What you need to know about the Minneapolis charter amendments

Minneapolis residents are prepared to vote this fall on major proposals determining the future of policing, how power is divided in City Hall and whether to limit rent increases.

Minneapolis residents are voting this fall on major proposals determining the future of policing, how power is divided in City Hall and whether to limit rent increases. Each proposal requires a change to the charter, which serves as the city's constitution. That means voters must approve the changes. Below is what we know — and don't know — about each of the measures.

Check out our guides to the 2021 Minneapolis mayor and city council candidates and the Minneapolis Park Board and Board of Estimate and Taxation candidates.

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Proposal: Department of Public Safety

Is this question on the November ballot?

Yes, and those votes will be counted. The Minnesota Supreme Court on Sept. 16 overturned an order that would have prevented officials from tallying votes on that question. The court said it will issue an opinion in the future outlining how it arrived at its decision. Earlier in the week, Hennepin County Judge Jamie Anderson had issued an order blocking officials from counting votes on this proposal, saying she felt officials had chosen to present the question in an "unreasonable and misleading" way.

Question on the ballot:

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?

Explanatory Note

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 funding requirement would be eliminated.

What would this amendment do?

This proposal would remove the requirement in the city's charter for Minneapolis to operate a Police Department with a minimum number of officers based on population. The city would then be required to create a Department of Public Safety that, according to the new charter language, "is responsible for integrating its public safety functions into a comprehensive public health approach to safety."

What services would the new department include?

The mayor and City Council would decide that, and would need to write ordinances that flesh out the details of the new agency and provide funding for it. Candidates running this year have discussed the possibility of including violence prevention and mental health services, among other programs.

Would the new department have police officers?

The charter amendment says the new agency could include police "if necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of the department." The mayor and City Council would play a large role in determining whether officers are necessary. Minnesota law states that only police officers can perform certain tasks, such as responding to crimes currently happening, responding to intoxicated drivers who need to take a blood alcohol test and making certain types of arrests. Analysis from the city attorney's office contemplated several ways Minneapolis officials could provide police coverage, if they deem it necessary: They could hire police as employees or independent contractors or enter a joint powers agreement asking another agency to provide coverage.

While this proposal removes the requirement to have a police department, it doesn't prevent the city from having one. The city has other departments, such as communications, 311 and 911, that aren't currently enshrined in the charter. Those departments report to the city coordinator. In court filings, an attorney for the city left open the possibility that "at least on a temporary basis" the City Council could decide to keep the police department "during the inception of a Department of Public Safety, pending a determination whether that Department would include hiring of peace officers." Most people who support this proposal have said they envision the new public safety agency would ultimately replace the Minneapolis Police Department.

What would happen to the police chief?

The Minneapolis charter currently states that the Police Department must have a chief, who in most cases is "entitled to return to his or her" previous post after leaving the job. This proposal would delete that language. There would still be references to the police chief in city ordinances, and the mayor and council would decide what to do with those. Charter changes require voter approval, but most ordinances can be passed or removed by the mayor and council without another citywide vote.

Under the revised charter language, the new agency would be led by a commissioner, who is nominated by the mayor and appointed by the City Council.

The fate of current chief Medaria Arradondo would be up to city officials — and the chief. Arradondo strongly signaled in a recent statement that he wouldn't be interested in heading the new department if it answers to both the mayor and council.

Who would have authority over the new department?

The charter currently states that the mayor "has complete power over the establishment, maintenance, and command of the police department." It also says the mayor "may make all rules and regulations and may promulgate and enforce general and special orders necessary to operating the police department." This proposal would delete that language. Council members who support the proposal say those provisions have blocked them from enacting crucial accountability measures. They point, for example, to a May memo from the city attorney's office, which advised them not to craft an ordinance banning police from using "less lethal" weapons, saying that would "impermissibly intrude" upon the mayor's authority to oversee police operations. The mayor and council members who oppose the proposal say they fear eliminating those charter provisions would dilute accountability for police by requiring it to report to "14 bosses" — the mayor and 13 council members. Some of them point to a report based on interviews with the city's department heads, many of whom said they struggled to determine who was in charge and how to manage conflicts among elected leaders amid crises.

