Judge rejects Minneapolis ballot language on defunding the police, council holds emergency meeting to revise

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Hours after a Minnesota judge rejected Minneapolis ballot language that would have gotten rid of the city’s police department, city council held an emergency session to reword it and try to gain approval.

Hennepin County District Judge Jamie Anderson on Tuesday struck down proposed ballot language that would have asked voters whether Minneapolis should replace its police force with a vaguely defined public safety department and eliminate the city’s minimum for its required number of officers.

The language “is unreasonable and misleading,” she wrote in the order striking it down.

“The court finds that the current ballot language is vague, ambiguous and incapable of implementation, and is insufficient to identify the amendment clearly,” she continued.

The “defund the police” push emerged in earnest following the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis police custody. 

The city erupted in protests – some of which devolved into violent riots. City council slashed its police budget and let officer levels fall below the mandatory minimum, prompting a group of residents to sue. A judge ruled in their favor, ordering the city to hire more cops. Then the council crafted a ballot measure that would get around the staffing requirement.

The measure, if passed, would have also given city council control over the new public safety department, which “could include” police officers, as early as Dec. 2. 

Democratic Mayor Jacob Frey, who is currently in charge of the city’s police department, opposed the initiative and had vetoed it – only to be later overruled by the council. Other critics of the proposal include Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Gov. Tim Walz, both Democrats.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey speaks during a news conference Thursday, May 28, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minn. (Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune via AP)

The city’s police chief, Medaria Arradondo, strongly opposed the measure and said that the chain of command between the police chief and mayor was “critically important.” Reporting instead to city council would be “confusing” and “wholly unbearable” he said last week.

But it has support from Attorney General Keith Ellison and Rep. Ilhan Omar.

The council held an emergency meeting to craft new language Tuesday afternoon in response to the judge’s rejection.

The new language still seeks to “remove” the police department and replace with a department of public safety and also includes an explanatory note in an attempt to be more specific and address the judge’s concerns.

City attorney Jim Rowader presented new ballot language during the meeting.

“She found the language last approved by the city council to be insufficient and ultimately directed new language to be drafted,” he said of Judge Anderson. 

So his office prepared new proposed language and presented it to the council, which approved the revision 12-1.

The new language changed the phrasing and added the explanatory note in order to be more specific. The police chief and department would be taken out of the city charter, and the new public safety commissioner would be nominated by the mayor and approved by the council.

“We certainly think that we’ve done our absolute best to satisfy all of the concerns [the judge] has stated,” Rowader said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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