Parks update // Superintendent search

President: Starting search for new superintendent a ‘natural’ step

It’s time to move on.

That was the message sent by John Erwin, president of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and five of his colleagues as the board voted Feb. 3 to start a search for the system’s next superintendent.

The effect: a strong chance Superintendent Jon Gurban will be out once his contract ends, possibly later this year. He’s allowed to reapply for his job, but as Erwin said, “there are new needs.”

The six commissioners who voted to move on said they were following the will of Minneapolis residents. All four newly elected commissioners — including Southwest’s Brad Bourn and Anita Tabb — said comments from residents on the campaign trail sealed their decisions. Tabb said she was elected to spur a move in a new direction.

The actions of the majority were met with frowning, sometimes shocked and angry looks from the minority. Commissioners Bob Fine, Carol Kummer and Jon Olson pushed forward with a discussion that dominated the night, making numerous comments emphasizing their discontent. Fine called the process rushed; Olson called it a sham. Kummer said the decision will prove costly.

They were tough words reminiscent of the night Gurban was first chosen to lead the Park Board, after a candidate search imploded in 2003. Gurban at the time had neither applied for nor been screened for the job, but he was hired with a 5-4 vote to serve a one-year contract. Erwin, then serving his first term, called the board’s decision “outrageous” and “unprofessional.”

Gurban’s hiring was contingent on his passing the screening process, which he did. And a year later, the board extended his contract on a 6-3 vote — Erwin was with the majority that time — after successfully completing another candidate search.

Gurban has since watched over a number of system accomplishments, including the development of the board’s Comprehensive Plan and the completion of long-stalled ideas to fill the last gap in the city’s Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System. A 2008 evaluation of his job performance showed a majority of the last Park Board found he met or exceeded expectations.

But Gurban has taken knocks on issues such as transparency and communication concerns, and his interactions with both the public and the board, in particular, have been scrutinized over the years. Moving on now, “it happens,” Erwin said. “It just happens as the natural growth of an organization.”

In six years, another board could be making the same decision, he said.

How long it will take to find a new superintendent will depend on what search firm is chosen. The process could last through the end of the year.

In the meantime, one issue remains unsolved: what happens in July. Gurban’s contract currently ends in June, and the board hasn’t decided what to do beyond that. Commissioners said they wanted to wait until after a search firm is chosen.

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Bourn ‘hopeful’ about getting another dog park

Commissioner Brad Bourn wants to see whether Southwest can get another off-leash dog park, possibly in the Kingfield neighborhood.

Residents there have been interested in having one for some time. Parks staff, on the other hand, have said that space is an issue, particularly at Martin Luther King Park. Alexander Zachary, a planner for Southwest’s Lakes District, last summer said, “It’s not an appropriate spot for a dog park.”

Still, Bourn said constituents asked him about the subject many times while he was on the campaign trail. And at the Feb. 3 Park Board meeting, he said he wants the subject to be discussed soon by the board’s Planning Committee.

While there are no new concrete details — Bourn said he currently is talking to staff about work that’s already been done on the issue — he wants to at least get a discussion going.

There currently is one dog park in Southwest, located at Lake of the Isles.

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Fuller Park building to get makeover

Fuller Park is getting an upgrade courtesy of the Tangletown Neighborhood Association.

The park’s center will be refurnished, with new desks in its computer lab as well as a refaced welcome desk, new countertops and new shelving. The lounge’s carpet will be replaced, as will furniture.

Neighborhood Revitalization Program funds will cover the work, budgeted at $12,500.

Parks update // Superintendent search

Board votes to open search for next superintendent

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is set to move beyond Superintendent Jon Gurban, voting 6–3 to begin a search for candidates.

It’s the will of Minneapolis’ residents, said a majority of the board that included all three new commissioners. The campaign trail sealed Southwest’s Brad Bourn and Anita Tabb’s decision, they said, while Northeast’s Liz Wielinski said people brought up the issue repeatedly last fall.