Who is behind this proposal?

A new political committee called Yes 4 Minneapolis wrote the proposal. It describes itself as "a coalition campaign to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new department of public safety." Supporters include a wide array of local and national organizations, ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to OutFront Minnesota to groups like Black Visions and Reclaim the Block, which have advocated for moving funding from the Minneapolis Police Department to other city services.

Earlier this year, Yes 4 Minneapolis gathered 21,652 signatures in hopes of getting its proposal on the ballot. After the clerk's office determined that 14,101 of those signatures — enough to meet the requirements — were valid, it went through a legal review conducted by the city attorney's office. The mayor and City Council determined the precise wording that will appear on the ballot.

What happens if both this and the "executive mayor-legislative council" proposal pass?

We don't know for sure. Because both proposals are new, this question hasn't been tested in the courts. The city attorney's office declined to offer its opinion, saying "it would be speculative and [an] inappropriate time" for their lawyers to weigh in. Courts at times consider the opinions of people who wrote the proposals. Representatives for both Yes 4 Minneapolis and the court-appointed Charter Commission said they imagine the new public safety agency would still be created, and the mayor would have "executive" control over its functions.

When would the change take place?

If at least 51% of people voting on this ballot question select yes, the change to the city charter would take effect 30 days after the election.

Read the full proposal here.

Proposal: Government Structure — Executive Mayor/Legislative Council

Question on the ballot:

Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to adopt a change in its form of government to an Executive Mayor-Legislative Council structure to shift certain powers to the Mayor, consolidating administrative authority over all operating departments under the Mayor, and eliminating the Executive Committee?

What does this proposal do?

This change to the Minneapolis charter designates the mayor as the city's "chief executive" who must "direct and supervise" most city departments. It describes the City Council as the "legislative body" responsible for writing ordinances, making policies and performing some oversight functions. This proposal would add language to the charter that says council members — either individually or as a body — may not "usurp, invade, or interfere with the Mayor's direction or supervision of the administration" of most departments. It prohibits them from "publicly or privately, directly or indirectly" issuing orders seeking nonpublic information, purporting to "direct or supervise" any employee or advocating for an employee's hiring, firing or demotion "except by communication with the Mayor or in a manner that the Mayor arranges."

The proposal says the council would have responsibilities relating to the operations of two city departments. The council would continue to select the clerk, whose office is responsible for helping the council conduct meetings and enact ordinances. It would also require them to provide "a nonpartisan administrative staff" who would report to the clerk. The proposal also says the council must "establish, organize, and otherwise provide for" an independent auditor's office that performs reviews assessing risk levels, investigating abuse or waste and monitoring compliance with the charter and city ordinances, among other tasks. It says the council must establish an audit committee — which the city already has — to oversee the auditor's office, and that city offices must cooperate with the auditor's requests for information.

How would that play out in City Hall?

Some of that may depend on who's in office. In public meetings, an attorney for the city said that if this passes, officials will likely write additional ordinances outlining more details on how this would work. During those same public meetings, City Council President Lisa Bender asked city staff to weigh in on several scenarios if this proposal passes. She asked if the council would have the authority to ask staff to write an ordinance, such as one setting a minimum wage level in Minneapolis. City Clerk Casey Carl told her "that absolutely would be something that the City Council would continue to have ownership of as the legislative body of the city." Bender asked if council members would still be able to write policies, such as those outlining how public works employees may design streets. Carl told her he believed that process "would be led by" the council as the "legislative and policymaking body of the city." He noted: "The difficulty here is that we would probably need to separate out what is policy from what is procedural."

