Mpls. to consider changing city charter

Proposals could eliminate two city boards and create an administrative position.

Several city council members are seeking to change the way the city of Minneapolis is governed âÄî a move that has many locals fired up. First Ward councilman Paul Ostrow, along with two other council members, have proposed eliminating the Board of Estimate and Taxation and the 126-year-old Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. In addition, they want to appoint a new city administrator, who would oversee all Minneapolis departments and report directly to Mayor R.T. Rybak and the City Council. To address the significant public response to the proposals, which has included opposition, the city has planned four open meetings to gather input. One of the four meetings takes place Tuesday night at the North Regional Library. The proposed amendments would be made to the Minneapolis Charter, which is essentially the Minneapolis constitution that defines the powers of city government. On one side, the council members in favor of the amendments think eliminating the two boards and creating a manager position will make government more efficient. But opponents think the move centralizes power in City Hall. âÄúThe people who are in power are finding more ways to get power, and thatâÄôs not what democracy should be about,âÄù said Carol Becker , currently a member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation. The Board of Estimate and Taxation sets the maximum tax levies for certain funds in Minneapolis, including the police, public works and housing funds. Becker is one of two elected officials serving on the board. âÄúYou want to have the people that are being audited and the auditors separate,âÄù Becker said. âÄúA short word would be Bernie Madoff and Enron âÄî they did their own auditing and look where that got them.âÄù Becker said although itâÄôs healthy to debate how to make government more efficient, she said itâÄôs ultimately best to have more voices and input in the decision making. But Ostrow, who officially proposed the amendments in late January, said the proposals will streamline decision-making process, saving time and taxpayersâÄô money. âÄúIn a time of incredibly limited resources and challenges for the city, how do we do absolutely everything we possibly can to make government effective and accountable?âÄù Ostrow said. To improve accountability, Ostrow wants to create a city administrator position. Currently, the city coordinator advises the mayor and City Council on policy decisions and heads some departments, but the new city administrator position would have broader authority. All city department heads would report to the new city administrator, who would be given sole authority to fire and discipline them. âÄúWe have all of the department heads reporting to 14 bosses now,âÄù Ostrow said. âÄúIn any management structure there needs to be a boss, a professional manager who holds everyone accountable.âÄù This boss would report directly to the mayor and City Council. John Bryson, from the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, is an expert on government organization and said a managerial system in local governments is common across the United States. The move could make the democratic process quicker, he said, but it may not lead to better decisions. âÄúConflict in decision making isnâÄôt always a bad thing,âÄù he said. âÄúConflict can be about creating a better understanding that can lead to better choices.âÄù One area of frequent conflict is between the City Council and the park board, more recently on their vision for a sustainable city, Ostrow said. âÄúWe are always working on trying to bring those to an agreement rather than working on one unified vision,âÄù he said. âÄúWe need to have one vision for the city, not two.âÄù The park board was created in 1883 as an independent body in charge of maintaining and developing the cityâÄôs park system. Dawn Sommers, spokeswoman for the park board, said she hasnâÄôt seen broad support for eliminating the board. In fact, many city officials are opposed to the idea and see the discussion as a waste of time and resources, Sommers said.

Major Changes

Most changes to the charter are only minor language or technical changes, which have to be unanimously agreed upon by the City Council, Jim Bernstein, chair of the cityâÄôs charter commission, said. âÄúItâÄôs unusual that we get a really, really substantial change in governance thatâÄôs been proposed this time,âÄù Bernstein said. But this isnâÄôt the first time these issues have been discussed. In 2007, the state Legislature attempted to eliminate the Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation. Also, former councilman Steve Minn tried to eliminate the park board in 1996. After the public hearings, the charter commission will discuss whether any of the items will be put on the November ballot for residents to vote on. Any or none of the items can make it on to the ballot, Bernstein said. The charter commission plans to have their decision made by July to meet the early August deadline for putting items on the ballot.