The Potluck

Where Minneapolis mayoral candidates stand on strong mayor ballot question

By: - October 7, 2021 2:14 pm

Photo courtesy of Kate Knuth for Minneapolis Mayor.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey is for it. Sheila Nezhad is against it.

But Kate Knuth, the third major candidate for mayor, says she doesn’t yet have a position on the so-called “strong mayor” ballot question that would give the mayor’s office more authority over city departments.

“I can see the desire for having more executive and legislative distribution in the city, as a former city staff person,” said Knuth, who worked briefly as the city’s “chief resilience officer.”

“My concern about it is looking at the moment we’re in in terms of sharing power in a multi-racial democracy and making sure that people across the city are fully represented.”

City Question 1

Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to adopt a change in its form of government to an Executive Mayor-Legislative Council structure to shift certain powers to the Mayor, consolidating administrative authority over all operating departments under the Mayor, and eliminating the Executive Committee?

Question 1 was proposed by the city’s Charter Commission, an appointed body tasked with overseeing the city’s charter, which acts like a constitution. Their rationale is that the city’s “weak mayor” system creates confusion for city staff who may receive orders — at times conflicting—  from both the mayor and the City Council.

“The City’s structure lacks clear lines of accountability, is inefficient and costly, and creates an operating structure that is highly vulnerable to the politics of personality and not the tenets of good government,” the Commission’s Government Structure Work Group wrote in its proposal for a stronger mayor system.

St. Paul moved to a similar strong mayor system in 1970, while repeated attempts over the past century have failed in Minneapolis.

Not surprisingly, Frey — who has found himself at odds with the City Council his entire term — favors the amendment: “Minneapolis has a unique — and uniquely frustrating — form of government. The ambiguity around the separation of legislative and executive roles has done a disservice both to city staff and the residents we serve,” Frey wrote in a statement. “There’s a reason most mid to large cities, whether you’re talking about Saint Paul or New York City, choose a clear executive mayor and clear legislative council model over ours.”

Opponents of the ballot question argue the current system is more democratic and gives more influence to communities of color since council members are elected by geographic wards. A strong mayor system would advantage the whiter, more affluent voters who turn out in greater numbers and are more likely to pick the mayor in a citywide race.

That’s why Nezhad rejects the strong-mayor amendment: “As a community organizer, I know the importance of having as many voices represented in decision-making as possible and I have concerns about the equity implications of moving to a strong mayor system.”

Nezhad and Knuth are both clear in their support of the second ballot question, which would replace the police department with a new department of public safety with greater legislative control and oversight by the City Council.

Currently, the mayor has sole authority over the police department, which Knuth says is undemocratic.

“I, as a resident of Minneapolis, don’t feel like I have any real insight into the decision-making processes about police reform and accountability because it resides with one person who may or may not have to share that process,” Knuth said.

Frey does not support the public safety ballot initiative, saying it will cause confusion over who’s in charge of the department.

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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.