Elimination of Taxation Board, not Park Board, on November’s ballot

Voters this fall will decide whether Minneapolis should retain its Board of Estimate and Taxation. For now, though, they won’t get to eliminate — or save — the independent Park and Recreation Board.

After weeks of public testimony, the Charter Commission took close to two-and-a-half hours to decide whether voters should face three proposed charter amendments from City Council members Paul Ostrow, Ralph Remington and Don Samuels. The trio had introduced the issues as a way to streamline city operations.

Ultimately, the commission deemed only the Board of Estimate and Taxation issue as ready.

Commissioners, before voting 13-2 to place the issue on the November ballot, said that after more than eight hours of testimony, they had not heard enough good reasons for citizens not to consider the end of the taxation board. Commissioner Barry Clegg said it troubled him that the board sets the city’s maximum tax rate, a big responsibility, while few citizens know who even sits on it.

“I just do not think this board is needed,” Commissioner Todd Ferrara said. “I think it’s outdated.”

The same didn’t hold true for the Park Board, even if the group is known to stir emotions.

“All of us can find some reason to be P.O.’d at the Park Board,” Commissioner Tyrone Bujold said. “… But by gosh, they run a pretty good operation.”

Vice Chairman Barry Lazarus said he was concerned that if the Park Board issue were put on the ballot, most people wouldn’t be voting with a streamlined city in mind. Instead, they’d be taking out their frustrations over the oft-criticized Park Board leadership.

“I think the Park Board worked just fine when [its] commissioners did their jobs,” Lazarus said.

On the other hand, Charter Commission Chairman Jim Bernstein, a 2005 candidate for the Park Board, said he wasn’t convinced that an independent board with its own staff members remains feasible in the current economic climate.

Plus, “we have never had a referendum on an independent Park Board,” Bernstein said. “And if not now, then when?”

The proposal failed 12-3.

The commission also defeated a proposal to create a city administrator position, which would have had most city department heads answer to only one boss rather than the 13 City Council members and the mayor. That failed 11-4.

Many commissioners said the idea was a good one but that they were worried the language of the proposal wasn’t as fleshed out as it should be. There were potential leadership conflicts, they said, that needed more time to be thought through.

“To do it so quickly seems like just an impossible task and an irresponsible task,” said Commissioner Andrea Rubenstein, one of two who voted against all three measures.

Before the vote, Peter Wagenius, Mayor R.T. Rybak’s senior policy aide, told the commission the mayor believes that if the proposal for a city administrator position was truly created to streamline processes at City Hall, the presented language didn’t show it.

“Our position is that this proposal would make the situation worse in this system,” Wagenius said.

Ostrow later said that that took him aback. Wagenius’ comments, he said, showed little understanding of the proposal.

“I’m profoundly disappointed,” Ostrow said.

Proponents of the two failed amendments have one more way to get them on November’s ballot: by collecting signatures for a petition from 5 percent of the number of voters in the last election.