Park Notes

Various Parks-Related Stories

Mayor lambastes schools-parks police deal

Mayor R.T. Rybak is ripping plans to have the park police serve as Minneapolis Public School liaison officers, replacing Minneapolis police who had done the job for decades.

"This illustrates the absurdity of our fractured system," the mayor said. "A single coordinated police department could not only save the citizens money, but do a more seamless job of providing safety in the schools, the streets and the parks."

The schools-parks police deal came closer to reality July 2 as the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board voted 5-3 to ink a deal with the Minneapolis School Board to provide 17 liaison officers, beginning this fall. Park Board members Walt Dziedzic, Annie Young and Vivian Mason voted no. Rochelle Berry Graves was absent. The School Board has not yet voted on the contract.

Schools and park officials have called it a win-win situation. The officers will work in schools during the school year and in parks during the summer and school vacations. The officers will see many of the same youth in both the schools and the parks, officials said.

The city police had provided 24 school resource officers in the past, a number cut to 12 during the recent police budget cuts.

The School Board wanted more officers and approached other agencies, including the Park Board. Under the proposed deal, the School Board will pay the Park Board $800,000 for officers in all seven high schools, eight middle schools and two K-8 schools, according to a Park Board handout.

Under the deal, the Park Board would hire 14 new officers and redeploy three park police to the school liaison program, saving an estimated $188,000, but reducing police presence in the parks. The Park Board would eliminate the use of summer park agents traditionally hired to help with security.

Rybak has argued for merging the city and park police, a move opposed by Park Board members who say the parks would not get the needed attention under a merged force.

The city police investigate serious crimes in the parks and schools, creating a disconnect between the police doing the patrols and those doing the investigations, said Rybak. He called that "a huge setback to provide safety."

"The people who are trying to do wrong in this city find comfort in the fact these jurisdictions are not united -- delighted that there are clumsily overlapping bureaucracies charged with providing safety for our kids."

Park Board leases new HQ space

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has approved a lease of 17,400 square feet in its new Mississippi river headquarters building with Twin Cities Catering.

The catering company's rent is set at $11.15 a square foot, or $194,000 a year, but the Park Board is giving a discount for the first three years of the 10-20 year deal because the space is unimproved, said Judd Rietkerk, assistant superintendent for planning.

The Park Board is moving to 2117 W. River Rd. N. this summer, leaving its leased space at the Downtown Grain Exchange Building, 400 S. 4th St.

The Park Board plans to lease an added 5,000 square feet at its headquarters building, Rietkerk said. The rent will pay off internal loans used to buy and rehabilitate the property.

The Park Board purchased the 75,000-square-foot building and four acres of land for $3.1 million. With improvements, the budget comes to approximately $5.8 million.

Primary financing came from a $3.1 million mortgage and a $1.1 million internal loan from its self-insurance fund and a $1.1 million internal loan from its land reserve fund.

The Park Board will repay its internal loans over a 25-year period, with interest, at a cost of $107,000 a year, Rietkerk said. The $258,000 annual mortgage payment and operating cost is roughly equivalent to what the Park Board would have paid in rent at the Grain Exchange building, he said.

The Park Board approved a 10-year lease, giving Twin Cities Catering an option for two five-year renewals. Rent increases approximately 3 percent a year.

What do park leaders want in a new superintendent?

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board commissioners are divided on the key qualifications of the next parks chief -- and the importance of park and recreation experience versus financial acumen.

Superintendent Mary Merrill Anderson steps down at year's end; her replacement will take over one of the nation's top park systems, but one facing significant budget challenges.

Commissioners have spent more time discussing whether or not to conduct a national search to replace Anderson than they have debating the skills needed by the next parks chief. However, some differences have emerged.

Some prefer to hire a person with strong park and recreation experience, similar to Anderson, who rose from Powderhorn Park rec director through the ranks in the Minneapolis system. Others don't think park experience is that relevant and want instead a strong financial manager.

Commissioners in the latter camp often refer to Kit Hadley, the new Minneapolis Public Library director. Hadley did not have library background, but did have credentials as a strong administrator as the former director of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.

Park Board President Bob Fine of Linden Hills said someone with park and recreation experience "would have a leg up" applying for the superintendent's job.

"A non-park-and-rec person would have a learning curve," he said. "How would they know how parks operate? How would they know how recreational systems work? How would they know how things relate to the environment? They may have a lot of background in administration, but there is a lot more than just plain administration[in running the Park Board]."

Park Board member Vivian Mason of Cedar-Isles-Dean neighborhood puts a higher priority on someone with financial savvy. "We are looking for somebody who understands budgets and numbers and can help us find a way to work within a budget and get back on track," she said. "We don't need a park and recreation person. We have an assistant superintendent for recreation and we have at least four of the commissioners whose major focus seems to be recreation."

