City Council blocks our right to vote

City Council Member Alondra Cano. Photo by Christopher Harrison EldridgeBY ED FELIEN

The City Council voted on Friday, Aug. 5, to deny petitions to allow us to vote on two proposals that would greatly benefit the public welfare. One proposal would have required Minneapolis police officers to carry insurance so the city wouldn’t have to pay out damages when a court rules that an officer acted improperly and harmfully. A second proposal would have required employers of 500 or fewer employees to pay workers $15 an hour in six years, (2022).
All City Council members and the mayor are required to take an oath of office when they are sworn in to assume their duties.  They swear to defend the Constitution, Minnesota state laws and the Minneapolis City Charter, and they swear to protect the public welfare.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees all of us the right to petition our government for redress of grievances, and the Tenth Amendment says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
The state of Minnesota granted to the City of Minneapolis a Home Rule Charter that lets the city make its own rules for running things like streets and parks and police and zoning and laws governing social behavior and taxes.  And when St. Anthony and Minneapolis joined in 1872 they ratified an agreement that insisted that people have the right to change their charter through petition and referendum.
They were very democratic, the early Minneapolis pioneers.  Starting out, they had three City Council members from each ward.  Then that got reduced to two council members, and now it’s down to one.  The mayor and council members served two-year terms back then and now it’s four. The city was run by volunteers doing their civic duty back then. Today, the Minneapolis City Council is made up of the kind of New Democrat described in Thomas Frank’s new book, “Listen, Liberal.”  They’re hedge fund managers with the limited empathy of Narcissus, staring at their own reflection in a pool.
Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection, he’s fulfilled
Oh, man is opposed to fair play
He wants it all and he wants it his way
Now, there’s a woman on my block
She just sit there as the night grows still
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?
—Bob Dylan

Jacob Frey is the perfect New Democrat.  He’s dashing, good looking, adorable, fashionably liberal on social issues but a bean counter on economic issues. He told Jon Tevlin of the Star Tribune “Legislation by referendum is putting hard decisions to the voters. This is my job, I’m paid to do it. I’m continually trying to study every cause and the impact it has on the city. People have jobs and family and extracurricular activities. They can’t be expected to dive into every complex issue.”
There it is. He said it. He thinks he’s smarter than we are. He thinks it takes a slick professional hedge fund manager to run things, so we should just shut up and be grateful.
More than 15,000 people petitioned the city for an insurance requirement for police officers to protect the city from lawsuits.  Jacob Frey and nine other members of the City Council rejected their petition.  Their mouthpiece, the city attorney, said it was inappropriate for the City Charter.  She said it was inappropriate because her employers—the mayor and the City Council—wanted her to say that.  They don’t think it’s appropriate for them to give up some of their power.
Only three council members heard the voices of the 15,000 petitioners and voted to let that voice be heard in November. Southside Council Members Cam Gordon, Alondra Cano and Andrew Johnson voted for the public welfare on the question of insurance for police officers.
Cam Gordon and Alondra Cano voted to defend the public welfare by allowing voters to decide whether to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2022.  Eleven of their fellow council members voted to deny voters the right to decide that question.
Next year is election year for the city.  The mayor and the City Council are going to be coming to us asking for our vote.
Mayor Rybak was asked why he wouldn’t allow a referendum on a new Vikings Stadium even though the cost to city taxpayers was going to be hundreds of millions of dollars, and the Minneapolis City Charter says no city funds can be approved for a sports stadium if the cost is more than $10 million (and in another place it says $15 million) without a referendum.  Rybak said, “My re-election next year will be the referendum.”  And, of course, next year he decided he wouldn’t run for re-election.
Hopefully, some of our current city officials will re-examine their oath to protect and defend the public welfare and either help us get insurance liability for the police and a living minimum wage or decide that the burden of the poor and beaten is too great a burden for them to carry, and it would be best for everyone if those officials would return to private life with all the added skills and contacts they’ve accumulated in their tenure.

