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How Minneapolis can fix its ‘too many bosses’ problem at City Hall

Minneapolis is the only city of its size that operates on a “14-boss” system. This instability at City Hall blurs governance and management, and has contributed to nine department heads leaving the city over the past two years.

Minneapolis City Council
MinnPost file photo by Jessica Lee
Minneapolis City Council
Imagine going to work and not knowing who your boss is. Or even worse, having two bosses that give conflicting directions. Then multiply that by seven, so you have 14 bosses. Are you confused yet?

That is what City of Minneapolis staff have had to deal with for decades, and it doesn’t work. I know firsthand, because I worked for the city for 37 years in five different departments before I retired in 2019. Over this period there were five different mayors, six City Council presidents, and 60-plus different council members. Each of these individual elected officials is an honorable person trying to navigate difficult times. The problem is that our century-old system of decentralized authority with no one in charge does not work, especially in times of multiple crises.

The Minneapolis Charter Commission recently studied whether the structure of our city government serves the city’s current needs. This included a review of other cities nationally and within Minnesota, interviews with current and former Minneapolis elected officials, and with city department heads. The conclusion: Minneapolis’ current decentralized structure contributes to widespread dysfunction within city government.

As was evident over the past year, the study found that the lack of a clear executive results in confusion, conflict and chaos. Lines of authority are unclear, and accountability is blurred in a city run by a mayor and 13 council members. Council members sometimes give policy and management directions that conflict with each other and with the mayor, causing department heads and city staff to struggle with whose direction to follow. Minneapolis is the only city of its size in the country that operates on a “14-boss” system. This instability at Minneapolis City Hall blurs governance and management, and has contributed to nine department heads leaving the city over the past two years.

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Earlier this year, the Minneapolis Charter Commission unanimously voted to place an amendment on the November 2021 ballot to amend our city charter. The amendment clarifies and defines the roles and responsibilities of the mayor as the executive branch and the City Council as the legislative branch, like our state and federal government systems.

The amendment clarifies the mayor’s role as the city’s chief executive officer, with overall executive and administrative authority. The council maintains its current substantial responsibilities: to set city policy and adopt ordinances; to approve the annual budget and labor contracts (including the contract with the Police Federation); to confirm charter department heads nominated by the mayor; and to appoint more than 700 people to 57 boards and commissions. The amendment actually strengthens the council’s oversight role, by making the office of the city auditor (whose job is to provide financial and performance oversight of city services) a charter department that reports to the council.

Jeff Schneider
Jeff Schneider
In addition to the Charter Commission, this amendment is supported by several former City Council presidents and members, former mayors, current and former city department heads, and the League of Women Voters.

I encourage all Minneapolis residents to learn more about city question one and how it can fix the confusion and chaos in our City Hall.

Jeff Schneider is a long-time Minneapolis resident, retired city employee, and volunteer with Charter for Change, a grassroots, nonpartisan volunteer group that is presenting fact-based information on the amendment.    

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