Proposal to end Park Board independence, restructure city government will get public hearings

The discussion to eliminate the independent Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board — as well as change the city’s governing structure and get rid of the Board of Estimate and Taxation — is coming to the people.

The Charter Commission on Wednesday night voted a decisive 9-1 to hold four public hearings on three proposals from a trio of City Council members who say they want to make the city structure more efficient.

A packed, standing room-only crowd tried hard to prevent the vote’s outcome, with almost 30 speakers coming forward to talk up the importance of keeping the parks a top priority. Under city control, they said, it wouldn’t be the same.

“What’s to stop the city from condo-izing our lakes?” Uptown resident Harry savage said. “It’s always a possibility when you give them that power.”

But that wasn’t what the Charter Commission said it wanted to hear. It wanted the discussion to be focused on whether public hearings needed to be held, not on whether the substance of the proposals is right or wrong.

Park Board Vice President Mary Merrill Anderson said public hearings on keeping an independent board already have been held. It was one of the questions residents were asked as the board was putting together its 20-year comprehensive plan, she said.

“I think the citizens have already weighed in,” Merrill Anderson said. “… I think our citizens have spoken — over and over again.”

Only a handful of speakers came out in support of holding a public process, including two of the council members making the proposals, Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) and Ralph Remington (10th Ward). Former Star Tribune reporter Martha Allen, on their side, spoke about how city leaders used to complain to her how tedious it was to have to report to 14 bosses, the mayor and all 13 City Council members. One of the proposed changes is to install a city administrator who acts as a single boss.

“I think it’s more than time to start this discussion,” Allen said.

But City Council President Barb Johnson (4th Ward) warned about the timing of the proposal, which comes in the middle of growing budget pressures on the city. It’s just plain off, she said.

“I really have found this to be a huge distraction,” a heated Johnson said.

The majority of Charter Commission members present ultimately said they didn’t want to stop the conversation in their chambers. This needs to be aired out, they said.

The sole “no” vote on the commission came from Jana Metge. “I don’t believe in wasting people’s time,” she said.

Later on Wednesday, at a regularly scheduled Park Board meeting, President Tom Nordyke aired his grievances. This is going to be unnecessary, he said, and expensive.

“I’ve rarely been that offended by a group of public officials in my time in public life,” Nordyke said.