Independent Park Board initiative beats signature quota by almost 7,000

If signatures hold up, it’s all but certain that voters in November will decide whether to make the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board financially independent from City Hall.

Supporters of a petition drive collected 17,086 signatures by Aug. 10. They needed 10,449.

The effort drew out several well-known local political figures, including a former City Council member (Pat Scott) and a former Park Board president (Scott Neiman), to form a petitioners’ committee. Together with former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew and former mayors Don Fraser and Sharon Sayles Belton, they are leading the effort to make the Park Board a separate governmental unit.

“To let the parks fall into a period where they are not adequately supported would be a tragedy,” Fraser said moments before the committee delivered a foot-and-a-half stack of petitions to the city clerk’s office.

Currently, the semi-independent Park Board’s bonding and taxing authorities lie with the Board of Estimate and Taxation, a small group of appointed and separately elected officials. The parks feel threatened by a referendum already set for the Nov. 3 ballot that will ask voters to replace the taxation board’s members with the City Council. If that were to pass, parks independence advocates argue, the council would have too much financial control over the Park Board.

The parks initiative would make the Park Board a “separate and independent governmental unit of the state of Minnesota.” While the mayor would retain the right to veto the Park Board’s legislative actions and budget, the parks would have their taxing and bonding authorities set by the state, rather than the Board of Estimate and Taxation.

Each of the sitting nine Park Board commissioners supports the initiative. Mayor R.T. Rybak, meanwhile, considers it a “half-baked” idea formed out of “petty politics” and “false fears about non-existent threats,” according to a statement released shortly after the petitions were dropped off.

The city clerk’s office had 10 days starting Aug. 10 to verify each signature. If the signatures are valid, the initiative would move to the Charter Commission, which would then have to pass it onto the City Council to form the official ballot language before officially placing it on the ballot.