It Could Be Worse

For those you who lament the antics of the Madison City Council, it could be worse. You might live in Minneapolis.

I’m up here this weekend to attend a wedding and, so, I got a chance to read the Minneapolis Star-Tribune this morning. (Yeah, I know, I could read it online anytime, but why would I?) The front page contained a story about a ballot measure just adopted by the Minneapolis City Council.

Here’s the language the Council adopted after several tries:

Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to strike and replace the Police Department with a Department of Public Safety which could include licensed peace officers (police officers) if necessary, with administrative authority to be consistent with other city departments to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety?

If you were a Minneapolis voter and understood the full implications of voting yes, then you’d have been paying extraordinarily close attention. Mayor Jacob Frey, who got elected as a liberal and has since been bludgeoned by the left for being only liberal and not a revolutionary (an experience with which I have some familiarity), vetoed this language no less than three times, including twice in one day.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey is a liberal who vetoed the City Council’s version of a referendum to abolish the police department three times. They finally over rode him.

Frey had insisted that an explanatory note be added to inform voters that the effect of voting in favor was to eliminate a mandated minimum police staffing requirement and to take away the power to govern the department from the mayor and give it, at least in part, to the council. A majority of the Council rejected the note, probably because they understood that if voters knew what they were voting on they’d vote against it.

Anyway, the Council eventually overrode Frey’s veto, mere hours before a deadline to get the question on the November ballot. And, so, Minneapolis voters will decide the question this fall. You would hope that, with activist groups on both sides of the question, voters would know full well what they were voting on by that time. Still, it seems like pretty bad government not to have an official explanation as part of the ballot itself.

If I lived here I might actually vote in favor of a provision that simply eliminated the minimum police staffing requirement. I’ve never liked formulas that link the size of a police force to population. That’s too simplistic. All kinds of factors go into that decision, including other competing needs in the community. Madison doesn’t have such a requirement in its ordinances and that’s a good thing.

But the rest of the language is vague about what would replace the current police department, which it must be acknowledged, is beset with problems, only the most serious of which was the murder of George Floyd. Still, voters are likely to be stopped in their tracks by the phrase, “which could include licensed peace officers, if necessary.”

I think most voters would conclude that police officers are, in fact, necessary, and that any council that would pose the question as if that were not a foregone conclusion might not to be trusted with redesigning public safety. But that’s just me.

Will this kind of thing come to Madison? I hope not and I don’t think so. Our Council has already done its damage with the ill-conceived Civilian Oversight Board. That board has not demonstrated an ability to walk and chew gum at the same time — and may they continue in that mode.

Welcome to the 185th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

3 thoughts on “It Could Be Worse

  1. I believe it is worth noting for accuracy sake that it was the previous city council that created the oversight board. The current council has many new members and in my opinion have been more circumspect than I would have predicted.


  2. I like the idea of the oversight board here in Madison but stacking it with activists has made it all but useless. Also the onerous requirements to be on the board has made it an easy target for lawsuits by WILL. No one wants the overseer job because it will be thankless slog as the Police don’t want any oversight and there is no way the crazies on the Oversight Board are gonna make their life hell. This whole process has been thoroughly Madison’d.


  3. I’m not from Madison so I don’t know much about that oversight board. I know that Milwaukee’s oversight body had had a terrible past couple years. Despite this, I still believe in the concept of civilian oversight. I just want these bodies to be filled with competent people – which Milwaukee’s Mayor has had a hard time with.

    I bet that there is more common ground between police officers and anti-police activists than they may think, and local fire and police commissions are in a great position to bridge these gaps if we put them in position to do so and staff them with people who are up to the task.


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