The Potluck

Judge throws out Minneapolis public safety ballot language

By: - September 7, 2021 11:32 am

A Minneapolis Police Department squad car. Photo by Tony Webster/Minnesota Reformer.

A judge has thrown out language for the Minneapolis public safety ballot question that was set to appear before voters in the November election, calling it “vague, ambitious and incapable of implementation,” as well as “unreasonable.”

The judge’s order throws the issue into chaos. The City Council will meet today to work on new language for the amendment to the city charter, which is like a constitution. Early voting begins Sept. 17 on an issue that has drawn national attention because of the city’s central place in the criminal justice debate following the police murder of George Floyd. 

The order, first reported by Wedge LIVE! is in response to a lawsuit filed in late August by three Minneapolis residents who oppose the ballot question. If passed, the proposal would have replaced the Minneapolis Police Department with a new department of public safety under legislative control of the City Council.

Former City Councilmember Don Samuels, his wife Sondra Samuels and businessman Bruce Dachis argued the language was misleading and didn’t sufficiently inform voters about the proposal. Don and Sondra Samuels also successfully sued the city over police staffing levels in 2020.

Judge Jamie Anderson wrote in the order that the proposed charter amendment, if approved, could likely “create chaos.”

State statute would require the changes to be implemented one month after the election. There is no record of a plan for what the department of public safety would look like, other than a statement about having administrative authority “consistent with other city departments,” which is unclear, the order says.

“If the Police Department ceases to exist on December 2, 2021 (when the amendment would take effect), and the new Department of Public Safety is not fully created and functioning, the routine activities done to keep Minneapolis residents safe, including responding to 911 calls and making arrests of those charged with violent felonies, will be interrupted,” Anderson wrote.

“Not only is this likely to create a chaotic situation in Minneapolis, it is likely to create dangerous situations in neighborhoods.”

The full language struck down by the judge 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?”

Previously, Hennepin County officials who coordinate ballot printing had said if a judge rejected the language, they would need an updated version by noon on Tuesday in order to meet the printer’s 5 p.m. deadline, the Star Tribune reported.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn is a Minnesota native and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.