Public will get chances for input on proposed Park Board elimination
The discussion about eliminating the independent Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board — as well as changing the city’s governing structure and get rid of the Board of Estimate and Taxation — is coming to the people.
The Charter Commission on March 4 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."
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 comprehensive plan, she said.
"I think our citizens have spoken — over and over again," she said.
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 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.)
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," 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 came from Jana Metge. "I don’t believe in wasting people’s time," she said.
At a later regularly scheduled Park Board meeting, President Tom Nordyke fumed. 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.
Nordstrom tires of politicking, ends reelection run
Park Board Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom has changed her mind: She will not seek a second term in office.
"I have a choice for 2009: Either I spend my time campaigning to keep the job I have, or I can simply, and diligently, do the work I love," Nordstrom said in a statement in early March to the Park Board. "… I choose to serve the constituents who elected me, until my term ends."
This came a month after telling the Southwest Journal she’d "come to really love the job. As all politicians say, there is still work to be done." But she ultimately decided she was no longer interested in the politicking of campaigning. In an e-mail, she said it was a difficult decision to make but that she looks forward to returning to a quieter life.
"I will then have the time to enjoy our parks every day as a patron and parent," she said.
Lowry Hill board member, parks watchdog seeks Nordstrom’s seat
The end of Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom’s reelection bid leaves a single candidate in the mix.
Anita Tabb, a sometimes outspoken critic of Park Board transparency, announced in late February that she is seeking the 4th District seat. After attending "almost 90 percent" of board meetings over the past two years as a constituent, she said now seemed like a good time to get involved.
"I’m just at the point in my life where I have the time to do this," Tabb said.
She’s no stranger to Park Board issues. When complaints rolled in about parks staff’s communication with commissioners over plans at Parade Stadium, Tabb was one of the main voices. Most recently, she spoke out at a board meeting about the lack of citizen input on the Lake Calhoun south shore parking lot project.
Tabb is a 5-year resident of Lowry Hill and, according to her website, has been an activist for equal rights, women’s rights and the environment. Recently asked by the Hill and Lake Press about the proposal to eliminate the independent Park Board, she said she welcomed the debate.
"The result, whatever it is, will provide citizens with a stronger foundation going forward," Tabb said. "That being said, I don’t think that we would even be having this discussion if many of the transparency and public process issues didn’t exist."