This election is already bad; city officials shouldn’t make it worse

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 November 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 must be “approved” by the city council by August 26 to be placed on the ballot. The council has stalled this vote until its August 5 meeting. Why?

If they block the police insurance amendment from the ballot, we would have just three weeks for any needed legal action to protect the voting rights of the community in court. This is an intentional effort to keep us off the ballot and to undermine the power of the courts.

Our campaign’s progress in recruiting volunteers and soliciting donations from our supporters has also been affected. We’ve had to dedicate valuable campaigning time to fighting back against the city’s stalling tactics. Here’s how the city’s plot has played out thus far:

First, the city clerk’s office acknowledged receipt of the petition on June 2 but did not even begin the ten-day signature verification process until June 14. This two-week delay violates Minnesota law.

Second, in processing our petition, the city disenfranchised thousands of voters. Imagine that you are a registered Minneapolis voter who lived in the city. In April 2016, you enthusiastically signed our petition. In May 2016, you moved across Minneapolis and re-registered to vote at your new address. Throughout this entire month-long period, you were a Minneapolis registered voter. Guess what? To the city, your petition signature is invalid.

This disenfranchisement further stalled verification of our petition, as the city claimed we were originally short by 509 signatures. We were forced to collect signatures once again: another three-week delay.

State law makes it clear that for a signature to be valid, the signer must simply be a registered voter in the jurisdiction of the proposed charter amendment at the time of signing. No other restrictions exist. Invented rules like this obviously target groups of people who are more likely to change addresses: renters, low-income people and young people.

Third, the city council backtracked on its own published schedule for holding a final vote to place the Police Insurance Amendment on the ballot. The schedule, circulated widely to numerous high-ranking city officials, originally promised a July 22 vote. Now, it will not actually take place until August 5, another two-week delay. Quite simply, city officials are not playing fair.

Finally, on July 28, Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal formally advised the city council to block our Police Insurance Amendment from the ballot in a sloppy legal opinion. State law requires employers to cover their employees when they are acting within the scope of their employment. No one is disputing that.

Here’s the kicker: 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, it appears as if the city will leave us no choice but to go to court after the City Council vote on August 5. 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.

The city may have the fancy lawyers and the money, but we’ve got the people — and the law — on our side.

Cole Yates

Committee for Professional Policing