5 Questions on the Minneapolis City Government Charter Change

Humphrey School Fellow Jay Kiedrowski, an expert in local government operations, calls it a positive change for the city
December 28, 2021
The exterior of Minneapolis City Hall with snow on the ground
Minneapolis City Hall. Photo: Tony Webster/Creative Commons

Now that voters in Minneapolis have approved a change to how their city’s government works, the real work of implementing that change is getting underway. Mayor Jacob Frey has turned to a group of city residents who are experts at organization, management, and planning, to help him work out the details.

As a result of the November election, the city’s charter (sort of like its constitution) was amended to change the city’s form of government to an “Executive Mayor-Legislative Council” structure, which gives the mayor more clear authority over all the city’s departments and operations.  

The Minneapolis Charter Commission, after doing about a year’s worth of study, came to the conclusion that the city’s structure needed to be changed.

The Commission found the previous structure, under which the 13 City Council members had considerable authority over their wards and management of the city, “lacks strong accountability, is overly complex and highly inefficient, and is significantly influenced by personalities of individual elected officials. The highly diffused governance structure makes it difficult to determine who is in charge and who is accountable for any given policy, project, or proposal.”

The commission’s recommendation, to make the mayor the executive of the city, and the City Council the legislative body, was approved by voters in the November election, and went into effect on December 3.  

Mayor Frey’s working group includes several people with ties to the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, including Senior Fellow Jay Kiedrowski, who has been on the School’s faculty for 17 years and is an expert on organizational development and leadership. The others are:

  • Kathleen O'Brien (co-chair), former member of the Dean’s Advisory Council
  • Tim Marx, alumnus (MA/JD '83)
  • Kim Nelson, former member of the Dean’s Advisory Council
  • Pahoua Yang Hoffman, alumna of the Policy Fellows program (2013-’14)

We asked Kiedrowski about the role and responsibilities of the working group. This q/a has been edited for length and clarity. 

What will be different now that this new charter has been approved?

Portrait of Jay Kiedrowski
Jay Kiedrowski

This change means that the city’s government will be more streamlined, and the lines of authority will be more clear. All the executive functions now go to the mayor. What that really means is all the department heads now report to the mayor.

The City Council is the legislative body, so they take whatever proposals the mayor makes, deliberate on them, and then vote. The council will also have the authority to conduct audits of various city programs.  

Minneapolis was unique in the country for having this mixed-up, confusing form of government. It was put in place when the city’s first charter was approved in 1920. Since that time, there have been five or six other attempts to pass a comprehensive reform of city government, and those all failed. Until this year. 

 

What are the goals of this working group?  

The charter change itself was more conceptual. So now the city has to decide how it’s going to organize under this new system. Mayor Frey asked this group of people to come together, to figure out how best to implement the charter change.

For example, under the charter change, the mayor appoints all the department heads. Do they report to him on a daily basis? Is there another official put into the mix? Some cities use a chief administrative officer to manage those department heads; the city of St. Paul has a deputy mayor to manage all those departments. The mayor will need to decide how he’s going to implement these changes. Our task force is coming up with recommendations for him to consider as he goes about proposing that implementation. 

Our  recommendations will be based on research into what other cities with this type of structure are doing. We will complete our work by mid-January and will give our report to the mayor privately. It will be up to him to decide if he wants to make it public, or simply make his recommendations. And they may be different from what we present to him. 

You and several others with Humphrey School ties are members of the working group. What does the School have to offer to this discussion?

The Humphrey School in part is about good government, and as such a number of us have thought about how to govern, what structures should be used to govern. I used to teach an organizational development course, and that’s where students start dealing with some of those issues of how things should be structured, how culture plays into the structure of an organization. A lot of those questions we’re researching and teaching here, so the Humphrey School has expertise in how to structure governments for maximum effectiveness. 

What is your personal interest in this issue?

I’ve worked in the public and private sectors throughout my career, focusing on organizational management; I have my doctorate in that subject. And it’s important for me that the city of Minneapolis be well run. I think this change will really make a difference. 

I started my professional career in 1973 as an intern for the Minneapolis Charter Commission. And at that time we proposed a couple of provisions that ultimately were passed, to give the mayor the budget function and the planning function. From 1978 to 1982, I was the city’s budget director, so I experienced first hand what was happening there. Then in the late 1990s and early 2000s I was a Charter Commission member. I wasn’t able to persuade people to do something significant, but we made a number of smaller changes that helped to rationalize to a greater extent city government.

What are the outcomes you’re hoping to see for the city of Minneapolis because of this change?

It can be summarized in three words: accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness. We want a government structure that is accountable. That’s what the public wanted, was to be able to hold the mayor accountable for what goes on in the city. Next, efficiency: We believe that the new structure will lead to a more efficient and lower cost government. And finally, effectiveness. All of that doesn’t matter if the snowplows aren’t getting the streets plowed, for example. The city has to be effective at providing services to its residents. And we think there will be improved effectiveness with this change. So I’m optimistic that this will be a positive change for the city. Absolutely.  

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