Parks update // Superintendent’s contract

Fate of superintendent’s contract to be left to new board

The current Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will not decide whether to extend Superintendent Jon Gurban’s contract.

On Nov. 4, the day the board was set to decide to keep Gurban through June 2011 — he currently is employed through June 2010 — commissioners voted to instead pull the issue from their agenda. Commissioner Jon Olson introduced the postponement idea because, he said, the superintendent’s fate really should be decided by the new board.

Two weeks earlier, it was a different story. The board then said they didn’t feel confident in letting fresh commissioners take a stab at the superintendent issue. Several reasons were offered, including that the search for a new superintendent would take at least a year — beyond when Gurban’s contract would be up. Some commissioners also had expressed concern that it could be too big an issue for a board with at least three new members to immediately delve into.

But Olson said he feels the newcomers will be enthusiastic and well-educated when the issue returns to the board, probably in January. They’ll have about two months to prepare, during which time they should be able to get to know Gurban, he said.

The decision to postpone, Olson said, shouldn’t be seen as a statement on job performance. He called Gurban a great superintendent who has tackled big issues head-on. Rather, the postponement was a reaction to the board being two months away from big changes when the contract process really should have been started earlier, Olson said.

“We’re just in a situation now where I think it’s good for the new board to decide on this issue,” he said.

Gurban’s contract was a frequent Park Board campaign topic. Some candidates, including possible new commissioners Brad Bourn and John Erwin, said they would support opening up a nationwide search for superintendent. While Gurban has been praised for steering creation of the Comprehensive Plan and improving diversity in the parks system, he also has been faulted for his relationship with the public.

Anita Tabb, the newly elected District 4 commissioner, said she appreciated having the contract decision delayed. She said the current board’s action is what’s best for the democratic process.

“We really don’t know what the makeup of the new board will be,” Tabb said. “To have that kind of an important decision made for you really limits what you can do.”

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What will the new 
Park Board look like?

Hand counting has only just begun to determine official outcomes of the Nov. 3 election, but it’s already obvious the next Park Board will have a different look from today’s, with at least three new faces coming on board. Here’s what we know:

District 1: The Park Board’s Northeast seat is expected to be won by Liz Wielinski. A co-founder of Park Board watchdog Park Watch, Wielinski has been attending board meetings for years. She’ll replace retiring Commissioner Walt Dziedzic, who has been on the board since 1998.

District 2: Barring a large number of ballot errors not caught by machines, North Minneapolis’ seat will be retained by Commissioner Jon Olson after he received 56.2 percent of first-round votes. The past president of the board has served since 2001.

District 3: No change is expected in the representation of the top half of South Minneapolis, as incumbent Commissioner Scott Vreeland received 72 percent of votes. It will be Vreeland’s second term on the board.

District 4: After one term, Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom is stepping down. Her seat will be filled by newcomer Anita Tabb, who has kept a close eye on Park Board issues for about two years and was the only uncontested candidate in the city.

District 5: This is the toughest district race to call. Neither of the top vote-getters, incumbent Commissioner Carol Kummer and opponent Jason Stone, reached the 50 percent threshold needed to win outright. Kummer has a 2 percent edge in first-round ballots and appears to have received more second-choice votes, too. However, because of the way runoff counting will work, it’s unknown exactly which second-choice votes will end up counting.

District 6: Incumbent Bob Fine decided to leave the district behind and run citywide, meaning a newcomer will represent far Southwest Minneapolis. Mathematically, Brad Bourn, a nonprofit youth coordinator, seems poised to win, although he currently stands about 2 percent below the threshold needed to claim victory.

At-large: These seats are a toss-up. Bob Fine seems closest to victory, as he currently stands about 3 percent below the necessary 25 percent threshold. But he’s closely followed by incumbent Commissioner Annie Young and former Commissioner John Erwin, while incumbents Mary Merrill Anderson and Tom Nordyke also could still be in the running — although Nordyke, the current board president, said he doesn’t expect to be back next year.