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November 2, 2009

Iric Nathanson on Dueling Lawn Signs

Filed under: Authors, MHS press — Alison Aten @ 8:30 am

phpTKEMELGuest blogger Iric Nathanson is the author of the new book Minneapolis in the Twentieth Centry: The Growth of an American City.

In my South Minneapolis neighborhood, the lawn signs are dueling during these final days of the city election campaign.  The red ones are urging a “no” vote on Amendment 168 on November 3, while the blue ones are calling for a “yes” vote on the same measure.  The controversial amendment to the Minneapolis charter abolishes an obscure city agency known as the Board of Estimate and Taxation, which sets the property tax levy for the city of Minneapolis and its  Park and Recreation Board.

Across the river in St. Paul, there are no “yes” and “no” signs because that city does not have a Board of Estimate and Taxation.  There, the city council and the mayor set the tax levy.  Unlike Minneapolis, where the voters elect the members of an independent Park Board, the St. Paul park system functions as just another department of city government.

While they may be known as “twins,” our two central cities are quite different when it comes to their governmental structures. In St. Paul, municipal government is relatively straightforward, with a mayor who oversees the day-to-day operations of city government and a seven-member council that functions mainly in a legislative capacity.

In Minneapolis, the organizational chart in city hall is considerably more complicated.  Here, the mayor and our thirteen-member council have worked out a delicate power-sharing arrangement, while independent agencies like the Board of Estimate and the Park Board function as mini power centers.
The current brouhaha over the Board of Estimate and Taxation is the legacy of more than a century of battles over charter reform in Minneapolis. Year after year,  the “no” votes have prevailed at municipal elections as  reformers have tried but failed to overhaul the city’s convoluted structure.

If history is any guide, the “no” votes are likely to prevail again when it comes to Amendment 168 on the Minneapolis election ballot.

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