Park Board picks new superintendent

Jayne Miller, a 23-year veteran of parks and recreation services from Ann Arbor, Mich., is expected to be at the helm of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board by the end of the month.

The board voted unanimously Oct. 13 to hire Miller, who will serve as the organization’s 11th superintendent. Reached by phone today, Miller said she was eager to get started and thrilled about the board’s consensus.  

“I think it’s a wonderful park system and a wonderful city and I’m hoping to keep moving the system forward and offering the amenities and services that the people in Minneapolis love,” she said.

Miller, 52, was among three finalists interviewed Oct. 6 for the top parks job. She applied later than the other two and wasn’t named a finalist until a week prior to the interviews, but board members thought she clearly stood out.  

“I must say that I thought Ms. Miller really was the best match for us and I’m happy that she did come on board,” said District 5 Commissioner Carol Kummer just before the 9-0 vote.

Commissioners thought Miller’s charisma and progressive values, along with her wide-ranging experience in parks management and recreation services, budgeting, long-range planning and communication made her the top pick.

“I think she has the kind of skill set that I think will be very helpful to us, as someone who can both communicate with all the kind of folks that we communicate with, but also someone who really understands parks,” said District 3 Commissioner Scott Vreeland.

Park Board President John Erwin said contract negotiations will start immediately and should be finalized at the next board meeting Oct. 20. The board expects to get Miller in Minneapolis in time for the National Recreation and Park Association’s annual congress set for Oct. 26-29. During that event, thousands of park professionals from throughout the country will descend on the city for lectures, workshops, and tours of parks and facilities.

Aside from hosting the congress, the Park Board has a full workload in the coming weeks, starting with a budgeting discussion planned for the Oct. 20 meeting. The organization is also getting ready to review developer applications for a competition to revamp the riverfront, a massive project intended to produce a “crown jewel” for the park system. So far, the board has received 60 applications from 13 different countries including Australia, Spain and Mumbai.  

In addition to its full agenda, the Park Board is fresh off a staff restructuring that resulted in the elimination of 21 positions, most of them managerial. It did away with an organizational model based on managers in geographic districts, switching instead to a structure in which assistant superintendents preside over specific departments, such as administration and recreation.   

Interim Superintendent David Fisher, who came on in July following the board’s decision six months earlier not to renew the contract of controversial superintendent Jon Gurban, called the job’s learning curve vertical. Fisher’s contract expires at the end of this month, but he intends to help Miller make the transition before departing. He is also staying on as a jury member for the riverfront design competition.

“I feel good about leaving,” Fisher said. “I think it’s in good hands. It’s all moving forward.”

Miller said her top priorities would be talking with Fisher to get up to speed, getting to know staff and board members and the system’s issues. She planned to get involved in the budget discussion right away.

As superintendent, Miller will oversee a system with 6,732 acres of park property, 500 full-time employees and a roughly $60 million budget. During her most recent job as director of the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority, Miller was responsible for a $74.5 million budget, 231 full-time employees, 700 part-time staffers, and a parks system spanning 25,000 acres.

She was up-front with the board about her decision to resign that job after just six months, stating that the organization was not receptive to a long-range financial plan she developed in response to large revenue reductions.

District 1 Commissioner Liz Wielinski, co-founder of watchdog group Minneapolis Park Watch, said she reviewed that plan and thought it was excellent. Arlene Fried, another Park Watch co-founder who frequents the board’s meetings, said she hopes Miller can turn the page on what she called a dysfunctional period for the board.

“Hopefully this will be the beginning of a more transparent culture at the board,” Fried said. “A culture that is very respectful of the public.”