In Chain of Lakes district, two views on Park Board current parks leadership
Tracy Nordstrom, a professional gardener, and Christine Hansen, a bank vice president, are the two leading candidates in a three-way primary for a Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board seat for a district stretching from downtown to the south end of Lake Calhoun.
Jennifer Salita also filed, triggering a primary. Unlike Nordstrom and Hansen, she has not registered a campaign committee with Hennepin County or set up a campaign Web site. Salita does not have a listed phone number.
Vivian Mason, the Park Board's most outspoken internal critic, is not seeking reelection to the seat.
Mason has endorsed Nordstrom, who is more skeptical about a new Lake Calhoun development than is Hansen. Hansen has more praise for current Park Board Supt. Jon Gurban than does Nordstrom.
Both say the Park Board needs to do a better job of involving citizens earlier in its planning processes.
The newly drawn District 4 includes Southwest north of Lake Street and west of I-35W, plus the East Calhoun neighborhood. It also includes much of the downtown riverfront and all of Loring and Elliot Park, plus parts of two North Minneapolis neighborhoods.
(Southwest's other park district, 6, does not have a primary.)
Both Hansen and Nordstrom tout their experience, but these are experiences of a different nature.
Hansen, who works at US Bank with wealthy clients, said her corporate background could help the Park Board become a more effective organization. She understands strategic planning, budgeting, team-building and the importance of partnerships, she said.
Hansen initially got into the race because of her experience coaching her daughter's softball team, she said. She was frustrated with the poor quality of the fields and equipment and thought Minneapolis could do better. The coaching experience also gave her skills she would need for the Park Board, she said.
"Your ultimate goal is to develop kids and get them focused on goal-setting and commitment and dedication and team play, following rules," Hansen said. "These are things that in teaching kids to do, you certainly improve your [own] skills in those areas."
Nordstrom, a gardener, has a history of community and park involvement. She is a past member of the East Calhoun Community Organization and helped get the tot lot at Lake Calhoun's West 32nd Street beach. She wrote a successful grant to the Department of Natural Resources for an oak savannah restoration project on Calhoun's east side.
Nordstrom currently serves on the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission and the Minneapolis Tree Advisory Committee, and worked with the Park Board, as the mayor's office liaison, on a tree-planting initiative.
The race is about, "letting voters see that my experience in park projects and park planning really does matter and I have a long-range vision," she said.
Four years ago, Nordstrom ran a close race against incumbent Bob Fine in District 6. Redistricting moved her to District 4.
Hansen is a first-time candidate. Her endorsements include Minneapolis Building Trades, Minneapolis Police Officers Federation, Teamsters and the Minneapolis Firefighters Association.
One of the more controversial decisions of the last four years was the Park Board's vote to hire Jon Gurban as superintendent. He did not apply, but when other top candidates withdrew, a slim 5-4 majority hired him in 2003. He was rehired in 2004.
Nordstrom said Gurban came in on controversy "and hasn't done much to allay that."
As one example, she cited Gurban's decision to call police on a Park Board candidate who was handing out literature on park property and refused to stop, saying his First Amendment rights trumped park policy. (After the public relations black eye, the Park Board reversed the policy.)
Gurban didn't seem "even remotely humble about the fact he might have overreacted," Nordstrom said. "He doesn't seem like a peacemaker to me."
Hansen said Gurban, " has a lot of ideas. I think he is a person who has a desire to move things forward in a very positive direction."
However, she didn't think the Park Board and superintendent had been working together, Hansen said. "Part of the new Park Board focus should be to make sure they are in step with the superintendent and the superintendent is in step with the Park Board."
On the Park Board
Both candidates say the Park Board needs to do more with public outreach.
Nordstrom said she hears from residents and neighborhood groups repeatedly that the Park Board doesn't alert them to changes and proposed new projects, such as the Calhoun Sailing Village or the closing of the 32nd Street Beach, a move neighbors successfully organized to reverse.
Hansen said the Park Board and staff were not responsive to residents' concerns about proposed changes to Lake of the Isles' West Bay. As part of renovation work to fix paths and land slumping, the Park Board said it had to carve out West Bay land to create new wetlands to meet state wetland rules. Neighbors successfully lobbied for an exemption.
Calhoun Sailing Village
Early in its next term, the Park Board is expected to consider a proposal to build a new Yacht Club/Sailing School building on Calhoun's south shore, with the possibility of retail space.
Hansen said she did not think she needed to take a position on it because it wasn't in her district. (The site will be in the new 4th District, though it isn't currently.)
In general, Hansen said her position is if greenspace is taken away in one area, the Park Board needs to consider "building up greenspace to compensate for that loss."
Nordstrom said the Sailing Club is a valued member of the park system, but the project would set a precedent to cater to a small group of park users versus the larger group of park users. The Sailing Village was one example of how the Park Board is making decisions on a case-by-case basis instead of having a long-range plan, she said.