In addition to a crowded mayoral field, individual City Council contests and several other city races, Minneapolis voters will find two low-profile, yes-or- no questions on Tuesday’s ballot.
Both deal with whether to adopt or reject a new plain-language city charter that eliminates out-of-date provisions and language dating to 1920.
The changes also eliminate some provisions that supporters think would be better off handled in ordinance form, which can be changed more easily with the times.
The plain-language amendments are divided by topic. The general amendment deals with all non-alcohol related topics and requires a simple majority of those voting on the issue for approval. The alcohol-related amendment requires 55 percent of those voting on the issue to pass.
The plain-language charter amendments are the product of 11 years of debate by members of the Charter Commission, which worked its way through 13 drafts and countless sub-drafts before final agreement on the wording that appears on the ballot.
“Its charter change, and for more than half of the voters, the first time they hear about will be when they go to vote,” said Charter Commission Chair Barry Clegg.
The Charter Commission has no budget for a campaign to win support for the plain language revision, but a committee has been formed, The Citizens for a Plain Language Charter, which is sending letters in support of the amendments signed by former mayors Al Hofstede, Don Fraser and Sharon Sayles Belton.
Mayor R.T. Rybak has not endorsed the charter amendments. John Stiles, communications director for Rybak, says the mayor “thinks plain language is a great thing, but there may be some unintended consequences.”
“In its current form, a lot of case law is tied to the charter,” said Stiles, adding that the city attorney has pointed this out but has not made a recommendation for or against the new charter.
There has been no organized opposition to either proposal.
Clegg, himself an attorney, said the old charter does not go away if the new one becomes law. The old charter can still be used to establish precedence in legal matters.
Currently the city charter is 200 pages long. The plain-language charter amendments will reduce the length to 60 pages. Many of the items eliminated are obsolete, such as requiring that eggs be candled before they can be sold, or are currently covered by state law, which supersedes the charter.
Some of the items removed were deemed to be better addressed — and more easily changed — in city ordinances, which can be passed by either the City Council or the Park and Recreation Board.
There are two ways to change the city charter. The first is by a vote of the people. The charter, though, also can be changed by a unanimous vote of the City Council, a majority the Charter Commission and approval from the mayor, as required by state statute.
If the plain-language charter amendment fails, the current charter stays in place, but Clegg says he will be inclined to remove some of the provisions that are out of date, such as those dealing with the Minneapolis Library Board, which no longer exists.
“I would still try to nibble away at provisions that are wrong,” said Clegg, who would take his case to the City Council, Charter Commission and mayor.
If voters approve the plain-language amendments, the new charter would go into effect in January 2015, which would give the City Council, Park and Recreation Board and mayor a year to replace items removed from the old charter and transfer them to ordinance form.
An ordinance can be approved by a vote of the City Council or Park and Recreation Board and the signature of the mayor. If the mayor were to veto an ordinance, the relevant governing body– the City Council or Park Board – could attempt to override that action.