Park Board candidates emerge

Two experienced challengers will run for citywide seats on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board: former Minneapolis parks Superintendent Mary Merrill Anderson and John Lilly, assistant director of Minnesota State Parks at the Department of Natural Resources.

All nine Park Board seats are up for election in 2005 – six district seats and three citywide seats. The citywide incumbents are Annie Young, a Green Party member, and DFLers Rochelle Berry Graves and John Erwin.

Erwin and Graves said they would seek reelection. Young said she hasn’t decided whether to run again for the Park Board. She may run instead against DFLer Gary Schiff for the 9th Ward City Council seat in Southeast Minneapolis.

Both Anderson and Lilly said they would seek the DFL endorsement.

Anderson, 55, said if elected, she would work on programs to help kids, protect the environment, complete the Grand Rounds and protect the Park Board’s independence. (Some have suggested the parks should become another city department and the Park Board be abolished.)

Anderson, a Bryn Mawr resident, started working for the system in 1972 as the Powderhorn Park recreation director. She rose through the ranks to become superintendent in 1999, retiring in 2003.

The current Board has had some bitter moments, including contentious debates over choosing Jon Gurban, Anderson’s replacement.

Anderson was even a part of that drama at the end of 2002, when the Park Board’s superintendent search imploded. The two top candidates withdrew and the Park Board faced starting 2003 without a chief executive.

Commissioner Walt Dziedzic made a last-ditch effort to buy the Board more search time by extending Superintendent Anderson’s contract one year. It failed 3-5 with Dziedzic, Jon Olson and Carol Kummer voting yes and Bob Fine abstaining.

Asked to evaluate the current Board, Anderson said: "In the last year, I purposefully gave myself a little space, so I could make the transition from being staff to being a regular citizen to now hopefully become a member of the Board. I think the current Board is, I hope, working towards reaching some consensus and some civility to lead our park system."

Lilly, 58, has opted to run citywide after applying in 2003 to fill the 5th District seat after Ed Solomon died. The Park Board selected Carol Kummer instead.

A resident of the South Side’s Hale-Page-Diamond Lake neighborhood, Lilly said his top priority is safety – even though, he said, "it sounds kind of dull." He wants to make sure playground equipment is safe and ball fields have true hops, he said.

His other priorities include maintaining the current infrastructure, improving the Park Board’s image and to work on the budget.

He said there seemed to be too much attention paid to the Board’s infighting, and he would like to be part of a change.

"We are nationally recognized as one of the best systems in the country, and I would like to refocus people’s attention on that rather than coming to the Board meetings wondering what will happen next," he said.

He has worked for the DNR since 1972 and would be eligible to retire this summer, he said. He loved doing the work and wanted to do it closer to home.