Parks update // Erwin creates committees

Erwin creates committees to decide superintendent, committees’ futures

John Erwin wasted no time in his new role as president of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. In the first regular meeting of the year, Erwin created ad hoc committees to tackle two lingering questions hanging over the Park Board: the fate of the superintendent and the structure of the board’s committees.

The superintendent committee will look into options surrounding Superintendent Jon Gurban’s contract, which currently is up at the end of June. Gurban was hired in 2003 under a cloud of controversy but has since won approval for his work on such projects as the Park Board’s Comprehensive Plan, although he has taken hits over transparency and communication concerns.

The previous Park Board was on the verge of extending Gurban’s contract by a year but ultimately decided to instead allow the new board to decide his future. That could mean a nationwide search for candidates: Erwin and both Southwest commissioners Brad Bourn and Anita Tabb have expressed interest in going that route. New Vice President Annie Young has said the superintendent issue is one of her top 2010 priorities.

Bourn, Tabb and Young will each serve on the ad hoc committee, along with fellow commissioners Carol Kummer and Scott Vreeland. Vreeland will serve as chairman.

Meanwhile, Erwin’s other ad hoc committee seems to have been formed to answer questions presented by the new Park Board back in December, before commissioners were sworn in. Several said at the time that they wanted to look into whether certain tasks and topics would be better discussed in different committees than they are now.

Appointed to that committee were Commissioners Bob Fine, Tabb, Jon Olson, Bourn and Erwin. Fine and Tabb will serve as chairman and vice chairwoman, respectively.

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Hydro resolution bumped at first meeting of new board

Less than an hour into its very first meeting, the new Park Board got into a lively debate over a decades-old issue: whether to support a hydropower project along the Mississippi River.

The last Park Board shared a consensus that a privately owned power plant at St. Anthony Falls — such as the long-stalled, controversial Crown Hydro project — would not work. But with a sustainability goal to get the parks system off the grid, the board also requested information on public ownership of such a power plant.

Based on a subsequent report — which said hydropower would be the least expensive of three alternative energy options — Commissioner Jon Olson pitched a lengthy resolution that would have had the Park Board declare support for “public ownership of a hydro facility in Mill Ruins Park” and encourage “the next board to acquire the rights of water use, and authorization and resources to complete construction.”

Most of Olson’s colleagues on the new board showed little interest.

“I think this looks like a version of Crown Hydro, and we’ve already voted that down several times,” Commissioner Anita Tabb said, kicking off what became an occasionally fiery discussion.

Vice President Annie Young suggested the resolution had been written by a constituent, which Olson took immediate exception to.

“Whoa, excuse me,” he responded. “… Your comments, I find them just outrageous.”

That divisiveness is what Commissioner Scott Vreeland said was turning him off. Vreeland said he is all for exploring hydropower and other alternative energy, but by passing the motion, the Park Board would have moved ahead with something that’s continued to split allegiances.

The resolution, which was set to be moved to the Operations and Environment Committee, was instead voted down 6­–3. Commissioners Bob Fine, Carol Kummer and Olson were the sole supporters.

Before the vote, Kummer — who has been supportive of Crown Hydro in the past — warned her new colleagues that perceptions outside of the Park Board are different from the reality within.

“I’d hate to have us start off on the wrong foot,” she said.

Also noted during the discussion was that the issue could easily brought back at the committee level, where Olson is chairman of Operations and Environment.

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Armatage Park gets slice of ballpark tax revenue

Armatage Park is one of five Minneapolis parks set to receive a grant from the Hennepin Youth Sports Program, which is distributing shares of revenue produced by taxes related to Target Field.

Of $620,000 that the Park Board is set to receive, Armatage will get about $40,000. The money will be used for irrigation.

Park Board General Manager Don Siggelkow called the Armatage project “pretty straight forward.” Of the five approved Park Board projects, it was the least expensive — at $40,000, its grant allocation is $35,000 less than the next least costly. A multipurpose field at Stewart Park, in South Minneapolis, will receive the most funds: $225,000.

Siggelkow noted that this was only the first round of grants being distributed by the sports program. He said not to expect this much in later rounds, “but it’s a good start.”