Judge: Minneapolis public safety ballot language ‘unreasonable and misleading’

(KSTP) – A judge has granted a motion for an injunction regarding the Minneapolis public safety ballot language, dealing a potential setback to efforts to reshape the city’s policing philosophy.

In the latest twist, Hennepin County Judge Jamie L. Anderson called the current public safety ballot question "unreasonable and misleading." The city said it plans to appeal the ruling. Anderson laid out a Friday deadline for any legal challenges to be resolved.

"The City Attorney’s Office is focused on a speedy appellate process to ensure all voters have the opportunity to make known their positions on this critical issue as part of the municipal election this year," the city said in a statement.

Voters may still see the question when absentee ballots are sent out this week — the county has already started printing ballots — but if Anderson’s decision stands, any votes on the measure will not be counted.

The motion was requested by Don Samuels, Sondra Samuels and Bruce Dachis — all Minneapolis residents. They claim the city council "approved an incomplete and misleading ballot question" and are asking for better transparency in the language.

"I think everybody who is arguing on both sides of this wants the question to be fairly put before the voters, but to put it fairly before the voters, the voters have to understand what they are talking about and being asked of them, and this question just doesn’t do that, so that’s the problem," said Joseph W. Anthony, an attorney for the group of residents challenging the ballot wording.

The group has been involved in previous legal challenges to the wording of the Minneapolis public safety charter vote, which is expected to be on the ballot this fall. However, after Tuesday’s update, the city council and courts will have to move quickly in dismissing this recent update to still have residents vote on it.

Earlier last week, the Minneapolis City Council passed new ballot language after a court previously said another attempt by the council was "vague."

The revised ballot language reads as follows:

"Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to remove the Police Department and replace it with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions by the Department of Public Safety, with those specific functions to be determined by the Mayor and City Council by ordinance; which will not be subject to exclusive mayoral power over its establishment, maintenance, and command; and which could include licensed peace officers (police officers), if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety, with the general nature of the amendments being briefly indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?"

Voters would then select a "Yes" or "No" option. The explanatory note reads as follows:

"This amendment would create a Department of Public Safety combining public safety functions through a comprehensive public health approach to be determined by the Mayor and Council. The department would be led by a Commissioner nominated by the Mayor and appointed by the Council. The Police Department, and its chief, would be removed from the City Charter. The Public Safety Department could include police officers, but the minimum finding requirement would be eliminated."

The city council is expected to move on the decision Wednesday morning. Early voting begins Friday.

KSTP has reached out to Yes 4 Minneapolis for comment.

See the full court filing below, or click here if on a mobile device.