Park Superintendent Jayne Miller announced Dec. 6 she will leave her position leading the city’s park system next February, leaving a largely fresh-faced board of commissioners to appoint her successor.
Miller, who was appointed by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board after a national superintendent search in 2010, made the resignation news public as part of a somber beginning of the City Council’s budget adoption meeting.
Miller’s leave comes after months of protestors calling on her to step down and a pivotal election season that saw a group of younger, more racially diverse commissioners elected to the nine-member board. With six new commissioners, a very different board will decide what direction to take the city’s park system under the leadership of a new superintendent.
“These are unusual political times and elections have consequences, and I fear that this is one of them,” Park Board President Anita Tabb (District 4) said at the meeting. “I think our city will be a little less forward-thinking without her.”
Commissioners credited Miller for helping to mend the tumultuous relationships the Park Board had with the City Council and other municipal organizations. Annie Young, a citywide commissioner who is leaving the board have nearly 30 years, said she is proud of the work Miller and the board have done to collaborate with other elected officials.
“I came from an era when the Park Board and city didn’t get along at all,” she said. “We now speak together. We now work together.”
That work culminated last year when the Park Board and City Council passed a joint plan to direct $800 million to parks and streets over the next two decades to reverse years of underinvestment. Known as the 20 Year Neighborhood Park Plan, the funding program was spearheaded by “five strong women,” as Miller noted: City Council President Barb Johnson, Council Member Lisa Goodman, former Park Board President Liz Wielinski, Tabb and Miller.
The plan will provide an additional $11 million annually to maintain nearly 160 neighborhood parks across Minneapolis. Miller helped develop criteria for spending the money, directing resources to racially concentrated areas of poverty.
Tabb described the plan as “a crowning achievement by any standard” and said it was “the biggest single equity initiative embarked on in generations at the parks.”
“I cannot overstate the positive impact Jayne Miller has had on the park system and the big hole her departure will have on the organization and on our city,” she said in a statement.
During Miller’s tenure, Minneapolis was named the country’s top park system five years in a row, according to an annual index published by the Trust for Public Land.
The Park Board has undertaken multi-million-dollar projects to overhaul the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Theodore Wirth Regional Park’s winter recreation area. It opened the continent’s first natural swimming pool at Webber Park in North Minneapolis.
Commissioners first appointed Miller to bring professionalism and transparency to the board.
“We trusted her to effectively implement and successfully manage the organizational changes needed to make us the best park system in the country,” Tabb said.
In the past year, protestors and community groups have attended park meetings to criticize the board’s hiring practices concerning people of color, among other issues. Some have called on Miller to resign.
On the campaign trail, a key issue for many park candidates was the board’s role in addressing equitable park funding, outreach and access.
In her announcement to Park Board staff, Miller did not give a reason for her resignation. After her last day on Feb. 3, 2018, Miller will head to Pennsylvania where she’ll assume the role of president and CEO of the nonprofit Pittsburg Parks Conservancy.
“Unfortunately, I think she was characterized unfairly this past year… and I think that played a part in her leaving, frankly,” said Vice President John Erwin, an at-large commissioner, at the meeting.
Fighting back tears, Miller said the park system is “stronger than it’s been in decades” and is doing “cutting-edge, innovative work,” implementing best practices in areas like environmental stewardship, equity and youth violence prevention.
“This is a special place. As you can tell, it’s very hard to leave,” she said.
Newly elected and re-elected commissioners will join the Park Board in January and are expected to fill the superintendent position after Miller’s departure.
Superintendent Jayne Miller’s announcement to Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board employees:
It is with a very heavy heart and humble gratitude that I inform you I am resigning my position as Superintendent, effective February 3, 2018. I am grateful and honored for the opportunity to lead the MPRB these past seven years, work with such talented employees and a supportive board, and serve the residents of Minneapolis.
I am proud of what we have accomplished together and deeply appreciate the amazing work all of you do every day to care for the park system and champion the mission of our organization. It’s been a privilege to work with all of you and to witness the transformation of the organization. I like to think that when I leave next year, I will leave the MPRB in a better place than when I started.
When hired I was entrusted to lead efforts to improve service delivery, internal work processes and external relationships with our partners. Working together with you and the Board of Commissioners, we accomplished this and much more. We have initiated safer, more efficient and more effective work procedures throughout the organization, have strengthened the finances of the organization, and have increased staffing levels in every department to meet growing demands and improve how we deliver essential services. The Board and I have established strong, effective relationships with our government, non-profit, private sector and community partners, who have provided critical support for important, collaborative projects throughout the park system. These relationships are vital to sustaining and strengthening our beloved park system.
Because of our collective, innovative efforts, Minneapolis parks today is doing cutting edge work, responding to the changing needs of our community and being more inclusive and welcoming. Our community engagement policy, community outreach department, hiring and training procedures, and use of racial equity tools have enhanced how we connect and serve residents, and diversified our workforce. Our redesigned riverfront plans and planning and design work has us on the forefront of park development, our service area master plans and customer service “boot camp” training are making parks more accessible to everyone and providing services relevant to the lives of residents and park visitors. The Webber Natural Swimming Pool is a tremendous success and is routinely filled to capacity with nearby residents and people who travel throughout the metro to enjoy this unique, non-chlorinated, pool experience. So many of us throughout the organization worked tirelessly on Closing the Gap and are now committed to the 20 Year Neighborhood Park Plan, a legacy Initiative and Plan for the Park Board. This work, and much more, has made us the leading park and recreation agency in the country on racial and economic equity work, with equity infused in our capital improvement program and our recreation centers budget.
I’ve always been impressed by the wide range of resources we manage, programs we offer and people we serve. Our forestry and maintenance efforts and our environmental initiatives are protecting the quality of our parks, lakes and creeks for generations to come. Our programs for youth, adults and families have an immediate and often profound and long-lasting impact. The unique and critical partnership between Recreation and Park Police is a national model in providing safe park spaces, fostering positive recreation staff-police-community relations, and reducing crime in parks. Our Youthline and StreetReach Programs connecting at-risk youth and families to Minneapolis parks, youth mentorship, and support services lead the nation in urban youth work.
Know that the MPRB is in a strong position. We have an outstanding executive team that will continue the important work we have been doing through thoughtful, compassionate, and strong leadership and management of the organization. The Park Board is in a very strong financial position; the strongest position in decades. We have asked smart questions, done great research and worked hard over the past seven years to institute solid policies and practices that are based on industry best practices, all to provide quality programs and services to residents and visitors alike. We have outstanding community support – the community believes in the value of parks in their daily lives, our , and the positive impact we make in people’s lives. And, remember that the importance of your work doesn’t change.
It has been an honor and privilege to work for a system so beloved by residents and visitors from near and far. It’s no wonder the park system receives such high ratings on community surveys and accolades from organizations across the country. I hope all your good work continues to evolve, be supported and appreciated, by the new Board as well as by the community.
Thank you for the incredible opportunity to serve as Superintendent these last seven years. It has been my pleasure and distinct honor to serve the organization, the community, and to work with all of you. I have appreciated the support of the Board and have enjoyed working closely with commissioners, particularly past Presidents John Erwin and Liz Wielinski and current President Anita Tabb. We have had a shared vision for the organization and unwavering respect for the hard work done by employees in every department. Know that the work you do every day positively impacts the lives of others.
We are all fortunate to be part of the legacy of this amazing park system. I will cherish the friendships, personal and professional, I have made and the many accomplishments that are part of my history here in Minneapolis. I will sorely miss you when I leave.