Voter’s Guide: At-large Park Board candidates

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board oversees 197 properties within Minneapolis city limits totaling nearly 7,000 acres of land and water. There are nine Park Board commissioners that set policy and make decisions on an innumerable amount of park issues, from youth sports to park hours to tree planting, and much, much more. 

All nine of the Park Board commissioners are elected by Minneapolis residents every four years. Six commissioners come from geographic districts, and three serve all of Minneapolis as at-large members. This year there are 10 at-large candidates vying for those three at-large seats. 

Many people would like to see a more diverse Park Board to better reflect the city’s residents.

It’s also widely accepted that parks in the south and southwest areas of the city are more well-maintained and offer higher quality amenities than those in the north and northeast side of town. Many of the candidates are advocating increased outreach and asset allocation in underserved communities, both geographic and socio-economic.

>> Hashim Yonis

Yonis says he will bring a higher level of understanding of different cultures and traditions to a Park Board that has traditionally lacked diversity. Yonis was born in Somalia and lived in refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia before moving to Minneapolis when he was 10. He worked for the Park Board doing youth and community outreach for three years until he was fired in August after being accused of pocketing money meant for soccer field rentals. He denies the allegations and is currently awaiting a mid-October appeal hearing.

Neighborhood: Folwell

Current job: Ph.D. candidate at the University of Minnesota

Park experience: Worked for the Park Board for three years

Top priorities: Distributing park resources more equally to bring disenfranchised communities together and making youth recreation opportunities more inclusive

His pitch: Minneapolis is not the same place it was 20, 10, or even five years ago. He will use his community engagement and youth outreach skills to make sure the parks system works for everyone in Minneapolis.


>> Tom Nordyke

Nordyke says he will use his extensive development background to help address the park system’s under-funded infrastructure. The DFL-endorsed candidate lives on Cedar Lake and has worked in arts-related real estate development for more than 25 years. He served as an at-large Park Board member from 2006-10, the last two of those years as president.

Neighborhood: Cedar-Isles-Dean

Current job: Independent development consultant

Park experience: Served on the Minneapolis Park Board from 2006-10, the last two years as president. Also involved in building the 6th Park District dog park

Top priorities: Upgrade under-funded park infrastructure and address inequality within the parks system

His pitch: Minneapolis park infrastructure has been under-funded for more than a decade, and now with a renewed effort to bring more population density to Minneapolis the need for infrastructure upgrades is more pressing than ever. His experience in development and commitment to infrastructure improvement will ensure that the parks system will be able to accommodate a growing population.

>> John Erwin

Erwin has the most impressive list of endorsements out of all of the at-large candidates — DFL, AFL-CIO, Sierra Club, Mayor R.T. Rybak, the entire City Council, four state senators and five state representatives — which he says comes from being easy to work with and results-driven. He has served on the Park Board for the last eight years, the last four as president. 

Neighborhood: Seward

Current Job: Horticulture professor at the University of Minnesota, Park Board president

Park experience: Served on Park Board for eight years, the last four years as president

Top priorities: Increasing tree planting, especially edible plants and fruit trees, fixing up neighborhood parks and focusing on the RiverFirst development plan along the Mississippi River

His pitch: The Minneapolis parks system is the best in the country and as president of the Park Board over the last four years the parks have flourished while limiting tax increases. Under his leadership he will make sure to continue to fix up neighborhood parks while promoting forward-thinking plans like RiverFirst.


>> Annie Young

Young is finishing up her 24th year on the Park Board, making her its longest-serving member. The Green Party candidate has focused on environmental issues during her tenure, like reducing chemical use in parks and increasing recycling and composting programs.

East Phillips

Current job: Environmental Justice Organizer with the Harrison Neighborhood Association and at-large Park Board member

Park experience: Served on the Park Board for the last 24 years

Top priorities: Addressing the multi-cultural needs of Minneapolis, which involves allocating more assets to parks in north and northeast Minneapolis and increasing programming for teens, making sure green space is included in the many major upcoming developments in Minneapolis

Her pitch: Decades of experience as a environmentalist and political activist give her the expertise needed to guide Minneapolis parks toward a greener future. She will continue to focus on the reduction of chemical use in parks, ensuring new developments have plenty of green space and making Minneapolis parks inclusive of all communities.


>> Casper Hill

Hill is campaigning on a “back-to-the-basics” platform. He wants to put an increased focus on keeping up regular maintenance at parks and limit the Park Board’s frivolous spending. Hill has worked in communications for the city of Minneapolis for eight years and is president of ClubRun Minneapolis.

Neighborhood: Armatage

Current job: City of Minneapolis communications

Park experience: President of ClubRun, a running club based in Minneapolis, specializes in Minneapolis public works communications, which often include park projects

Top priorities: Use Park Board budget more efficiently, do a better job of maintaining paths and trails in parks, invest in better recycling programs and water bottle fillers at rec centers

His pitch: The Park Board continues to try to expand while struggling to keep up what it already has. He would make sure parks’ basic maintenance needs are met while continuing to invest in exciting new plans like RiverFirst by spending efficiently and reducing waste.


