Amid pushback, a proposal to restructure representation within the Minneapolis City Council was rejected last week.
The plan, presented to the Minneapolis City Charter Commission, would reduce the Council’s 13 members to nine. Under the proposal, six of these council members would represent individual wards while three at-large representatives would be elected by all Minneapolis residents. Proponents say the measure will give all city residents more input, but opponents argue it could threaten diverse representation on the Council.
Minneapolis lawyer Tom Basting Jr., who authored the proposal, outlined the measure before the Charter Commission in March. The commission considered it again last week but did not advance it to a public hearing, ending its consideration before the commission.
Charter Commission Chair Barry Clegg said concerns about representation prompted the decision. He said consolidating wards could make it more difficult for minority groups to elect officials that represent them.
“If there are fewer wards, it’s going to be very difficult to redistrict the City in a way that gives diverse candidates a real shot at election,” Clegg said. “We have a very diverse population and I think that would just be going the wrong direction.”
But Basting said his proposal aims to increase representation for all Minneapolis residents.
“The broader context of looking at it is how much involvement do individual citizens and how much say do individual citizens want to have in their city government,” Basting said. “If you only get to vote for one out of 13 city government officials as opposed to four out of nine, you have a smaller voice than you do if you get to vote for more people.”
The proposal’s mix of ward and at-large representatives mirrors the structure of the City’s school and park boards. Basting said the plan would align City Council wards with these boundaries.
Reducing the number of ward representatives has the potential to reduce representation among minorities and students, said Paul Goren, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota.
“Minneapolis is a large city and 13 wards seems like a reasonable way to break it up,” Goren said. “If you go down to nine that’s just going to dilute the representation a bit more.”
Goren said opponents to shifts in electoral representation are often the people negatively impacted.
“Anytime you make an alteration to the electoral rules at any level of government there’s going to be winners and losers,” Goren said. “People who are going to lose under the new system are going to protest more strongly against changing that system.”
Basting said he will review the commission’s comments and amend his proposal. He hopes to gather enough signatures to put the proposal to a ballot vote by November 2020. Under current City regulations, Basting will have to gather signatures from five percent of registered voters who voted in the last election, or about 10,000 signatures.
Before it goes to a public vote, the issue will require more public discussion, Clegg said.
“We don’t put things on the ballot to start a conversation about an issue. We put things on the ballot after they’ve been discussed and have percolated for a while,” he said.