A Hennepin County judge is promising a quick decision on a new challenge to the proposed Minneapolis charter amendment on public safety. Former City Council member Don Samuels sued the city this week, contending that the language to be printed on the ballot is incomplete and misleading.
The measure would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety that may — but is not required to — include police officers. It would also give oversight of the new department to the City Council and eliminate the requirement in the city charter to have 17 cops per 10,000 residents.
George Floyd’s murder by former police officer Derek Chauvin last year prompted the effort. The group Yes 4 Minneapolis wants to reenvision the whole concept of public safety to include a broader focus on public health.
Supporters of the effort got the measure on the ballot after collecting 20,000 signatures from city residents. But how the issue will be presented to voters has been controversial.
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Two weeks ago, in a tense day at City Hall, council members approved ballot language following a veto by Mayor Jacob Frey — who opposes the charter amendment.
It reads: “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?”
The lawsuit this week by Samuels, his wife Sondra Samuels and Minneapolis developer Bruce Dachis is the latest twist. During a Hennepin County court hearing Thursday, their attorney Joseph Anthony argued that the wording is vague, and doesn't tell voters what the amendment would do.
“Why wouldn’t a reasonable voter want to know that we are not only going to strike the Police Department but we were going to eliminate the police chief, the command structure and the fact that there should be 1.7 peace officers for every 1,000 residents,” Anthony said.
Anthony says the City Council needs to revise the language. But Yes 4 Minneapolis attorney Terrance Moore said the wording is clear, and there’s no legal requirement to spell out in detail all of the measure’s ramifications.
“The place to explain those effects is the campaigns. That’s what campaigns are for. One side says it’ll do this, the other side says it’ll do that. The voter goes in and says this is the one I want to vote on, yes or no,” Moore said.
An earlier version of the ballot language included a longer explanatory note. But in a separate case, Judge Jamie Anderson ordered the city to remove it, saying that voters may construe the note as an endorsement.
Anderson said Thursday that she’ll decide soon whether to grant Samuels’ request to block the charter amendment from going on the ballot.
There’s little time left. Early voting in Minnesota begins Sept. 17. Elections officials must have the final language in hand by Tuesday, so ballots can be printed.