But three of the board’s longest-serving commissioners fought back, stringing along a discussion that dominated the Feb. 3 full board meeting. Commissioner Bob Fine, elected citywide after two terms representing Southwest, said he knocked on possibly the most doors of any candidate and that citizens didn’t ask him for any change. Instead, he said, they told him they were happy with the parks system that exists.

Like Fine, Commissioner Jon Olson said he didn’t think he was reelected because of any issues related to Gurban. He openly supported the superintendent while campaigning, Olson said, and yet he still was voted into a new term.

“I think we’re making a terrible mistake tonight,” he said.

Olson described Gurban as weathering a lot of criticism in his six years with the board. It goes back to his initial appointment, which came after a 2003 candidate search imploded. He was chosen to serve a temporary term despite not having applied for nor originally screening for the job. (That was a controversial move. At the time, current board President John Erwin, then serving his first term, called the move “outrageous” and “unprofessional.”) Although a candidate search in 2004 ultimately led to Gurban’s permanent hiring, even then, he was hired by a board known for its infighting by a 6–3 vote. (Erwin did vote in the majority that year.)

Yet Gurban has since watched over a number of successes, including the development of the board’s Comprehensive Plan and the completion of long-stalled ideas to fill the last gap in the city’s Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System. A 2008 evaluation of his job performance showed a majority of the last Park Board found he met or exceeded expectations, while a 2009 independent survey of Minneapolis residents said 96 percent had a favorable opinion of the city’s parks. Almost 50 percent said they disliked nothing about it.

But Gurban has taken knocks on issues such as transparency and communication concerns, and his interactions with both the public and the board, in particular, have been scrutinized over the years. Watchdogs have complained about access to public documents during his tenure and about major action items sometimes appearing on agendas without following standard processes.

On Wednesday, Erwin voted to approve a search. Gurban has done great work, he said, but “there are new needs.”

“It happens,” Erwin said. “It just happens as the natural growth of an organization.”

Six to eight years from now, another board could be making the same decision, he said.

How long it’ll take to find a new superintendent will depend on which search firm is chosen. Past searches have taken about a year.

One issue remains unsolved: what happens in July. Gurban’s contract currently ends in June, and the board hasn’t decided what to do beyond that. Commissioners are opting to wait until after a search firm is chosen.

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Harriet concessions report in; no actions, hearings until later

The citizens’ committee tasked with making recommendations on the future of concessions at Lake Harriet has officially disbanded after completing and presenting its report to the Park Board.

After meetings that lasted from spring through the end of the year, the 12-member group came out with a 342-page document. The committee formed in the wake of a staff proposal that, to change up food options at Lake Harriet, a new building be put up to house concession staples such as popcorn and ice cream.

As expected, the group’s report went in another direction. While expanded food offerings are part of the recommendation, the committee suggested changing the interior layout of the existing refectory building, eliminating its breezeway to allow for more kitchen space. Not part of the recommendation: a new building.

Commissioners praised the committee for its extensive work, which involved almost double the number of originally scheduled meetings, as well as surveys, a community open house and a social media website.

“I’ve never seen a report like this,” Commissioner Bob Fine said. “I think they’ve done a tremendous job.”

The board isn’t expected to take any immediate action or hold public hearings on building changes until a new vendor is found, General Manager Don Siggelkow said. It’s possible, he said, that a concessionaire could be found who would be able to expand food options without changes to the existing building, “although I doubt it.”

Siggelkow said the process will be laid out at the board’s Feb. 17 meeting.

Concessions will remain as is this summer.

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Park Board gets $98,400 to battle emerald ash borer

The Park Board is set to receive $98,400 from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to fight the ash tree-killing emerald ash borer.

There is no known cure for the bug, which has decimated urban forests throughout the country. The Park Board will use the grant to remove and grind the stumps of as many as 400 defective ash trees and replace them with different types of trees.

Although the ash borer has yet to be found in Minneapolis, it’s widely believed that it’s already here. An infestation was discovered last May in St. Paul.

About a fifth of Minneapolis’ canopy is ash.