority and retaining complete control over the Police Department, "The people of Minneapolis should hold the mayor accountable to that power and responsibility," she said in a statement Wednesday.
"To achieve the promise of a balanced government with a strong mayor and a strong, independent legislative branch, significant staffing and process shifts are needed to ensure the City Council has the ability to complete its legislative work," Bender said.
The next City Council will have to navigate the altered power structure at City Hall, with representation changing in six of the 13 wards.
While some of Frey's most vocal opponents are leaving the City Council, some new members are likely to take up Bender's challenge to hold the mayor accountable for his newly granted authority.
Staff writer Faiza Mahamud contributed to this report.
Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044