Statement from the Committee for Professional Policing
Minneapolis city officials are working overtime to uphold the status quo. They have manipulated the charter amendment process and skated around both long-standing city rules and state law in an effort to keep our Police Insurance Amendment off the November ballot. And they’re hoping you don’t notice.
The City Charter is the “Constitution” of Minneapolis. It guides our city’s governance and policymaking. Under state law, the City Charter may be amended by a citizen petition. This is no easy task: our campaign had to collect at least 6,869 signatures from Minneapolis registered voters to secure a spot on the Nov. 8 ballot. Our grassroots campaign collected over 15,000 petition signatures.
Our Police Insurance Amendment would require police officers to carry professional liability insurance to reduce police misconduct and brutality. This would give rogue officers a financial consequence for their actions, making our city safer from police violence.
The city can cover the base rate of the insurance for all officers, but any premium increases due to a history of misconduct must be paid for by the officer. That means good cops aren’t punished, but instead receive a new benefit—guaranteed insurance coverage (the city occasionally refuses to cover officers when they are sued).
Even though we have collected the required number of signatures, our Police Insurance Amendment was blocked from the ballot by the City Council. The was the final step of a long stalling campaign waged by the city establishment, an intentional effort to keep us off the ballot and to undermine the power of the courts. By “kicking the can down the road,” the City Council has left us only three weeks to win our lawsuit that would protect the voting rights of the community.
On July 28, Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal formally advised the City Council to block our Police Insurance Amendment from the ballot. She said State law requires employers to cover their employees when they are acting within the scope of their employment. No one is disputing that. But Segal strongly implied that committing misconduct is part of an officer’s job—and because of that, concluded that taxpayers must bail out officers when they commit misconduct. Seriously? Because our amendment expressly forbids the city from issuing these taxpayer-funded misconduct bailouts, Segal falsely claimed it was illegal.
Unfortunately, the City Council relied on this shoddy opinion, and illegally voted to block our amendment from the ballot. This left us no choice but to go to court. Our lawsuit, which asks the court to place the Police Insurance Amendment on the ballot, was filed the same day as the illegal vote. We ask the community to stand with us as we fight to protect your voting rights and to ensure a fair process for future charter amendment proposals.
For more information about the Committee for Professional Policing visit our website at and “like” us at The city may have the fancy lawyers and the money, but we’ve got the people—and the law—on our side.

Statement from 15 Now Minnesota
The Twin Cities are home to 17 Fortune 500 companies—the highest concentration in the country—yet also the worst racial inequities in the nation. A staggering 48 percent of black people in Minneapolis live in poverty, compared to 13 percent of white people.
It’s become clear that wealthy corporations like US Bank and Target pull the strings at City Hall. A wage of $15/hour would impact over 100,000 workers, predominantly women and workers of color, and put almost a billion dollars a year into the hands of working people.
City Attorney Susan Segal gave cover to the City Council’s vote with a legal opinion stating the minimum wage isn’t one of the city’s core functions and shouldn’t be in the charter. This same city attorney raised an obscure legal argument in 2012 to by­pass a charter provision stating stadium subsidies require approval by referendum. When big business money was on the line, the attorney sought to work ­around the charter, but if put to the people, polls showed that public funding for the stadium would likely have lost (Star Tribune 3/12/12). Faced with a $15 minimum wage, the city attorney encouraged the council to defend poverty pay.
Now, low ­wage workers are suing the city, demanding the courts overturn the council’s decision and put $15 on the November ballot. As Tyler Vasseur, a minimum wage worker at Jimmy John’s and plaintiff in the lawsuit, said: “Mayor Hodges and many of you on the council were voted in to fight this city’s worst-­in­-the-­nation racial inequities. Yet in the two years you have been here, you have done little to address these problems. You have done nothing to address poverty wages.”
The court case will need to be settled by Aug. 26 to ensure the referendum appears on the November ballot.
The “$15 for Minneapolis” legal team of local and national attorneys made the case publicly that increasing the wage fits within the “general welfare powers” of the city’s charter. When it comes to minimum wage, big business leverages its power through backroom deals and legal maneuvering rather than coming out against a popular proposal like $15/hr. The city attorney’s legal opinion gave City Hall clearance to take power away from us and keep it with the downtown business interests.
We’ll see you in court and at the ballot box.
Help our campaign to take on the Democratic Party Establishment and big business by visiting today!

One Comment:

  1. The linchpin of the City Attorney’s position, which was not challenged by the petitioners, is that Minn Statute section 410.20, allows a charter to provide for initiatives, and the Minneapolis City Charter does not provide for initiatives. However, that provision which allows the enactment or ordinances by the city council or by initiative also allows a charter to allow a city council only to propose, and never to unilaterally enact any law, except on an emergency basis. Even if you concede that section 410.20 is an implied preemption of legislative power to the people, unless provided for in a charter, section 410.20 does not apply to the Minneapolis city Charter in as much as it would take away powers granted by the MN constitution to the people of Minneapolis that were recognized before enactment of chapter 410 of the MN legislative code / statutes. Another section of charter 410 explicitly states Until otherwise provided in accordance with this chapter, all cities
    existing at the time of the taking effect of the Revised Laws 1905 shall continue to be governed by the laws then applicable thereto. [410.03 EXISTING CHARTERS PRESERVED] Chapter 410.20 was enacted in 1907, and cannot be interpreted to take away powers reserved to the people by their home rule charter, based on a broad grant of legislative power to the people governed by home rule charters and the plain language of Minn Statutes section 410.03

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