Mary Merrill named interim park superintendent

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has a temporary replacement for outgoing Superintendent Jayne Miller, and they won’t be new to the mantle.

Commissioners voted Wednesday to name Superintendent Emeritus Mary Merrill as interim superintendent. The former commissioner and parks executive will begin the work next month and serve until a permanent successor is expected to begin this November.

This agreement represents the first step of a largely new Park Board in its search for the next superintendent over the coming months. Miller announced in December, just weeks before commissioners were to take office, that she would resign in February to take a job as CEO of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

Anderson-Mary-M-1999-2003_squareMerrill said she will play a role in helping the six new commissioners and three returning commissioners form a plan for the road ahead.

“It will be really important as you move forward and looking ahead to the future that this board really develop a shared vision over the next years,” she said at the Jan. 17 meeting.

Merrill served more than four years as superintendent between 1999 and 2003 and one subsequent term as a commissioner. Fresh out of college, Merrill began her long history with the parks as a recreation director at Powderhorn Park in 1972. She would eventually work her way up to being the first woman and first person of color to lead the system as superintendent. Merrill is one of three people to earn the title of superintendent emeritus.

Citywide Commissioner LaTrisha Vetaw said naming Merrill to the post was a “complete full-circle moment for a young African-American girl.”

“I could’ve never imagined this in my life. That I would sitting here and you would be standing there and I would be voting on you being interim superintendent,” she said. “This is the highlight of my tenure on the board — all three weeks.”

Citywide Commissioner Londel French said with Merrill’s help the board can change perceptions that it’s closed off to some communities.

“There couldn’t be a better scenario if you lost a superintendent for you to be just available and waiting, ready to step up,” he said.

President Brad Bourn said this year will prove to be especially important as the Park Board begins the first full year of a 20-year plan to invest $800 million into neighborhood parks and prepares a new comprehensive plan. Many commissioners promised bolstering youth programming on the campaign trail, and Merrill helped design many of the board’s programs, such as the Youthline Outreach Mentorship Program, Teen Teamworks and Phat Summer.

“This a board has an incredibly short runway. And we have a lot to do and we can’t stand still,” he said.

Merrill will serve as a consultant until Miller departs on Feb. 4. She’ll then serve as interim superintendent from Feb. 5 to Oct. 31.

At the same meeting, commissioners approved six months of severance pay — more than $85,000 —  that was stipulated in Miller’s contract.

Merrill said searching for the next superintendent will be “agenda item No. 1.” The board will need to identify what skills and experiences the next leader will need, she said, so that they “will be a real knockout.”

“[There’s a] lot of hard work ahead of you. A lot of hard work. But I have every faith that this board will be a smashing success in terms of doing what needs to be done with this city for now,” she said.