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Support the Plain Language charter
Written by Kerry Ashmore, Co-Publisher
Posted  9/18/2013
Doth, shall, and the Library Board will disappear from the Minneapolis City Charter if voters vote, as we recommend you do, for the Charter Plain Language amendment on the Nov. 5 ballot. The question will be posed as follows:

"Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended in the form of a complete revision which (i) modernizes the Charter; (ii) redrafts its provisions for brevity and in plain language; (iii) reorganizes the Charter into nine articles and groups related provisions together; (iv) removes from the Charter certain provisions for possible enactment into ordinance; and (v) retains the current role and relationship of the City’s boards and commissions?"

There will be a separate question for charter text relating to liquor, because the margin for that vote is different, 55 percent as opposed to 51 percent for the rest of the Charter. The liquor question reads: "Shall the Minneapolis City Charter provisions relating to the sale of liquor and wine be amended by reorganizing and rewriting in plain modern language?"

As editors ever seeking clarity, ghosts of teachers past warn us "if you see ‘of’ crawling out of your typewriter, kill it." The new 13,862-word document, down from 70,905, will still be longer than the U.S. Constitution’s 4,543 words, but it’ll have only 3 percent passive sentences. Just enough to earn respect as a legal document, perhaps.

To enact the first charter, the 1920 charter commission simply gathered up all the existing city legal verbiage they could find; the document’s been amended about 100 times, "often by the City Council, sometimes by referendum," states the Plain Charter task force report. It’s not just a style and readability editing job. It’s also a scalpel job excising concepts that should be ordinances.

Those new ordinances will have to be drafted and passed to keep the city government running, and it will take about a year to implement, according to the City Attorney’s office, quoted in the League of Women Voters LWV Minneapolis Voter September 2013 publication.

Perhaps it’s fear of those details that made this an 11-year process. At a recent Northeast/Southeast LWV meeting, it was mentioned that the City Attorneys have preached caution while not actively opposing the measure. One does wonder if it’ll be like Homeland Security—how many of everyone’s freedoms have been squeezed in order to catch terrorists or prevent terrorism?

One can also wonder, with the potential for much of the City Council to be brand new by the time these new ordinances surface, will this fair city get embarrassingly bad laws? Probably not, as the non-elected city staff people generally work behind the scenes to keep the pols from harming themselves or the general public.

So let’s go ahead and vote for these amendments. It’s probably not the end of the discussion. The task force’s work is sound and deserves public support.

Northeaster Opinion