Brooklyn Center to vote on charter amendment to stifle mayor’s emergency power


Brooklyn Center residents will be voting on several ballot initiatives in Tuesday’s election – one of which stems from the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright last year and how the city responded in the aftermath.

The ballot question asks voters if the charter should be amended to remove the authority of the mayor to take command of the police in times of danger or emergency, with the approval of the city council. It would instead require decisions in those cases to be made by a coordinated group that includes the mayor, city manager, police chief, fire chief and other city leaders, who can then request aid from other local, state and federal agencies.

The question comes a year after ex-Brooklyn Center Kim Potter shot and killed Wright during a traffic stop in April – during Derek Chauvin’s murder trial – which led to civil unrest and dayslong protests in front of the Brooklyn Center Police Department.

The motivation

After Wright’s killing, protests continued every night for about a week, with protesters periodically clashing with law enforcement and National Guard troops. Law enforcement came under fire for their suppression tactics, which included firing tear gas and less-lethal rounds at demonstrators.

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In the days after Wright’s death, City Manager Curt Boganey was fired by the city council and police chief Tim Gannon resigned.

Gannon now claims he was pressured to resign in the days after Wright’s death, and is suing Brooklyn Center for denied earnings and emotional distress. Gannon’s suit claims the council violated the state’s open meeting laws by discussing his fate and reaching a decision to terminate him behind closed doors. The suit also claims the city defamed him, terminated him based on his race and broke the terms of his employment contract.

The chaotic situation for Brooklyn Center city officials prompted Mayor Mike Elliott to take control of the police department using the emergency powers outlined in the city charter. Elliott — who is up for reelection — and other city officials drew sharp criticism for their response: Lack of communication between city officials and law enforcement, the widespread use of tear gas and less-lethal rounds against protesters, and the lack of protection for businesses that were raided or vandalized were among the complaints.

Less than a year after Wright’s killing, the Brooklyn Center Charter Commission got the ball rolling on changing how the city handles emergency situations after witnessing the response to the unrest following Wright’s fatal shooting.

“It came about because of the problems with the civil unrest last year and how that was handled, and it was looked at by the commission as being not handled very well,” said Arvid “Bud” Sorenson, chairman of the charter commission, in an interview. “The primary reason for it was that a completely untrained person was put in charge of the police department, which in this case was the mayor.”

The plan

According to minutes from meetings by the commission, discussions about the change to the charter began in 2021. Earlier this year in February, a subcommittee was formed by the commission, led by Commissioner Stan Leino, to determine the language of the ballot initiative.

On ballots, voters will see the language as follows: “Should the Brooklyn Center City Charter be amended to remove the authority of the Mayor to take command of the police, with the consent of the City Council, in times of public danger or emergency; and instead authorize the Mayor to coordinate with the City Manager, Police Chief, Fire Chief, and other City leaders in times of public danger or emergency, which could include requesting assistance from local, state, and federal agencies?” Whichever side gets more votes — yes or no — will prevail.

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During a March 31 meeting, Commissioner Steve Landis said the reason behind the proposal was not aimed at Elliot but rather due to a “specific mishandling of a whole situation” before the commissioners voted 12-2 to send the initiative language to the council for approval. The council rejected the commission’s proposal in May, which led to it being put to voters instead.

In a letter to the editor in the Sun Post last week, Charter Commissioner Stan Leino – on behalf of all of the commissioners – said the city seemed to “lack a standardized system of command-and-control” in its response to the protests outside of the police precinct, and that he and the other commissioners were concerned what would happen in the event of another emergency, like further civil unrest or a natural disaster.

While Leino and other commissioners believe a collaborative approach to leading the city’s police force in an emergency situation would lead to better outcomes, not everyone agrees.

Alfreda Daniels Juasemai, a Brooklyn Center labor organizer and former city council candidate, questioned the transparency of the Charter Commission’s addition of the ballot question. She said she wasn’t aware that the process to make the change to the charter had been underway until after the initiative was already on the ballot.

“I’m an organizer in this community … I spend my day going through what’s happening in this city, that’s part of my everyday work,” she said. “I didn’t know that this process was happening. So no, I don’t think it was transparent at all.”

Daniels Juasemai said she didn’t completely agree with the decisions that Elliott made amid the civil unrest gripping the city. But, she said, taking authority away from the mayor is a short-sighted decision that will impede how quickly the city can respond to an emergency situation.

She cited the quick decision to ban the Brooklyn Center Police Department from using crowd-control tactics like tear gas and less-lethal rubber rounds after some had ended up inside the homes of residents in apartment buildings across the street from the police station.

“Did we have to wait for a meeting to happen before voting to stop that? Do we know how many lives or properties would have been destroyed before then?” she said. “I think we need to sit back and think further about how this could impact our community.”


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