The Potluck

Minneapolis mayor vetoes one rent control ballot initiative, allows second to go to voters

By: - August 6, 2021 4:20 pm

Evening rush hour in Minneapolis. Getty Images.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey vetoed one rent control ballot initiative approved by the City Council on Friday but will allow a second to advance without his signature.

That means city residents will vote on allowing the City Council to draft a rent control policy, which they could approve as an ordinance or send back to voters for approval in a future general election. Putting a specific policy before voters again could fend off potential legal challenges given ambiguity in state law.

The initiative Frey vetoed would have asked voters if rent control could be drafted and enacted through a citizen-led petition — rather than written by the council — which Frey criticized as potentially turning over power to an advocacy group.

“Good policy requires a data-driven approach, guidance from experts, and a process that is open to everyone and accountable to everyone — not just a single interest group,” Frey said in a statement announcing his veto. “We should not be in the business of forgoing these criteria and outsourcing our core responsibility as elected representatives.”

Frey’s veto of the first initiative is unlikely to be challenged, since only eight council members voted in favor and nine votes are needed to override a mayoral veto.

But Council Member Cam Gordon, who co-authored both initiatives with Council President Lisa Bender and Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, said he plans to still try to override the veto at a special council meeting on Aug. 13.

“I’m disappointed in his veto,” Gordon said. “I think it’s an overreaction. I think he could have at least let it go before the voters and we could’ve had a robust campaign on it. If he or others had concerns about it they could have made their case directly to the voters.”

Council Members Lisa Goodman, Linea Palmisano and Kevin Reich voted against the measure,  and Andrea Jenkins abstained. Council Member Andrew Johnson, who previously voted against the measure, was absent.

Passing the first initiative without a veto-proof majority marks a shift from how the council voted two weeks ago, when it overwhelmingly voted in favor of moving forward with the two rent control initiatives and directed city staff to draft corresponding ballot language.

The Minneapolis Charter Commission, an appointed body that oversees the city’s charter, also recommended against allowing rent control policies to be enacted through citizen-led petitions, saying it could lead to badly written policy.

The second ballot question on rent control will go before voters in November. That initiative, if approved, would amend the charter so that the City Council may write a rent control policy and pass it as an ordinance or send it back to voters to ratify in a future general election.

Palmisano was the lone vote against the second initiative. She previously supported an alternative proposed by the Charter Commission that would have required voters to ratify any rent control policy written by the council.

No Minnesota cities have rent control, but they’re allowed to enact rent control if approved by voters in a general election. Language in state law is ambiguous as to whether voters must approve specific policy proposals or if they can simply authorize city leaders to craft a law. The city attorney’s office has advised the council to put any proposal before voters in a general election to fend off possible legal challenges arising from the ambiguity in state law.

Following news that Minneapolis would consider putting the question before voters, Senate Republicans in the state Legislature pushed a proposal to close what they called a “loophole” in the state law and prohibit any form of rent control. They later dropped the proposal in negotiations over ending the state’s eviction moratorium.

St. Paul voters will decide on a citizen-led petition that would cap rent increases at 3% per year for all buildings.

A citizen group on the other side of the river, Minneapolis United for Rent Control, is pushing for a similar proposal but won’t likely be able to sidestep the council now that the mayor has blocked a path for a citizen-led petition.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.