Park commissioners chose new leadership Wednesday following the resignations of its top elected officials.
Commissioners elected Anita Tabb president of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Wednesday. Commissioner John Erwin, a former board president, was selected to be vice president.
Commissioners Liz Wielinski and Scott Vreeland submitted letters last Friday resigning from the nine-member board’s president and vice president positions, respectively, though the two maintain their board seats.
Commissioners voted 7-1 in each instance. Interruptions from audience members who called for public input on the leadership selections temporarily derailed the meeting, causing a short recess.
The elections follow several intense months for the board. Earlier this year, the board, under Wielinski’s leadership, secured a long-term funding plan — known as the 20 Year Neighborhood Parks Plan— for maintaining neighborhood parks, praised by commissioners and their peers on the City Council as a historic agreement between the traditionally distant governing bodies. Commissioners recently approved racial and economic equity criteria to guide the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of investments into the system. They’ve also maintained the honor of the country’s top park system.
But activists and community members have criticized the board for inequitable investments into neighborhood parks and a lack of diversity in its leadership, among other concerns, at meetings in recent months. Conversations tensed between the board and activists when Wielinski and Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP and one of the audience members calling for public input, had a publicly heated exchange during a May park meeting. Several speakers at the July 20 meeting reiterated calls that the all-white board doesn’t reflect the population of Minneapolis.
In a letter to Superintendent Jayne Miller and fellow commissioners, Wielinski, who represents Minneapolis east of the Mississippi River, cited health concerns as reason to leave the board’s helm.
“Unfortunately, my position and the pressures involved have taken a heavy toll on my health. This is most certainly not the way I hoped to wrap up my tenure as president of the board, but after consultation with my doctor and family members, and with consideration for the importance of the board for the parks in this city, I have decided this move is best at this juncture in my life,” she wrote.
As vice president, Vreeland would have been her successor, but in his letter declined the post and resigned from his leadership position.
“Although I would be honored to serve as President of this great organization, I would like to decline that opportunity,” he wrote.
Commissioner Brad Bourn, who often disagrees with others on the board, nominated himself for vice president, but didn’t receive support from other commissioners despite the backing of several people in the audience. In a last-minute speech to fellow commissioners, Bourn said he would have used the position “to try to build a bridge with some of our critics.”
“I would be happy to put whatever credibility that I have on the line with some of our critics to try to advance some common solutions,” he told fellow commissioners before the vote.
Tabb (District 4) is in her second term representing an area of the city that stretches from the downtown Minneapolis riverfront to neighborhoods surrounding Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun. She praised Wielinski for her lobbying effort with the city to get additional funding for neighborhood parks and Vreeland for his “genuine love of our parks.”
“There’s nothing small about the neighborhood parks plan, which President Wielinski championed and really was able to get through,” she said. “I know this won’t be easy, and we will move forward in the very best way we can do that.”
Tabb joined the board following time with Park Watch, a neighborhood activist group and blog that Wielinski and other Minneapolis residents started in 2004 in o make the Park Board more transparent. Both ran for the board in 2009 and won.
Erwin, a University of Minnesota horticulture professor, is an at-large commissioner and was president of the board for four consecutive one-year terms prior to Wielinski, who previously served as vice president.
“I am honored to serve in a leadership role again,” Erwin said in a statement. “My hope is that we can take a moment to ‘reset’ to insure that all communities are heard and their concerns addressed. Along with this, we have much work to do on the 20 Year Neighborhood Parks Plan, youth programming, greening and increasing wildlife habitat.”