Various parks-related stories

A bridge over troubled parks superintendent waters?

A Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Commissioner who criticized the board majority's decision to hire Interim Superintendent Jon Gurban will head the search for Gurban's successor.

Board President Jon Olson appointed a five-member committee to restart the search. John Erwin will chair the committee. The other members are Commissioners Annie Young, Carol Kummer, Marie Hauser and Walt Dziedzic. The committee will meet the third Wednesday of the month.

Erwin said the committee would meet two or three times to develop a new search process and bring it back to the full board for approval.

The board had a bitter 5-4 split when it voted to give Gurban a one-year contract in December. Dziedzic nominated Gurban after the board's top two candidates withdrew earlier that month. Gurban neither applied nor formally interviewed for the job.

The four Commissioners voting no, including Erwin and Young, said they got no advance notice that Gurban would be nominated.

Dziedzic, Kummer and Hauser voted for Gurban.

In other park news:

  • The board received two wireless Internet plans in response a separate proposal request -- but only one met minimum requirements, Assistant Superintendent Don Siggelkow said. The Board is offering park buildings that a wireless service could use for its antennae, in return for profit sharing.

    The viable proposal could net the Park Board 15 percent of revenue, and a minimum of $100,000, Sigglekow said. He would not release the company's name, saying negotiations are ongoing.

  • A key Park Board committee approved a $1-per-round hike at Park Board's five golf courses, an approximately 4 percent increase. It raises a weekday round's cost to $26 and a weekend round to $28, not counting any promotional discounts.

    If the number of rounds stays unchanged, the Park Board would receive $250,000 more in golf revenue in 2004, Sigglekow said.

  • Plans to build a new marina at the board's new riverfront headquarters, 2117 W. River Road N., took a step backwards. The board requested marina plans and received one proposal, but it did not meet the board's minimum requirements, Assistant Superintendent Judd Rietkerk said.

    Financier and boat magnate Irwin Jacobs had expressed initial interest but did not submit a plan, Rietkerk said. The board's 2004 legislative agenda includes a request to borrow money to build the marina. Rietkerk will report to the board in early February to seek direction.

    Siggelkow said SkipperLiner, a LaCrosse-based company, is interested in the marina. SkipperLiner is negotiating with the Park Board to run excursion and charter boats on the Mississippi River.

    -- Scott Russell

    Park, library boards face broadcast hurdles

    For those civic junkies who would choose to tune in and watch their elected officials hash over the issues of the day, Minneapolis has a significant pubic access gap.

    The City Council broadcasts its meetings on both cable and the Web through its state-of-the-art production facility in the newly revamped Council chambers, with remote-controlled cameras and on-screen graphics. If residents want to see the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Commissioners debate building a new marina or the Minneapolis Public Library board members talk about the new Central Library, however, they have to go in person.

    In the face of public criticism, the Park Board is trying to figure out how to televise its meetings. The Library Board has already given up.

    The Library Board inquired last summer about meeting in the Council chambers so it could broadcast public hearings on its 2004 budget, said Library Director Kit Hadley. The board faced tough budget choices -- should it reduce library hours systemwide or take the controversial step of closing a library? -- and wanted to broaden its audience.

    However, "it costs $100 an hour to broadcast the meetings. We can't afford that," Hadley said.

    The only other group that uses the Council chambers to televise meetings is the Planning Commission, city Communications staff said.

    Steven Ristuben, Assistant City Clerk, said the $100-an-hour fee pays for production staff overtime and for equipment wear and tear. (The city has a $20,000 annual maintenance contract on the video equipment, Communications staff said.)

    Some Park Board critics are pressing to broadcast meetings. They point to the Dec. 17 meeting as one example for the need for easier public access. A deeply divided board voted to hire Superintendent Jon Gurban. He had neither applied nor interviewed. The board took the vote with no public notice it would vote on Gurban or any other candidate.

    The Park Board recently bought a new riverfront headquarters but did not budget money to air its meetings. It asked Gurban to report later this month on broadcasting options.

    The Park Board will face steep startup costs if it follows the city model. Ristuben estimated the City Council's production facility cost in the ballpark of $500,000.

    -- Scott Russell