Opinion editor’s note: The Star Tribune editorial board operates separately from the newsroom, and no editor or reporter was involved in the approval process.
Minneapolis’ particular form of weak mayor / city council governance is not found in other cities in Minnesota. In fact, it cannot be found in any comparable city anywhere in the country.
There is a good reason for this. It doesn’t work – at least not well. And this year voters have the chance to fix a broken town hall.
For nearly a century, Minneapolis tipped under an archaic system of government by committee that actually dates back to the late 1800s, codified in a city charter in 1920. Under it, the lines of government authority are blurred and the mayor and council members may wind up competing with each other in day-to-day operations.
This has been true for years now, but the stress test of the past year and a half has revealed the real failings of this archaic system. Sharon Sayles Belton, former president of the council and the city’s first black and woman mayor, knows how this city works as well as anyone and better than most.
“Right now you have a dysfunction,” she told a columnist. “Citizens are looking for clarity. Sayles Belton added that “We have seen board members treat department heads and staff as if they had an individual domain on them. The result, she said, was an unprecedented series of departures of department heads and even interim workers in a city once known for its stable staff.
The Charter Commission, while investigating the structure of the city, found that the current form “is not recognized as a model or a best practice. It is not taught in public policy schools … comparable city in the nation.
Explicit prohibitions against legislative (advice) interference in administrative operations are built into Minnesota’s other first-class cities: St. Paul, Duluth, and Rochester. The National Civic League, by drawing up a model city charter, presents such a ban as a “fundamental principle”.
It is one of those good, somewhat flawed government proposals that do not have a clear constituency. But it is also a fundamental principle that promotes clearer and more effective governance.
Basically, the change requested in city question 1 is simple: give the mayor clear authority over the day-to-day operations of city departments. The council would retain the power of the stock exchange – which is great – and make policies and provide constituent services in their neighborhoods. direct or supervise city employees.
Jay Kiedrowski, former Minneapolis budget manager and former state finance commissioner, noted in a Star Tribune Opinion comment that during the 2020 civil unrest, some council members gave direct orders to police and, as others have noted, said council members “routinely issue orders to department heads and staff who are in conflict with city policy.” This kind of mess is unacceptable.
The amendment adds another important safeguard: the creation of an independent audit office by the council that could investigate waste and abuse, assess risks and monitor compliance in municipal departments. Such oversight would provide a checks and balances approach that municipal government lacked.
These are sensible changes that would move the city forward. They are not, as some opponents have suggested, a takeover. The ballot question was proposed by the Charter Commission after extensive research. It is, quite simply, the way most major cities are governed, and a change that has been advocated for decades, including by the Star Tribune editorial board.
If that proposal failed and a separate ballot would extend the “14 bosses” approach to public safety, an unhealthy amount of power would be concentrated in the hands of the council. The mayor would be reduced to a virtual figurehead.
Peter Hutchinson started in the mayor’s office in 1975, served as deputy mayor and later was state finance commissioner, principal of Minneapolis schools and is now a national management consultant specializing in the public sector. And he supports the question of the ballot. “Every major city in America has a chief executive officer and a city council that functions as a legislative body – with the exception of Minneapolis,” he told a columnist.
Hutchinson, Sayles Belton and dozens of others came together in “Charter for Change,” an organization promoting City Question 1. “As we all speak to voters,” Hutchinson said, “the only thing that stands out clearly is ‘is that people I can’t believe this is the way things work. There is a lingering chaos here. When you stop, say, the public works manager from doing what is right because he’s trying to meet the expectations of an individual council member, you’ve really undermined the power of the city to be effective. “
Kathy O’Brien, former member of city council, city coordinator and former vice president of the University of Minnesota, also supports the measure. “Everything takes longer, costs more in the current system,” she told a columnist. “Sometimes nothing happens.”
Sayles Belton noted that the mayor is the sole official who runs the entire city, elected by and accountable to all voters in Minneapolis. “This is the person who has to develop a vision that reflects all the different parts of the city,” she said.
Minneapolis must join the rest of the nation with a more modern and efficient form of government that provides clear lines of responsibility and authority.
“Maybe after a hundred years,” said Sayles Belton, “we can finally get it right.”
Government structure: Executive Mayor – Legislative Council
Should the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to adopt a change in its form of government to a mayor-legislative council executive structure to transfer certain powers to the mayor, consolidate administrative authority over all operational departments under the supervision of the mayor and eliminate the executive committee?