>> Ishmael Israel

Israel says his experience engaging residents as a neighborhood activist would help the Park Board become more responsive and better allocate resources to underserved communities. He has been involved in community engagement efforts for the Near-North and Willard-Hay neighborhoods since 2000, serving as Executive Director of the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council (NRRC) and was recently appointed by the mayor to the Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission.

Neighborhood: Willard-Hay

Current job: Executive Director of NRRC, lead designer for Icon Builders & Development

Park experience: Worked indirectly with Park Board as part of his community engagement efforts

Top priorities: Adjust resource allocation so that there is equal access to park programming across all socio-economic backgrounds, make sure new bike trail routes make sense and connect to regional parks, ensure resident voices drive Park Board policy

His pitch: Park Board programming should be more reflective of the communities that surround each park. He will champion resident input in deciding programming for each park to increase participation among underserved populations, and work to make sure park resources are allocated fairly.


>> Mary Lynn McPherson

McPherson gets a good look at Minneapolis parks every day operating her dog walking and training business. She wants to push for more senior citizen programming to utilize park buildings that are typically dormant during school hours, and explore alternate funding methods to ensure all parks are kept up to a high standard.

Neighborhood: Fulton

Current job: Runs a dog walking and training business

Park experience: Experiences them daily as resident and business owner

Top priorities: More parks programming for seniors, offering park programming that is tailored to each community, maintain parks using a balance of public and private funding

Her pitch: The parks are one of Minneapolis’ greatest resources. She will work to make sure that they are used more efficiently to offer something for all communities, including seniors and other underserved populations


>> Meg Forney

Forney has been involved in numerous grassroots and neighborhood organizations since she moved to Minneapolis 35 years ago. She says she has always campaigned on egalitarian access to parks and championed policies that remove social, cultural and economic barriers that prevent everyone from enjoying Minneapolis parks.

Neighborhood: West Calhoun

Current job: Realtor with Coldwell Banker Burnett

Park experience: Served on Park Board’s Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) for the Above the Falls plan and Southwest Light Rail Transit, Midtown Greenway Coalition Board, West Calhoun Neighborhood Council

Top priorities: Broadly engaging with communities around Minneapolis to ensure equal access to parks, partnering with schools to develop effective parks programming and prevent bullying, working with private companies and donors to raise money for parks and partnering with other park agencies to spend it efficiently

Her pitch: Decades of experience as a grassroots neighborhood and park activist have given Forney a long track record of getting results. Her consistent dedication to promoting egalitarian access to parks make her a solid choice to represent all Minneapolis residents.


>> Steve Barland

Barland started coaching youth sports at Minneapolis parks when he was 17 and is still going 40 years later. He says he would be the only “recreation-focused” board member, advocating for the upkeep of sports facilities, paths and trails. After coming close to winning the 5th District Park Board seat in 2009, he decided to run for an at-large seat at the behest of departing at-large Park Board member Bob Fine, who is running for mayor.

Neighborhood: Field

Current job: Facilities and Store Operations at Target

Park experience: Volunteer coach at Minneapolis Parks for 40 years, Basketball Coordinator and Pearl Improvement Recreation Council board member for 10 years, Volunteer of the Year at Pearl Park

Top priorities: Taking better care of athletic surfaces, trails and paths. Encouraging more kids to participate in recreational programming through closer partnerships with schools and retooling sports leagues into three tiers: Traveling, MPRB in-house and Beginner

His pitch: Over the years recreation has taken a back seat to other Park Board priorities. Barland would make sure that there is at least one strong pro-recreation voice on the Park Board and work toward implementing a better, more inclusive overall plan for youth programming in the parks.


>> Jason Stone

Stone is running again after narrowly losing Park Board bids in 2005 and 2009. He boasts an impressive list of endorsements for a non-incumbent, including the Sierra Club, Stonewall DFL, Minneapolis Professional Employees Association, Mayor Rybak, State Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-61), State Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-60B), School Board Chair Alberto Monserrate, and Ward 11 City Council Member John Quincy.

Neighborhood: Phillips

Current job: Client Engagement Project Lead at Magnet 360

Park experience: Volunteer hockey and baseball coach for Minneapolis parks, serves on Minneapolis Citizen Environmental Advisory Committee, various other citizen-run neighborhood advocacy groups

Top priorities: Promoting sustainability in Park Board policy and addressing racial inequality within the parks system. To promote sustainability Stone would step up preventative efforts against invasive species and work to develop a comprehensive waste reduction and recycling plan. To address racial inequality he would form a racial equity working group and a youth advisory board that would report directly to the Park Board.

His pitch: The city of Minneapolis — including the Park Board — needs to start getting serious about climate change and racial inequality. He has realistic, tangible ideas that would help address both of those issues, and a broad range of working experience in corporate, non-profit, and volunteer settings to make it happen.