Park police advisory council sparks debate over process

A new citizens advisory council has been formed with a goal of improving policies and community interaction for Minneapolis Park Police.

The Park Police Advisory Council is a seven-member community board that will make recommendations to park police regarding policies, programs and staffing, in addition to assisting with public communication and evaluating Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) approaches to public safety.

The Park Board was initially slated to vote on the council at its March 27 meeting, but some commissioners asked for a delay after new appointees were recommended hours before the meeting, not giving proper time for public review. The council-forming vote on April 3 involved lengthy debates about the nomination process and composition of the council that ultimately resulted in unanimous approval by commissioners.

Commissioner LaTrisha Vetaw (At Large) said she was discouraged that someone she wanted to see appointed, Loppet Foundation communications manager Alora Jones, was not on the nomination list of Park Board President Brad Bourn (District 6). She said was not in favor of Bourn selecting everyone on the committee because as a white man, Bourn is not as familiar with negative interactions with law enforcement.

Bourn pushed back on claims he was controlling the appointees.

“I am not picking six people,” Bourn said, noting he was charged with nominating six people to the council for board approval in a September 2018 vote but the board did not have to approve his list.

Commissioner Chris Meyer (District 1) proposed a compromise amendment to add Jones, which was approved, making the council a seven-member body.

There were 20 applicants to the council, and MPRB staff recommended six appointees. Two of the applicants recommended by staff ended up on Bourn’s list of nominees: Carol Martinson, a security consultant who serves on the Kenny Neighborhood Association Board, and Mahdi Abdi, who works at the Brian Coyle Community Center in Cedar-Riverside.

Joe Tamburino, a criminal defense lawyer and chair of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, was among the applicants recommended by MPRB staff who were not nominated. He addressed the board with his concerns that the appointments lacked proper five-day public notice and a lack of transparency in soliciting new applicants.

“They did not go through the process,” Tamburino said.

Bourn acknowledged that he solicited additional applicants because he did not find six applicants he liked. Bourn’s nominees, who have all been named to the council, include Lyndale Neighborhood Board President Sheila Nezhad, who has worked with MPD150, a group organizing for dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department; University of Minnesota Senior Lecturer K.C. Harrison, a racial justice advocate; community organizer Roxxane O’Brien, a former Bush Foundation Fellow who said she serves on seven community boards; and Jae Hyum Shim, who works as a community program coordinator with Hope Community in South Minneapolis.

Commissioner Kale Severson (District 2) said additional solicitation helps get more participation for his constituents in North Minneapolis.

They will work with the 35 licensed police officers who patrol the city’s parks and an additional 20 Park Patrol Agents. Park Police respond to around 10,000 calls for service per year, according to the MPRB.

Appointees will serve a two-year term.