Council overturns Frey veto, Mpls. public safety ballot proposal will go to voters

Defund police march in northeast Minneapolis
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey leaves a protest calling for the Minneapolis Police Department to be defunded in June 2020. He said he supports police reform but does not support abolishing the department.
Stephen Maturen | Getty Images 2020

Updated: 7:30 p.m.

After a tumultuous day at Minneapolis City Hall, the City Council advanced a ballot question that will let city voters weigh in on whether to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new department of public safety. Final passage only happened after Mayor Jacob Frey twice vetoed proposals.

The ballot question will read: “Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to strike and replace the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety which could include licensed peace officers (police officers), if necessary, with administrative authority to be consistent with other city departments to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety?”

Voters can answer yes or no.

Frey argued throughout the day that the ballot questions should outline more of the impact he says the charter amendment would have if voters approve it. 

“I am appalled by the lack of transparency in this approach,” Frey said in his second veto letter. “The ballot language leaves voters in the dark and our residents without essential information at the ballot box.”

Yes 4 Minneapolis, the coalition supporting the amendment, released a statement praising the council's final language as "clear" and "fair."

“Voters will get a fair ballot question, without any tampering by political power-players, or extra verbiage that places a thumb on the scale," a Yes 4 Minneapolis spokesperson said.  "Minneapolis is ready for a higher standard of public safety, and now residents will get to vote on their terms."

Vetoes and meetings

Frey’s first veto forced the council to reconvene Friday afternoon. During the meeting a motion to overturn the first veto failed after Council Member Jamal Osman changed his earlier yes vote to "abstain." The council then passed alternative language for the public safety charter in a 9-4 vote.

Osman said a council member’s job was to compromise to create a ballot question that’s clear but avoids “fear-mongering.”

“We should be honest and straightforward to voters. We should take the politics out of this because it’s an important question,” Osman said. “I would encourage all of you to come together, to compromise.”

After the second veto, the council met again at 6:15 p.m. and overturned Frey’s decision — beating the 11:59 p.m. deadline to make it on the ballot.

Council Member Jeremiah Ellison said the phrasing in the mayor’s favored ballot question language frames the ballot question in a way that’s misleading.

“This will allow council members to enact policy that we can’t currently enact,” Ellison said of the current public safety structure. “If we want to ban no-knock raids, we can’t do that now. If we want to ban chokeholds, we can’t do that. We don’t have the authority to do that.”

The language passed by the council is “vague” and would be “meaningless to any voter,” said Leili Fatehi, campaign manager of All of Mpls, a group opposing the public safety charter amendment.  

Fatehi said the language was an attempt to hide the amendment’s impacts to make voters "more susceptible to political propaganda that misleads about the fact the amendment removes the position of the Chief of Police, the minimum police funding and staffing requirements, and gives authority for public safety and policing to the City Council.”

Council Member Jeremy Schroeder argued at Friday morning’s meeting that the council’s job was to ensure that the citizen-driven referendum gets a fair hearing at November’s election.

“We have a process for the people of Minneapolis to be heard. They followed that process,” Schroeder said. “Our job is to make sure that it’s fair, it’s unbiased and gets all of the relevant facts without any editorial contesting, or picking and choosing which facts will be on there.”

Frey argued that the council language didn’t sufficiently explain the charter amendment, and said he’d question why council members would want to remove any of his proposed language.

“We should tell the truth,” Frey said. “We should let voters know the consequences of what they’re voting on and the consequences of what will happen if this actually passes.”

An amendment that would have revised the ballot question to say it would “remove the police department, remove the funding requirement for a minimum police force and remove the position of chief of police” only gained three votes and failed to pass. 

The council language passed during the first meeting, 9-3, with Council Member Alondra Cano absent. It states that the amendment would “strike and replace the police department with a department of public safety” in the city charter.

The city attorney's office had previously added explanatory language to the ballot question that was controversial on the council and with supporters, who said it was misleading. Advocates from Yes 4 Minneapolis sued, and the judge ruled that explanatory language had to add clarity, not confusion, and sent it back to the council. The council decided on Wednesday to move forward with a ballot question that didn’t include additional explanatory language. 

The Minneapolis city election is Nov. 2. In addition to the public safety amendment, city voters will also consider a charter amendment to give the mayor more executive powers and another that would give the Minneapolis City Council authority to craft rent control policies