PARK BOARD DISTRICT 6 CANDIDATE FORUM // voter’s guide 2009

On Oct. 8, three of the four people seeking the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s District 6 seat — Brad Bourn, Meg Forney and Steve Jecha — took part in a candidate forum. Here are some highlights:

On dealing with the Park Board’s ever-tightening budget:
Forney argued the Park Board needs to hire a grant writer — it currently doesn’t have one. She added that the board should seek out partnerships with organizations that have similar missions, such as the Three Rivers Park District or the Metropolitan Council. Jecha said the board needs to be creative. One idea: Selling small ads to be put on rentable sailboats. That didn’t sit well with Bourn, who said he’s against any type of corporate advertising in the parks. It’s too slippery a slope, he said. Bourn would start by seeking to reduce fringe benefits for commissioners — which currently amount to about $150,000 on top of their part-time income — and cutting the pay of the superintendent, who currently earns tens of thousands of dollars more than the mayor.

On the Park Board’s independence: Each said they supported the Park Board’s independence. Jecha said the city’s many potholes could be a harbinger for what parks under City Council control would look like. Bourn said he supports the current structure of the Park Board-city relationship. Even if the two parties don’t always work well together, the parks’ independence is a big part of the reason Minneapolis’ parks are of the quality they are today, he said. Forney said she supports making the Park Board an entirely independent body, much like a recent proposed charter amendment — which was found to be unconstitutional — would have done. The city has many responsibilities, while the Park Board is mission-based. They have inherently contrary goals, she said, so it wouldn’t necessarily be bad for them to split.

On the referendum that would change the Board of Estimate and Taxation’s membership:
All three candidates were adamant that people vote down the referendum, which would replace the Taxation Board’s current membership — which includes a Park Board commissioner — with the City Council. Forney called the ballot question one of the most critical park issues right now.

On infrastructure vs. service levels: The candidates struggled with which was more important, but each said the parks system’s infrastructure isn’t in its best condition. Bourn noted that a lot of the park buildings were built decades ago for 25- to 30-year lifespans. They’re way past that now. However, Bourn added, programming is important for people to succeed. He said he would invest in services over infrastructure. Jecha said the Park Board needs to take care of what it has.

On whether to retain Superintendent Jon Gurban: Forney said she’d question rehiring Gurban. There’s enough concern in the community about the way he was hired — originally without the same screenings that other candidates went through — and the Park Board should have someone who wants to be a long-term visionary for the system. Bourn said he respects the hard work of parks staff but added that Minneapolis’ parks are of such top quality that the superintendent should also be of the highest caliber. He would support opening up the job for outside applicants.

On concessions at Lake Harriet and whether a new structure should be built: Each candidate said they would support whatever an ongoing citizens’ advisory committee comes up with. Forney said the committee doesn’t appear to want another building, so she wouldn’t support one. Jecha said citizens should decide what they want there. Bourn said a committee wasn’t really needed to figure out that public opinion was strongly against construction of a new building; there’s only so much lakefront in the city, Bourn said, and that should be protected.

On Park Board transparency: Asked about how to deal with the relatively negative view of the Park Board’s transparency, Bourn proposed creating a televised executive summary that highlights the Park Board’s recent actions. That would let people know about Park Board actions without forcing them to watch entire three- to four-hour meetings. He also said commissioners should regularly attend neighborhood group meetings, and he wants every Park Board district to have community oversight committees. Forney said a good example of transparency is planning. The recent creation of the comprehensive plan took lots of public input, she said, and also shows where the Park Board is headed. She also said retaining the current Board of Estimate and Taxation membership would help with transparency. Jecha said he would support policies that improve transparency.