Put them on a shorter leash!
Dogs make wonderful pets. They are, generally, affectionate and loyal, but they need to be kept on a short leash. Otherwise they can knock down small children and tear up the neighbors’ gardens. And they might run off onto some merry misadventure because they smell some message in the air or sniff something left on a fire hydrant.
The same is true for our elected officials. They are, during an election year, affectionate and loyal, but when elections seem distant they sometimes smell something in the air that sends them off chasing wild and expensive dreams.
When the Village of St. Anthony Falls began more than 150 years ago, the citizens appreciated the value of democracy and the need to rein in elected officials. Terms of office were for two years and there were three aldermen elected from each ward. When the Village became the City of Minneapolis they changed the number from three to two aldermen from each ward. In the 1950s they changed the number from two to one, and 30 years ago they changed the terms of office from two years to four.
The argument was made at that time that four-year terms would encourage voter participation. Supposedly, people would consider elections more important if they happened less frequently. And it would allow elected officials time to govern rather than worry about campaigning all the time.
It turns out that both those arguments were false.
In the last election that there were two-year terms for mayor and City Council the voter turnout was 25%. In the last municipal election for mayor and City Council with four-year terms in 2009, the voter turnout was 18.9%. Canceling elections doesn’t encourage voter turnout. It makes voting seem even more futile.
And four-year terms don’t mean that incumbents will campaign less. Politicians are campaigning all the time. It just means that incumbents will have a four-year head start on any challenger. Council Member Lisa Goodman has banked $75,000 in her campaign treasury. Who’s going to run against that? Mayor R. T. Rybak has already spent more than $18,000 to date on his re-election campaign. Four-year terms are an incumbency protection plan that has served the politicians well but has cheated the voters out of accountability and responsible representation.
The arrogance, aloofness and air of superiority of our local elected officials was never more obvious than in their present maneuvering to give $675 million (according to Kevin Carpenter, the city’s chief financial officer) of the city’s treasury to the Minnesota Vikings for a new stadium. Polls show that 70% of the people in Minneapolis don’t want this. The politicians don’t care. The people of Minneapolis have twice amended the City Charter to require a public referendum on the city’s participation in funding the construction of a sports stadium. The city politicians will see that the state legislators write a bill that sidesteps that provision. Rybak clearly doesn’t feel bound by the Charter. He says he doesn’t believe in government by referendum.
But the mayor’s “public-be-damned” attitude isn’t just limited to his advocacy of a Vikings Stadium. His administration of the police department has been shameful. He has encouraged the police to enforce eviction orders even though the federal government has questioned their legitimacy. He allowed his chief of police to promote his cronies to desk jobs with the result in a diminished patrol capacity. He has supported the chief’s brutal “Reign of Terror” that has resulted in record setting multi-million dollar settlements against the city for police misconduct.
We don’t have to put up with this. We can take our government back. One small step toward making government more accountable and giving power back to us, would be to change the terms of office for mayor and City Council from four to two years.
A committee of electors—Polly Mann. Paulette Will, Lauren Maker, David Tilsen, Wizard Marks and Barb Callendar—is preparing a petition to be presented to the Charter Commission and the City Council and then submitted to the voters in the November 6 general election. The change: “The terms of office of the Mayor and Council Members shall be for four two years commencing on the first business day of January of the year following their election.”
We need the signatures of registered voters equal to 5% of the total votes cast in the last statewide General Election. Eight thousand signatures would give us a safe cushion.
If you would like to help, please call 612-822-4662 or e-mail email@example.com