Is the Minneapolis City Charter Too Complicated?

Minneapolis City Attorney, Susan Segal, recently shared some thoughts about the city charter with Curtis Gilbert at MPR. While the document addresses some issues that are clearly outdated, like the discharge of steam by locomotives, the document has also grown with the times. Segal doesn’t sound confused by it, as she explained to Gilbert:

Although Segal agrees that the current charter is overly long and complicated, she said that complexity hasn’t caused any problems. On the contrary, she said, thanks to 93 years of legal opinions and precedents, there is no confusion about what the document means.

Which makes me wonder why she found this section of the Minneapolis city charter so confusing:

Section 13. Putting Professional Sports Facility Financing Before the Voters.permanent link to this piece of content

The City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Community Development Agency, or any city department, agency, commission, or board, shall use no city resources over $10 million dollars for the financing of professional sports facilities without the approval of a simple majority of the votes cast on the question, in a ballot question put to the public at the next regularly scheduled election. City resources are defined for these purposes as: Tax increment financing, bonds, loans, land purchase or procurement, land or site preparation, including necessary infrastructure such as roads, parking development, sewer and water, or other infrastructure development, general fund expenditures, sales tax or other taxes, deferred payments, interest free or below market interest rate loans, the donation or below market value sale of any city resources or holdings or any other free or below cost city services. The ballot question shall not be put before the public in a special election, in order to prevent the costs associated with special elections. (11-4-97)

The city, based on Segal’s legal advice, decided that a referendum was not necessary when the city voted on a 7-6 vote to commit hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to build a pro sports facility, to purchase land, for site preparation, for road changes, for parking development, surely for sewer and water as well, and for a skyway (other infrastructure).

To me, it doesn’t seem like there’s any confusion about what that section of the charter means. None at all. Which makes me wonder whether Segal was confused by that section, or if she was simply willing to violate the clear intention of the charter’s language in order to commit hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize the National Football League.

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