Minneapolis voters to decide if city will shift to 'strong mayor' system

The polls will soon open for election day across Minnesota, and this year voters have some pretty big decisions to make.

In Minneapolis, voters will be making some key decisions, including the structure of city government.

For Hamline University Professor David Schultz, the power dynamics on the Minneapolis ballot hit home because he helped the National Civic League draft its current model city charters, the blueprints for how cities can structure governments.

"This is an enormous shift in the power structure of the City of Minneapolis, and it’s not going to get sorted out very easily no matter what happens," he said.

Minneapolis currently has what’s called a "weak-mayor" system, in which the mayor and council share executive powers. Aside from the police department, the mayor has little direct authority over anything else.

So, question one on the ballot would change Minneapolis to a "strong-mayor" system, which is very common in larger cities. It makes the council a legislative body and the mayor the CEO. 

"Where the mayor’s in charge of executive functions… the city council is more of a legislative policy-making body. It would appropriate money, it would make policy, turn it over to the mayor and the mayor’s office to work with his department heads to basically implement," Schultz explained.

St. Paul became a "strong-mayor" city in 1970, and only two other Minnesota cities - Duluth and St. Cloud - use that system.

Meanwhile, question two on the ballot gives the council control of public safety. If both approved, it would essentially flip the current power structure.

"I would not be surprised…. if both of them pass… that eventually, the courts are going to have to straighten this one out," Schultz said.