Bender also asked how council members would navigate requests from constituents. Carl told her he imagined little change there, except that if a department feels it doesn't have the resources or is concerned about "a potential conflict with policy, they can escalate up the chain, and the mayor's office would be involved." Some council members who oppose the plan pushed back on Carl's remarks, saying that while they believed it was an accurate reflection of how he interprets the policy, they feared future officials and city staffers might interpret it differently.

How does this compare to other cities?

Cities across the country are governed in a wide variety of ways. In some cities, such as Oakland, Calif., the mayor appoints a manager who oversees many of the city's daily operations. Other cities, such as nearby St. Paul, have what is commonly referred to as a "strong mayor" system, where the mayor "shall control and direct the administration of the city's affairs." Many people in Minneapolis City Hall privately refer to this proposal as a plan to move toward a "strong mayor" system.

Multiple times over the past century, Minneapolis voters have been presented with proposals to change the city's power structure. While researching those proposals, city staff have struggled to find other cities with a system similar to the one in Minneapolis, where the lines between the mayor's authority and the council's have been fiercely debated. They have referred to Minneapolis' system as either a "weak mayor" or a "strong mayor — strong council" system, where both the mayor and the council are equally strong.

How did this proposal land on the ballot?

The Charter Commission, composed of 15 volunteers appointed by a Hennepin County judge, began researching this topic after being tasked with reviewing proposals that would affect who has sway over policing. Those debates highlighted questions about how power is divided in City Hall and how those duties are outlined in the charter that serves as the city's constitution.

Charter commissioners presented the proposal in January and made changes over the course of several months after interviewing the city's department heads, Minneapolis' current elected leaders and officials in other cities. The commission has the ability to place a question before voters. The mayor and City Council then chose the precise wording of the question that will appear on the ballot after fiercely debating the language. Those debates didn't change what the proposal does, only the wording that people will see on the ballot when they cast their votes.

What do elected officials and candidates think about this proposal?

They're divided. Some, including current Mayor Jacob Frey, have said they believe the city could benefit from better defining the lines between the mayor and council. They often point to a report the Charter Commission produced based on interviews with the city's department heads. Many department heads said they struggled to determine who was in charge and how to manage conflicts among elected leaders as the city faced crises like the coronavirus pandemic and George Floyd's killing by an officer. Other elected officials, including current City Council President Lisa Bender, have said they fear this could reduce council members' ability to enact meaningful change, particularly if their political views don't align with those of the mayor. Some candidates who oppose the proposal say they fear it would diminish the voices of people who live in wards with lower voter turnout, including many that have the largest percentages of residents of color.

What is the Executive Committee that this measure would eliminate?

The Executive Committee was created in 1984, after then-Mayor Donald Fraser pushed a charter amendment that would create "an independent body that united the legislative authority of the City Council and the executive power of the Mayor," according to a report produced by the Charter Commission. Today, it consists of the mayor, council president and up to three additional council members. The committee plays a key role in selecting the city's department heads and, if necessary, disciplining them. The mayor nominates candidates to lead the city's major departments. The Executive Committee reviews the nominees and, if it approves, sends the candidates off to the full City Council for a final vote. The council can't approve a candidate the Executive Committee has rejected.

If a department head's post has been vacant for 90 days (or 30 days for police chief), or if the Executive Committee has rejected three of the mayor's nominees, the committee can name three or more candidates, and the mayor must choose one of them. The committee can also suspend department heads for five days (or longer if the full council agrees). The council can't remove a department head unless the Executive Committee approves.

Under this proposal, which would eliminate the Executive Committee, the mayor would nominate a leader for the city's major departments, and would need "the City Council's consent" for the person to take the job. If they can't reach an agreement in the prescribed timeline or the council rejects three of the mayor's nominees, the council would be able to name three or more candidates, and the mayor would have to nominate one of them. If this proposal passes, the mayor would have the authority to discipline, suspend or remove department heads.

What other changes are in this proposal?

This would change city department heads' term lengths to align with those of the mayor. Most department heads currently serve a two-year term, although the police chief serves for three years.

