Park Board moves forward with Wirth sports center despite union concerns

Several protestors were removed from the contentious meeting.

The Trailhead rendering courtesy of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Police removed 10 people from a Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board meeting Wednesday night for disrupting commissioners.

Of the 10 people, four were cited, including three for disorderly conduct for disturbing a meeting and one for obstructing the legal process or arrest, according to a park spokeswoman.

The removals come after months of disruptions from protestors, who have at times called for the resignations of board leaders and have been critical of the board’s hiring practices concerning people of color. This summer meetings have regularly gone into recess while audience members chant or interrupt commissioners.

President Anita Tabb asked park police to remove four people for yelling while she read rules regarding the board’s open time period, which went on for over an hour even though speakers were limited to one minute at the dais.

Several audience members chanted, “Jayne Miller has got to go,” referring to the park superintendent. The remaining people were ejected later in the meeting, which saw a packed audience of more than 100 people.

Later in the meeting the board’s Standards & Conduct Committee considered a more formal set of decorum rules that allow the presiding board member to warn speakers who shout, speak out of turn or use inappropriate language. If a speaker continues, the commissioner may order police to remove them from the room, and people who knowingly disrupt the meeting may be arrested for disorderly conduct.

Commissioners voted to postpone a vote on the rules to a later date, though Tabb appeared to follow the rules during the meeting.

“I don’t think disagreements are what we are afraid of at all, in fact I think we welcome that. I just think it needs to be done in a manner that’s effective,” Tabb said.

The Minneapolis NAACP leaders issued a statement following the meeting demanding an apology for the removals, which included speakers involved with the group.

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Commissioners approve agreements for new Wirth sports center

Several audience members and groups attended the meeting to protest the board’s agreements with the Loppet Foundation, which is planning a long-awaited winter sports and outdoor recreation center at Theodore Wirth Regional Park. Commissioners approved donation, operating and lease agreements that night.

As part of the approximately $8.5-million project, the skiing and outdoor recreation nonprofit would build and operate a new year-round, 14,000-square-foot welcome center called The Trailhead that would host the park’s cross-country skiers, mountain bikers, snowboarders and par 3 golfers. It would have a café, event space, a bike and ski shop, restrooms and space for the Loppet’s offices. Once complete, the Loppet, a longtime partner of the board, would donate the building to the board and would act as the center’s primary programmer, pay rent and cover long-term maintenance costs.

The operating agreement, which commissioners narrowly passed via a 5-3 vote, incited protests for displacing jobs from Laborers Local 363, the union group that represents Wirth’s park keepers, and privatizing park functions, speakers argued. Commissioners Jon Olson (District 2), Brad Bourn (District 6) and Annie Young (At-Large) opposed the agreement.

Beginning this winter, the Loppet will oversee snowmaking and mountain bike trail maintenance at Wirth, along with cross-country ski trail maintenance across the park system. While Superintendent Miller has said none of Wirth’s 10 full-time golf maintenance employees will be let go through the project, they will have different responsibilities. Due to savings from the agreements, Miller is planning to add a full-time park keeper in next year’s budget proposal.

“The proposed agreement between MPRB and the Loppet Foundation could take living wage jobs away from community members and privatize the park. Concerned residents and community groups believe that this will further limit access to economic opportunity for people of color and potentially eliminate equitable jobs,” said Cathy Jones, 2nd vice president of the Minneapolis NAACP, in a statement following the meeting. Jones also spoke during open time.

In a Sept. 6 op-ed in the Star Tribune, Jones, Bourn and Local 363 President Corey Webster said outsourcing union labor “is counter to all of our shared values and could jeopardize the quality of our ski trails.”

“The thing that does concern me is as we reduce that sphere of where we provide fair, living-wage jobs there’s no guarantee in the future. And we’re really cutting away at our guarantees and promise to the people of Minneapolis that people that come to enjoy our parks aren’t enjoying it on the backs of exploited labor,” Bourn said at the meeting.

At-Large Commissioner Scott Vreeland added an amendment to the agreements requiring the Loppet to adhere to an ordinance on paying the prevailing wage and employing union labor for construction. This requires the foundation to pay employees $26,730 or $12.85 per hour with health insurance or $31,590 or $15.19 per hour without insurance.

John Munger, the Loppet’s executive director, said the foundation already made a promise to pay livable wages, including for positions related to snowmaking and trail grooming. During the meeting, he said the work would call for one full-time, year-round worker and six to eight full-time workers for their winter sports season. Through the project, Munger said he expects the Loppet to create at least 35 jobs.

“I don’t think there’s not any kind of exploitive labor. I hope we’re giving lots of people an opportunity by adding these jobs,” he told The Journal.

Commissioners Liz Wielinski (District 1) thanked the Loppet for helping stretch the board’s “very, very, very tight resources” at a time when its regional park funding is becoming harder to come by on the state level.

“I think this is a new arrangement that we can try. I really think we have to be willing to think outside the box particularly with the way funding government has become such a pariah,” she said.

Munger expects to break ground on The Trailhead in about two to four weeks, giving time for review from Minnesota Management & Budget and potential follow ups with the board. The center is expected to open around May 2017, he added.

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