Judge strikes down Minneapolis police ballot question wording, council drafts new language

The Minneapolis City Council drafted new wording for the public safety ballot question Tuesday after a Hennepin County judge struck down the language they initially passed. However, an attorney says the city and county may be held in contempt of court if the county auditor moves forward with the newly approved ballot language.

In an order filed Tuesday, Hennepin County Judge Jamie Anderson rejected the ballot question language passed by the city council regarding a charter amendment that would replace the city’s police department with a department of public safety. The judge ruled the ballot language was "vague, ambiguous and incapable of implementation, and is insufficient to identify the amendment clearly. It is unreasonable and misleading." 

The judge’s order was in response to a lawsuit filed by three Minneapolis residents to change the wording of the ballot question, arguing the language gives voters no idea that a yes vote would remove the police chief and end a minimum staffing requirement for the police force.

The lawsuit also alleged there were important details left out of the ballot question language, including that the new department would report to 13 city council members and the mayor, instead of just the mayor.

Yes 4 Minneapolis, the activist group that collected petition signatures to get the measure on the ballot, has filed an appeal over the judge's decision.

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Following the judge’s ruling, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who opposes the current version of the ballot question, released a statement, saying in part that the city council "forced through misleading language that failed to meet the most basic standards of transparency."

Minneapolis City Council passes new ballot question language

The city council held an emergency meeting Tuesday afternoon to draft new ballot question language. 

Council member Lisa Goodman was the only one to vote "no" on the new wording. 

The new wording is as follows: 

City Question #2: Department of Public Safety

Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to eliminate the Police Department and replace it with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions by the Department of Public Safety, with those specific functions to be determined by the Mayor and City Council by ordinance; which will not be subject to exclusive mayoral power over its establishment, maintenance, and command; and which could include license peace officer (police officers), if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety, with the general nature of the amendments being briefly indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot. 

Explanatory Note: This amendment would create a Department of Public Safety combining public safety functions through a comprehensive public health approach to be determined by the Mayor and Council. The department would be led by a Commissioner nominated by the Mayor and appointed by the Council. The Police Department, and its chief, would be removed from the City Charter. The Public Safety Department could include police officers, but the minimum funding requirement would be eliminated. 

Attorney says new ballot language may violate the court injunction

However, lawyers representing the residents who filed the lawsuit to change the ballot language says this latest version still may not have all the necessary information and could violate the court injunction. The attorneys point out that the new language does not state if the Minneapolis Police Department will "cease to exist" and does not explain how the charter amendment can be implemented by Dec. 2.

"We anticipate that the City, the County or both will move the Court for clarification before running the risk of contempt for publishing ballot language that may violate the Court’s Order," said attorney Joe Anthony in a statement.