What to know about the ‘strong mayor’ ballot amendment in Minneapolis

If adopted, the mayor of Minneapolis would have more power than the City Council.

A man stands in front of a microphone.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey during a news conference on May 28, 2020, days after the killing of George Floyd.
Elizabeth Flores | Star Tribune via AP 2020

Following a year that saw Minneapolis experience the murder of George Floyd, followed by social unrest including multiple deployments of the National Guard, city voters in November will have the chance to decide whether the city’s governmental structure needs to be revamped to give the mayor more executive authority over city agencies. 

What would the stronger mayor amendment do? 

Minneapolis is organized in what’s generally regarded to be as a variation of a “weak mayor,” strong council system. Apart from the Minneapolis Police Department, all chartered agencies in the city are currently governed by the City Council. 

The amendment would reorganize Minneapolis city government, giving more executive authority to the mayor. The mayor would be declared the city’s chief executive officer, with control over administrative functions in the city. The mayor would appoint agency heads with the consent of the council. 

The City Council would take a more purely legislative role of making policy. It would also have control of the city clerk’s office and would be required to establish a city auditor’s office. The text of the amendment provides that “neither the City Council nor any Council committee or member may usurp, invade, or interfere with the Mayor’s direction or supervision of the administration.” It would also ban council members from purporting to direct or supervise any employee.  

The amendment would also eliminate the city’s Executive Committee, which includes the mayor, City Council president and up to three other council members. 

Do other cities have similar structures?

American cities are split on whether they have strong mayor or strong council or manager systems. St. Paul is regarded as a strong mayor-council system, with Mayor Melvin Carter acting as chief executive of city departments. St. Paul moved to this system after voters approved an amendment to that city’s charter in 1970. 

Other efforts have been made to change Minneapolis’ government structure since the city’s founding. Efforts by former Minneapolis Mayor Don Fraser to amend the charter for a more pure version of a strong mayor system failed, although he did successfully pass an amendment in the ‘80s that gave the mayor more authority as head of a new executive committee. 

How would this amendment work if the public safety amendment also passes? 

It’s not clear. The public safety amendment would take away the mayor’s current control over the Minneapolis Police Department, and create a new Department of Public Safety. The council would take on more control of that new department. If both proposals pass, it’s likely to end up in court. 

How did this amendment get on the ballot? 

It was proposed by members of the Minneapolis Charter Commission, who argued that the city’s “structure lacks clear lines of accountability, is inefficient and costly, and creates an operating structure that is highly vulnerable to the politics of personality.”  

What is the Charter Commission? 

The Minneapolis Charter Commission consists of 15 members appointed by the chief judge of Hennepin County District Court. The body is responsible for maintaining the city’s home charter, which is its constitution.

Who supports and opposes the amendment? 

Barry Cleg, the chair of the Charter Commission, has argued that a city with 14 bosses (13 council members and a mayor) makes it difficult to get things done. Mayor Jacob Frey has spoken favorably about a change to the city’s governmental structure. City Council President Lisa Bender, some other council members and candidates for city office have been skeptical of the proposal.

What else is on the ballot? 

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey is up for reelection. He’s facing strong challenges from community organizer Sheila Nezhad, former state Rep. Kate Knuth and nonprofit director A.J. Awed, among others. All seats in the Minneapolis City Council are also up for reelection. 

In addition to the charter amendment to reorganize the city’s governmental structure, Minneapolis voters will have the chance to weigh in on two other amendments. One amendment would give the Minneapolis City Council the authority to enact rent control policies. The other ballot question would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety

When does voting start? 

Early voting starts for the Minneapolis municipal election on Friday, Sept. 17. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 2. 

What will Minneapolis voters see on their ballot? 

Government Structure: Executive Mayor – Legislative Council

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?

Yes

No

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