When would the change take effect?

If at least 51% of people voting on this ballot question select yes, the change would take effect 30 days after the election.

Read the full proposal here.

Proposal: Authorizing City Council to Enact Rent Control Ordinance

Question on the ballot:

Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to authorize the City Council to regulate rents on private residential property in the City of Minneapolis, with the general nature of the amendments being indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?

Explanatory Note

This amendment would:

1. Authorize the City Council to regulate rents on private residential property in the City of Minneapolis by ordinance.

2. Provide that an ordinance regulating rents on private residential property could be enacted in two different and independent ways:

a. The City Council may enact the ordinance.

b. The City Council may refer the ordinance as a ballot question to be decided by the voters for approval at an election. If more than half of the votes cast on the ballot question are in favor of its adoption, the ordinance would take effect 30 days after the election, or at such other time as provided in the ordinance."

How would it work?

That is unclear. So far, council members have not offered any details of how a rent control program would work. They want to first see if voters will approve the question before discussing it. If voters approve the proposed amendment, the changes will be put into the charter — the city's constitution — and would become legally effective Dec. 3. The City Council would later have the option to enact a rent control ordinance without seeking voter approval, or could bring the issue back to voters in another election. The Charter Commission argues that the council must still have to go back to voters before enacting such an ordinance, which the council disputes.

Is there rent control in Minnesota?

A 1984 state law prohibits local governments from enacting rent regulations unless approved by voters in a general election.

Do other states have rent control?

Yes, other states have capped rent increases on private residential property, most recently in Oregon and California, as well as roughly 200 other municipalities, according to a 2021 report by the University of Minnesota Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA). New York City has two systems — rent control and rent stabilization — but the majority of the cities across the country have adopted a form of rent stabilization that ties allowable rent increases to inflation, exempts certain dwellings and includes vacancy decontrol provisions, which allows rents to return to market rates after a tenant vacates an apartment.

What's the difference between rent stabilization and rent control?

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, rent control and rent stabilization policies are technically different in their strength and sometimes their scope, according to CURA's report. Rent control gained popularity after World War II and its law can only be found in New York City. It's considered the more stringent of the two systems and its rules — which impose price ceilings on rent — apply to buildings built before 1947. Rent stabilization laws emerged in the 1970s and have different types of regulations with varying terms. Rent stabilization is seen as the more moderate form of regulation, allowing rent increases to be capped at a certain percentage each year and, in most cases, exempting single-family houses and new construction either completely or for some period of time.

Who is behind this proposal, and why?

Council President Lisa Bender and Council Members Jeremiah Ellison, Cam Gordon and Jamal Osman are listed as authors of the proposal, noting that Minneapolis has a housing crisis due to a growing mismatch between housing supply and demand and an increase in overall rent costs. But racial and economic disparity heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic has given this issue fresh urgency. The city officials behind the proposal contend that imposing caps on rent increases for private residential properties will protect low-income people and people of color — who pay a high-percentage of their income on rent and have been disproportionately hurt by rising rental costs — from "egregious" rent hikes. More than half of the city's households are renters and earn less than 60% of the area median income. And more than three quarters of those households spend at least 30% of their income on housing.

What do opponents say?

Landlords who oppose the measure say burdensome regulations will result in less investment in affordable housing in the city, conversion of apartments into condos and property taxes shifting onto homeowners.

What does the research say about rent control?

Research is mixed on the effectiveness of regulating how much landlords can charge tenants. Experts agree that rent control is not a cure-all, but if implemented with a careful balance for both tenants and landlords, it can achieve its intended goal of keeping rents down without affecting housing supply.

How many votes are needed for the amendment to pass?

At least 51% of voters must vote in favor of it. Unlike state constitutional amendments, leaving a ballot blank on a proposal does not count as a "no" vote. That will be considered an abstention and will be excluded from the tabulation.

Read the full proposal here.