The next superintendent will take over an organization with a $60 million-plus annual budget, 600 year-round employees, 1,500 part-time employees and 6,400 acres of land -- including the chain of lakes, riverfront and 49 neighborhood recreation centers.

The Park Board recently cut more than $3 million from its 2003 operating budget, reducing mowing and milfoil harvesting, shutting down fountains and cutting a summer youth employment program. Citizens have responded to some cuts by mounting private fundraising efforts, but more cuts are on the horizon as the state continues to cut Local Government Aid and the city tries to hold the line on property tax increases.

The Park Board considered three firms for the superintendent search, and the two leading candidates were the Wood Group of Minneapolis and the Illinois Association of Park Districts.

After two previous votes deadlocked 4-4, the Park Board hired the Illinois Association 5-4 on July 16, with Mason, John Erwin, Rochelle Berry Graves and Annie Young voting no.

The Illinois group had a stronger focus on recruiting people with park and recreation backgrounds, and some commissioners said they wanted a broader search. "I have concerns that the group that was selected will not look for nontraditional candidates," Erwin said.

But the Wood Group was more expensive, charging between $43,000 and $55,000, depending on expenses. The Illinois Association will charge $9,600.

One commissioner expressed concern privately that hiring the Wood Group would give Mayor R.T. Rybak more ammunition to criticize the Park Board -- for spending more on the superintendent search than the $30,000 to $35,000 the city would spend on the police chief search.

The search now takes the next step: a better definition of the job description.

So what do Park Board members want in a new superintendent?

Jon Olson: "It is very important [to hire a park-and- recreation person.] . . . I know a lot of people have said we need someone who has strong financial management, possibly a CEO from a company. We have a budget director who does a good job and understands numbers. I want someone who understands the park system and the importance it plays in the lives of our citizens. . . . . I don't want to bring in a hatchet man, whose bottom line is all about the dollar and not about the system and the services the citizens require. That is not a good answer."

John Erwin: "I think there is a general feeling on the board that people are interested in reorganization of the administration, basically reform, kind of a recognition that we are going to be needing to do things differently. In other words, they are going to have to generate more income from sources other than taxes. We are going to have to be more entrepreneurial . . .. I feel strongly we don't need a park/rec person -- that we need someone who has a broader background than that."

Annie Young: "[A superintendent should have] a holistic approach and believes in sustainability from all perspectives, from what I consider the three E's, which are economics -- how we economically and efficiently run the system; how we run it in the most environmentally-friendly way, using environmental technologies and environmental systems; and the third E is what I call equity, or equality or fairness for everybody in the city. . . . Making the [city's] north [side] have some of the amenities that some of the south has. . . . I am very amenable to reorganization and thinning out some of the chaff from the wheat, as they say."

Marie Hauser: "[The next superintendent should have] strong management and people skills, a grasp of government finances and the ability to work with a variety of government, business and nonprofit communities. . . . I am looking for someone who can maintain the parts of the system that are running well and has the ability to more firmly lead in areas where there is some need. I don't think we need to shake things up, but I think somebody has to take a firm hand." [Asked what areas need "a firm hand," Hauser said she did not want to say at this moment.]

Walt Dziedzic: "[The superintendent] has to know finance, has to know rec. At one time, it was strictly a recreation job. It isn't anymore. It is all those other factors that come into play, especially finance. At one time the [city of Minneapolis] Department of Health only hired doctors. Sometime in the 1980s, we said, 'What do we need a doctor to run a department for?' A doctor you want in the operating room. A doctor you want when you are sick. A doctor is not trained to run a department. We changed the law that said you had to be a doctor to run the Health Department. The library board did a little bit of that, hiring someone outside its venue. . . . I would vote for somebody who was not just a park-and-recreation person. My analogy is back to the Health Department." [Dziedzic is a former City Council member.]

Carol Kummer [who earlier this year was appointed to fill a board vacancy]: "I am a relatively new to this. My thoughts are not as well-defined as others who have served longer. Right off the top of my head, the reason I want a search firm is to find the best person to fill the job. . . . We have a different situation now. We possibly need a different kind of superintendent than what we have had in the past."

Bob Fine: "The best possible person who is interested in the job -- that is what I want. I want someone who is a strong administrator, who can be a leader, who can take charge. . . . And someone who has the respect of the employees and can deal with them; someone who can understand the issues we are presented with and someone who can deal with the politics -- not only with the board itself but with the outside people."

Vivian Mason: "I can't justify to the public that we would be spending money on the search if we indeed have someone in-house who could do the job. There is historical precedence for this. In 1935, when there [were] critical budget issues, [Superintendent] Theodore Wirth was retiring. The Park Board selected the financial person, Christian Bossem, to help solve the financial crisis and issues, and he ended up serving 10 years as superintendent. I feel that is what we ought to do now."

Rochelle Berry Graves did not return a phone call.