Commission blocks Minneapolis plan to remake police from November ballot

©Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Activist and poet Vinee Raynell confronts people aligned with Cup Foods on Aug. 3, 2020 in Minneapolis. Garbage cans were placed in front of the business to stop shoppers from going in and out. - Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS

MINNEAPOLIS — Voters won’t get to decide the fate of the city’s police department this year.

In a 10-5 vote, the Minneapolis Charter Commission decided Wednesday to block a controversial policing proposal from the November ballot, by invoking their right to take more time to review it.

“We have an obligation to make sure that what is going on the ballot gives the voters an informed choice, that they can make a decision in a thoughtful way,” said Charter Commissioner Andrew Kozak, adding that he didn’t think the proposal accomplished that.

It could still land on the ballot next year.

In recent weeks, the group, all volunteers appointed by a judge, found themselves the focus of intense pressure from people lobbying on all sides of the fight over whether to end the Minneapolis Police Department following George Floyd’s death.

In passionate public hearings and a deluge of written comments, some urged the Charter Commissioners to wield their powers of review to prevent what they believe is a dangerously vague proposal from heading to voters.

Others said they urgently needed greater freedom to replace a department that disproportionately uses force on people of color, and particularly Black residents. They urged the commissioners not to block the proposal from this year’s ballot.

The issue divided the commissioners, who publicly debated the purpose of their organization and what role it’s supposed to play in the democratic process.

The city attorney’s office, in a legal analysis prepared to help them sort through those tough questions, assured the commissioners that state law gave them the authority to delve deep into the substance of policing issues.

But some commissioners who voted against the delay said they thought it was important to issue a recommendation instead.

Commissioner Andrea Rubenstein, who chaired a work group that studied the proposal, said she was skeptical that another 90 days would allow them to gather additional, useful information that would sway their opinions on the measure. Rubenstein said she, like many of her colleagues, had major concerns about the council’s proposal.

“I’m concerned that we need to vote this amendment up or down but I’m further concerned that if we table it, it feels more like a sleight of hand,” she said. “It’s perfectly true that we lack sufficient information to make an informed decision … but an extension to consider it will not help us fill in any missing pieces.”

Voting in favor of the delay were commissioners Barry Clegg, Greg Abbott, Andrew Kozak, Jill Garcia, Peter Ginder, Barbara Lickness, Jana Metge, Lyall Schwarzkopf, Dan Cohen and Matt Perry.

Voting against the delay were commissioners Al Giraud-Isaacson, Toni Newborn, Andrea Rubenstein, Jan Sandberg, and Christopher Smith.

The commission had just over a month to weigh the proposal, while an Aug. 21 deadline for adding items to the November ballot loomed ominously overhead.

Before them was a plan, written by five City Council members, that would end the requirement to maintain a police department with a minimum force based on the city’s population. In its place, the city would be required to keep a Department of Community Safety & Violence Prevention that would prioritize “a holistic, public health-oriented approach.” That department could include a division with police officers, but wouldn’t be required to do so.

The commissioners had debated the proposal publicly for weeks. As part of a last effort to send the proposal over the hurdle, a different, small group of council members sent them a letter Wednesday ensuring them that they “expect the transformed system to include law enforcement as part of a multi-faceted approach to public safety.”

“The Minneapolis City Council is not asking you to put police abolition on the ballot, nor does the amendment propose this,” they wrote. “We are asking you to let Minneapolis vote on a new framework for public safety that aligns with the State of Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety.”

If the Charter Commissioners had chosen to issue a recommendation on the council’s proposal, the council would have been allowed to ignore it. Council and the mayor would have then needed to vote on whether to send the measure to voters this year and, if so, how it should appear on the ballot.

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©2020 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS
Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS
Activist Carmen Means voices her opposition to the reopening of Cup Foods on Aug. 3, 2020 in Minneapolis. She wanted the store to stay closed while the community is still mourning. - Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS
Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS
Jeremiah Tulay was distressed that Cups Foods reopened after its role in George Floyd's death on Aug. 3, 2020 in Minneapolis. - Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS
Activist Carmen Means voices her opposition to the reopening of Cup Foods on Aug. 3, 2020 in Minneapolis. She wanted the store to stay closed while the community is still mourning. - Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS