Continuing its discussion of Minneapolis City Charter reform efforts, the Civic Caucus interviewed former Citizens League staffer Clarence Shallbetter on January 15, 2021. Shallbetter staffed the Citizens League committee that produced the 1969 report Who Will Help Us Get Action: A Proposal to Answer the Appeal for Political Leadership in Solving the Problems Confronting the City of Minneapolis.
Charged with examining Minneapolis city planning and development, the committee concluded that the city needed a strong, politically identifiable, citywide policy leader. The mayor had the responsibility, but not the authority; the City Council had the authority, but lacked the responsibility. The president of the City Council often appeared to be the key leader and spokesperson for the city, even though the president was not elected by the whole city, just by voters in his or her ward.
The report recommended merging the offices of mayor and of City Council president to create a citywide, politically responsive leader for the city. As the Citizens League report put it, "Development of a single office, elected citywide, with specified responsibilities and accountable to the voters, is necessary before leadership can be exercised in solving [the city's] problems." (p. 9 of report)
(Note: You can find digital copies of all Citizens League reports at this link: Citizens League Policy Report Library.)
00:00 - The Civic Caucus. (Janis Clay)
00:43 - Introduction of Clarence Shallbetter. (Paul Gilje)
Paul Gilje: Clarence Shallbetter was on the staff of the Citizens League in the 1960s and 1970s. During that time, he staffed a number of study committees, including the 1967 to 1969 study committee on Minneapolis Planning and Development. The committee produced the report "Who Will Help Us Get Action:" A Proposal to Answer the Appeal for Political Leadership in Solving the Problems Confronting the City of Minneapolis, which was approved by the Citizens League Board of Directors on April 25, 1969.
Shallbetter is probably the person best equipped today to describe the Citizens League's unique idea in the ongoing battles over Minneapolis government structure and the mayor/City Council power struggle. It was a new idea and one still on the table today.
(A complete biography of Shallbetter follows the Discussion section.)
02:27 - Clarence Shallbetter Opening Remarks.
Shallbetteraid he wouldmakehispresentationin four parts, keeping his focus on the Citizens League's 1969 Minneapolis Charter reform report: (1) Illustrating how the Citizens League study process used to work; (2) What the study committee did: findings, conclusions and recommendations; (3) How the committee got to those; and (4) Which parts of the report were implemented.
03:33 - What was the Citizens League study process? (Clarence Shallbetter)
Shallbetter: The Citizens League, a nonprofit, citizen-based, public-policy organization, developed a study committee process that it used on a large number of topics. The process was helpful, insightful and useful in bringing out deep knowledge and ideas for solutions. The Minneapolis Planning and Development Committee, which ended up making recommendations for Charter reform, met 34 times between November 1967 and March 1969. The committee, which was chaired by James L. Weaver and staffed by Shallbetter-then a research assistant at the Citizens League-was comprised of 14 people who actively participated over that period of time.
Shallbetter arranged for 19 speakers to appear before the committee; kept detailed notes of the meetings, which were widely distributed; did research; worked closely with the chair; and wrote multiple drafts of the report, based on the committee's findings, conclusions and recommendations. On April 25, 1969, the Citizens League Board of Directors approved the committee's final report, "Who Will Help Us Get Action:" A Proposal to Answer the Appeal for Political Leadership in Solving the Problems Confronting the City of Minneapolis.
04:05 - The committee's charge and report. (Clarence Shallbetter)
Shallbetter: The formation of the Citizens League's Minneapolis Planning and Development Program Committee, which later became known as the Minneapolis Planning and Development Committee, was authorized by the Citizens League Board in November 1967. The charge, or assignment, to the committee was the following:
Review the proposals since the publication of the Aschman report in 1957 for the organization of the planning and development function in the city government. Make recommendations for a more effective working relationship among the planning, capital budgeting and public works activities of the city. Make recommendations for more effective relationships between the city government and the independent agencies also carrying on development programs in Minneapolis, namely the Planning Commission, CLIC, Board of Estimate, and the newly expanded coordinator's office. (p. 49 of report)
Shallbetter: Earlier efforts, in 1948 and 1964, to change roles and responsibilities by creating a strong mayor and weak City Council in Minneapolis had gone down to defeat. We knew that and, in the face of overwhelming turn-downs by the voters, the question was how might it be possible to create a single leadership position in Minneapolis to address its problems? We had to understand the city's planning process and figure out what could be done to improve it.
08:37 - Citizens League study committees were to be made up of citizen generalists. (Dana Schroeder)
Shallbetter: That was true and the Citizens League assumed that's what they'd be dealing with. At the time of this report, it wasn't much of a problem to make sure the study committees were made up of generalists, rather than people representing special interests. It became a much bigger problem later on and the League had to make committee membership criteria more selective to assure that members were generalists.
09:55 - Content of the report: What were the issues at the time and how had these been influenced by the development of Minneapolis historically? (Clarence Shallbetter)
Shallbetter: Decisions seem to be made about every 40 years on city development in Minneapolis, as older, often obsolete, structures are replaced and the city goes on to other cycles. The City of Minneapolis was incorporated in 1856. The organization of city government was fairly simple in the beginning. The city had three functions: police, fire and picking up after the horses.
We recognized that the city had gone through about four cycles of development and redevelopment by the time the Citizens League committee undertook its work in 1968 and 1969. There was a lot of development along the Mississippi River in the center of the city from the 1880s through the 1920s. Then the development started to move out from the center of the city. The last phase was suburbanization, which changed the image of the central city. By 1969, Minneapolis contained only 14 percent of the metro-area population.
Then began urban renewal, which cleared out a large area downtown between 4 th St. and the river. There was a consensus that this area was blighted and dilapidated and we needed to clear it out. To do that, the city set up a Housing and Redevelopment Agency, which received a lot of federal money to finance the redevelopment.
Well-known companies, like General Mills, began to move out of the city to the suburbs. There was no empty space in the city, so new homes, facilities and retail were being developed in the suburbs. Dayton's, Donaldson's and other retailers began to leave downtown, so there was little left downtown of any consequence in retail. The Dales, beginning with Southdale, began to replace downtown as the retailing center.
The city was investing in new facilities, like replacing old schools with new ones and putting asphalt on city streets. Freeway construction was underway, a 90-percent federally funded system to connect regions of the country. Originally, the freeways were to go around these growing regions and not through them to directly serve the downtowns. Minneapolis and Saint Paul, like other cities in the country, objected and said their downtowns needed access.
Therefore, I-35 was split so one leg, 35W, provided access to downtown Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota; 35E provided access to downtown Saint Paul and the Capitol. I-94 simply went near both downtowns. I-394 was built later to connect the western suburbs to downtown Minneapolis. The freeways were still a big deal when we did our report.
18:00 - What was the city planning focus of the 1969 report? (Clarence Shallbetter)
Shallbetter: The Citizens League noted that in 1957, Minneapolis had used the nationally-known consulting firm of Aschman and Associates, which said the city needed a strengthened planning function. To handle this, however, the city had a governance structure that had accumulated over time. In 1920, the city had collected the many accumulating pieces of city organization into its first Home Rule Charter. The charter focused nearly all responsibilities in the City Council, which, at one point, had grown to 26 full-time members, plus staff. It was unwieldy. The mayor was largely ceremonial in function.
The city's mayor was located on the first floor of the city/county structure (today's City Hall) and the City Council on the third floor, so they didn't have a lot to do with each other. The mayor at the time of the report was Arthur Naftalin, who left office on July 6, 1969, and was replaced by Charles Stenvig, a Minneapolis police officer, who served as mayor through December 31, 1973, and again from 1976 through 1977.
The 1969 Citizens League report identified 11 major issues facing Minneapolis. (pp. 2-6 of report):
1. The present position of Minneapolis on the need for and location of proposed freeways.
2. The city's position on the need for mass transit, the land-use policies the city would pursue to encourage its development, and its financing.
3. The city's official plan for the development of its arterial street system.
4. Decisions about the location and types of facilities for parking in the downtown business district and neighborhood shopping centers.
5. Decisions about providing housing for low-income and elderly people in the context of the metropolitan area.
6. Decisions about the density of residential development.
7. City policies on replacement of obsolete industrial facilities, development
of new sites for industries and updating of neighborhood shopping centers.
8. The city's official position on its revenue needs and the way to finance future public services.
9. The city's official position about the types of services that should be provided on a metropolitan basis and assurances that the city would receive a fair share of parks, transit and highway development.
10. The social service policies of the city.
11. The city's position about the combined collection of trash and garbage.
28:21 - What were the main conclusions in the 1969 report? (Clarence Shallbetter)
Shallbetter: The report's main conclusion was that Minneapolis needed a strong, politically identifiable, citywide policy leader. The mayor had the responsibility, but not the authority; the City Council had the authority, but lacked the responsibility. The president of the City Council often appeared to be the key leader and spokesperson for the city, even though the president was not elected by the whole city, just by voters in his or her ward.
The mayor had the responsibility, but not the authority; the City Council had the authority, but lacked the responsibility.
As the Citizens League report puts it, "Development of a single office, elected citywide, with specified responsibilities and accountable to the voters, is necessary before leadership can be exercised in solving [the city's] problems." (p. 9) The report says the functions and powers needed for this citywide leader to be effective include the following (pp. 9, 10):
1. Access to information. The information collected by departmental and planning staffs must be available to the political leader.
2. An understanding of the long-range implications of decisions.Planning will not be effective unless it is tied to a leadership position at the policymaking level.
3. The ability to make proposals.
4. Influence over the development of programs. The political leader should have a role in the preparation of the budget.
5. Sufficient power to obtain decisions from the City Council. The Council and the political leader must join together in formulating policies and making decisions that will state the position of the city on many important issues.
6. Designation of the politically responsive leader as the official spokesperson for the city.
33:17 - What were the recommendations made in the 1969 report? (Clarence Shallbetter)
Shallbetter: The report's major recommendation was that the office of president of the City Council and the office of mayor be merged. But the report did not call on the Charter Commission to make this change. Instead, the report called on the Legislature to pass special legislation providing for this merger, creating a politically responsive leadership office called the Mayor of Minneapolis and President of the City Council and spelling out the office's responsibilities and powers.
The report called on the City Council to support the recommended legislation, increase staff assistance to the politically responsible leader and take steps to strengthen the role of the Planning Commission in long-range comprehensive planning. (p. 37)
35:06 - How could we fix the question of city leadership, if the recommended strong-mayor system hadn't succeeded historically among voters? (Clarence Shallbetter)
Shallbetter: The Citizens League, almost since the beginning of its existence, looked at the City Charter and said the city needed a strong mayor. In 1948, that concept, developed by then-Mayor Hubert Humphrey, had been defeated by the voters. In 1962, voters had defeated by 60 percent a similar Citizens League strong-mayor approach to giving more power to the mayor. And in 1926, there had been efforts to create a city-manager system, but voters rejected that proposal by an even larger margin, 70 percent.
In its 1969 report, the Citizens League rejected a strong-mayor approach. It feared that would be seen as trying to dominate the deliberative and decision-making process of the City Council, which had been in charge of everything.
36:16 - Could we do something to minimize the rivalry between the mayor and the City Council? (Clarence Shallbetter)
The City Council was doing a lot of things that really bypassed the mayor, such as having committees make decisions and author reports that never went to the mayor.
The Citizens League committee considered having the mayor appoint the City Coordinator and some other city department heads, in addition to the police chief. It considered having the mayor play a role in the budget. But the committee knew some of these changes had already been rejected by the voters.
So, instead, it decided to build upon the improvements and changes the Council had already made. The report recommended moving the mayor's office from the first floor to the third floor of the city/county building-where the City Council was located-so the mayor would come to know what the Council was doing and be more engaged in that work.
It went on to say the mayor should be strengthened by having more staff and the mayor and City Council president positions should be merged, creating a single citywide, politically responsive leader (CPRL). The committee believed having this CPRL would resolve many of the conflicts city government had. The CPRL would identify problems, set direction and present the operating and capital budgets from the City Coordinator to the City Council.
The mayor and City Council president positions should be merged, creating a single citywide, politically responsive leader.
The CPRL would be the city's policy leader and would speak for the city and present proposals to the Legislature. The committee noted that this type of leadership arrangement was already in place in Hartford, Connecticut.
43:53 - Was the business community involved in the 1969 study process, so their eventual support could be significant? (Pat Davies)
Shallbetter: Many leaders in the business community, if not directly involved themselves, had public affairs people in their companies working on Citizens League committees and on its board. The business leaders knew Citizens League committees really looked in depth at problems and their solutions. The business community was kept informed and they were supportive.
45:30 - What are the main arguments made by supporters of the current decentralized model of city government and how do you respond to their claims? (Paul Gilje)
Shallbetter: The supporters ofthe current system felt the City Council was close to the people and they thought the Council had a good deliberative process. They also felt the City Coordinator responded to them.
47:08 - Did you interview anyone from the union movement in Minneapolis? (John Cairns)
John Cairns: Unions were against Charter change and still are today. Unions would much prefer to negotiate one-on-one with City Council members, who would be thinking only about employee contracts, rather than negotiating with the mayor, who has many other competing interests to take into account and would compromise.
Shallbetter: No union leaders spoke to the committee.
50:38 - Was the City Coordinator at this time appointed by the City Council? Has the political power of this position decreased over time? (Dana Schroeder)
Shallbetter: The City Coordinator was approved by the Executive Committee, which includes the mayor (as chair), the City Council president (as vice chair) and three other Council members selected by the City Council. The office of City Coordinator functioned more like a city administrator, but had no control over city department heads, who, other than the police chief, were appointed by the City Council after approval by the Executive Committee.
The City Coordinator has some responsibilities for operations, such as city inspections and city buildings, and has an important role in development of the budget.
54:52 - Comments from former City Council President Paul Ostrow on the role of the City Coordinator: Some City Coordinators were thought of as pretty powerful, including Lyall Schwarzkopf, John Moyer and Kathleen O'Brien. Certain City Coordinators developed enough loyalty among City Council members and staff to pull together department heads for meetings, serving as de facto city administrators. But they had no authority to do that.
The Coordinator supervises certain over-reaching services like emergency management, finance, human resources and regulatory services, but has no inherent authority over various city departments. The City Coordinator position has been reduced in its influence, because of that lack of authority. We can't assume that authority is going to happen by virtue of personality.
Implementation of the 1969 report
58:12 - What happened following this report in terms of implementation?
Shallbetter: The committee finalized the report and the Citizens League Board adopted it on April 25, 1969. As said earlier, the recommendations were directed to the Legislature and the City Council and not to the Charter Commission. (p. 37 of report)
The city understood that local government is a creature of the state, so that it could go to the Legislature to change things in the City Charter, as well as on many other issues. It was routinely done. We went to the City Council for endorsement, intending to go then to the Legislature. Many of the recommendations, except for the merger of the mayor's and City Council president's office, were adopted over time by the City Council.
The Citizens League continued to work with the City Council. Three Charter change proposals emerged in the following years, two of which were approved by the voters: one approved change increased the mayor's veto power in 1974; the other approved change, in 1976, increased the mayor's power over the budget. The third proposal-merging the offices of the mayor and the City Council president-won a majority of votes, but not enough to pass a requirement for a greater majority. Over time, a number of the committee's recommendations were implemented.
The Executive Committee is still part of the fabric of how decisions get made in Minneapolis. The mayor is not the primary spokesperson for the city much of the time, as the president of the City Council often takes on that role. There's a real contest between these two leadership roles.
1:04:37 - Comments from two former City Council members, John Cairns and Lee Munnich, on the Executive Committee.
John Cairns: The city'sExecutive Committee comprises the mayor, the president of the City Council and three other Council members selected by the City Council.
Lee Munnich: The Executive Committee was created in the 1980s, when Donald Fraser was mayor.
1:07:34 - What steps need to be taken to get this 1969 report before the Charter Commission in its efforts today? (Paul Gilje)
Shallbetter: The city's Charter Commission is more active now than ever. It's put together 15 different reports and will possibly report on its proposals in March or April. We might see a significant change in the participation in appointment of department heads. The Commission is looking primarily at making the mayor the leader of the city.
It's not obvious what problems the Charter Commission is trying to solve and problem definition is fairly critical. The Commission has done some documentation of problems as seen through the eyes of city department heads and former city coordinators.
Lee Munnich commented that the Civic Caucus could submit this Zoom recording and summary of the interview to the Charter Commission as an additional document.
1:09:45 - What are the set of problems that reorganizing city government would help resolve, other than theoretical issues, which are less likely to resonate with voters? Is there widespread unhappiness in the city on the part of voters about city government structure? (John Adams)
Shallbetter: Part of what the Charter Commission is looking at is a supermajority of the City Council wanting to get rid of the City Charter provision that the city have a certain number of police officers. The Charter Commission said we're not going to do that; we're going to do something larger.
1:12:01 - If policing is issue number one, what is issue number two? (John Adams)
John Cairns commented that a second problem is the way the city is financed. We need more sales-tax and income-tax revenue coming in, so the city can reduce its reliance on the property tax.
Paul Ostrow said there is widespread unhappiness with rampant, not particularly well-thought-out, development in the city. People have a sense that development advocates are running the development of the city and are running over planning done by neighborhood groups.
Shallbetter: One example of controversy around part of the development of the city is the Upper Harbor, where the city acquired land to generate barge traffic to use the lock advocated by former Mayor Hubert Humphrey that made Minneapolis the head of navigation on the Mississippi River. Many of these uses had become obsolete and others no longer sustainable after the lock was closed. Planning got underway to find new uses. First Avenue, a downtown Minneapolis nightclub and music venue, proposed an outdoor amphitheater as a venue for music and other events.
Other people suggested the adjoining area of North Minneapolis has a concentration of poverty and minority populations with high levels of unemployment and low student achievement. They suggested the Upper Harbor land should primarily be developed to provide good-paying, year-round jobs for people living in the adjoining area.
1:16:45 - How do we get the citizens of the City of Minneapolis to support the proposals for change in city government structure? (Tom Abeles)
Tom Abeles: The amphitheater proposal was not a citizen choice. It was one City Council member working with First Avenue. Citizens have not had a voice in this. They don't see it to their advantage. The same is true of the city's 2040 development plan, which is a weakening of the city's Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP). Citizens are being disenfranchised.
1:19:29 - I would guess the major driver for Charter change today revolves around police management and oversight. It would be good to concentrate on that. (Ted Kolderie)
1:19:29 - I would guess the major driver for Charter change today revolves around police management and oversight. It would be good to concentrate on that. (Ted Kolderie)
Ted Kolderie: Minneapolis was originally under an Old English Borough form of government, with a City Council elected by wards and the leader of the city chosen by the City Council. The City of Minneapolis added the office of mayor by statute early on. So we have a mix of systems, with a strong Council and a mayor only responsible for the police department.
1:23:40 - How do proposals get defeated politically? (Pat Davies)
Pat Davies: In order to succeed, you need to have many different groups on your side, but as soon as a proposal would raise taxes, it won't fly. Everything seems to depend on the ability to sell an idea to the public and how to have strong organizations behind reform proposals.
1:25:22 - How have things changed since 1969? (Clarence Shallbetter)
Shallbetter: In 1969, we had coverage of these discussions in the Minneapolis Star and the Minneapolis Tribune. Reporters were assigned full-time to City Hall and reported what was going on there in the papers. That function is much reduced today. And there are no community newspapers covering city hall. Communication about city issues is much reduced from 1969. Often it is done directly by the city, rather than by independent newspapers.
In dealing with the police department as an issue, for example, both the City Council and the mayor are involved in negotiations with the police union about contract provisions relating to standards of police performance and the disciplining of those who depart from them. Yet there is no coverage of these provisions as they develop, nor of the final contract signed by the mayor and City Council.
And the involvement of leading business firms in the affairs of the city is much reduced also.
1:27:55 - If a proposal comes out of the current charter discussions, we need to think about how we communicate to the voters what is on the ballot before them. (Janis Clay)
Clarence Shallbetter is a deacon in the Catholic Church, ordained in 2001. This followed his retirement from many years of working in public policy for a number of organizations, including the Citizens League. As a deacon, he visits youth at the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center and men in three state prisons at Lino Lakes, Stillwater and Rush City.
Shallbetter's public-policy activity significantly focused on transportation, as a promoter of ride-sharing, the largest form of "transit" in the Twin Cities. He also worked in Transportation Demand Management with the Metropolitan Council, on the Minnesota Commission on Reform and Efficiency (CORE), as a fiscal analyst of transportation budgets with the Minnesota House of Representatives and in promotion of ridesharing with Ridesharing, Inc., during the energy crisis of the 1980s. Before that, he was a 10-year staff person with the Citizens League-a nonprofit, citizen-based, public-policy organization-in the 1960s and 1970s. He is also an original and continuing member of the Civic Caucus. In 1964, he joined the Navy to see the world as a supply corps officer on the USS Little Rock.
Growing up in North Minneapolis, he worked with his father, who owned a popular meat market, "Shallbetter's Better Meats." Shallbetter is a political science graduate of the University of Minnesota and a graduate of DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis.
Present for Zoom interview
Tom Abeles, John Adams, Helen Baer, John Cairns (vice chair), Janis Clay (chair), Pat Davies, Paul Gilje, Ted Kolderie, Lee Munnich, Paul Ostrow, Dana Schroeder (associate director), Clarence Shallbetter.