A national search for top parks exec?

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Superintendent Mary Merrill Anderson is retiring at year's end, and with money tight, the Park Board is trying to decide whether to hire a national search firm to help find her replacement, or to promote from within.

When President Bob Fine suggested issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a search firm, Commissioner Annie Young initially opposed it, saying she was concerned about cost and about bringing an outsider into the "budget mess."

"I think we have qualified people who can serve on an interim basis," she said. "We need to hold off until we know better what our financial status is."

Fine opposed any delays, saying hiring a superintendent is the board's most important duty. The board needed to find the best possible candidates.

"This could be a great time for someone to come in and mold the system," he said.

The full board voted 9-0 to issue an RFP -- at least to get a cost estimate.

Anderson announced earlier this year that she intended to retire at the end of her contract, which expires Dec. 31.

Anderson started working for the Park Board in 1972 after college, she said. "I have always felt really blessed to have a career in the park system," Anderson said.

She first worked as Powderhorn Park's center director. She started the first cooperative preschool program in the system there, she said. She worked her way up to assistant superintendent for recreation in 1987.

She has served as Superintendent since 1999, replacing David Fisher.

Her tenure has seen its share of controversy, from efforts to establish off-leash dog parks, heated debate on the Lake of the Isles renovation and a proposal to lease the Lake Harriet concession stand to Dairy Queen, to name a few.

Her accomplishments include breaking ground on Mill Ruins Park, a downtown park on the banks of the Mississippi River, and signing a 30-year lease with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to develop an athletic complex at historic Fort Snelling State Park.

She is in the process of moving the Park Board to its new headquarters building along the Mississippi River on the city's north side.

Before she retires, Anderson would like to complete a new master plan for the parks, she said. The Park Board has not had a new Master Plan since the Brightbill Study of the 1960s.

The Park Board started a new master plan in late 2000. "It has sputtered," Anderson said. "But it is back in full swing right now. That is one of the things I would like to leave behind."

The guidelines for the last superintendent search outlined a 24 – 33 week process, Fine said. The board could still hire a new superintendent before year's end, which would be preferable.