New Park Board superintendent lost gambling license
Rochelle Olson, Star Tribune
Published December 27, 2003
The Minnesota Recreation and Park Association lost its license to sell pulltabs during Jon Gurban’s time as its executive director.
In 1998, the state Gambling Control Board pulled the trade group’s license because of insufficient oversight of its pulltab operations.
Gurban is now the incoming superintendent of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. He was approved by an acrimonious 5-4 vote Dec. 17 without advance public notice. The Park Board approved him as superintendent without so much as a job interview, yet his handling of the Park Association’s gambling license would seem to at least merit discussion.
Reached at his home Friday, Gurban questioned why the gambling license was an issue. He blamed a predatory Gambling Control Board, not lax controls, for the two-year license revocation. “There’s just far too much bureaucracy and very little assistance from the gaming authority people,” he said. “They’re not there to help you. They’re there to catch you.”
The Gambling Board said the association failed to maintain internal controls to protect the operation.
In addition, the Gambling Board said the association conducted gambling without the oversight of a licensed supervisor, transferred gambling funds to its general account without board approval, and contracted with accountants who did not qualify as gambling managers.
Tom Barrett, the Gambling Board director, said the state agency is not “out to get people. We’re in the business of regulating charitable gambling, and one of the mottos we live by is ‘do the right thing.’ ”
The pulltab problem was known to at least some Minneapolis Park Board members when they voted on Gurban, but it wasn’t discussed before the vote.
The Park Board had conducted a national search to replace Mary Merrill Anderson. But when the top candidates withdrew, the board felt it had little time to find a replacement.
Gurban’s appointment was controversial in part because he did not apply for the $112,000-a-year job, nor did his name surface in the national search. His résumé was distributed after Board Member Walt Dziedzic moved to nominate him.
Two of Gurban’s Park Board supporters see no problems with the gambling matter.
Park Board President Bob Fine said concerns about the pulltab issue were overblown. He said that a background check on Gurban came back clean and that he has since passed management and psychological tests.
Board Member Carol Kummer said the gambling issue “did not sound like a big problem.”
The Park Association’s board voted in 1994 to get into legal gambling. From 1995 through April 1998, the board raised $400,000 in revenue, according to a letter — written by Gurban — in the Gambling Board file.
Of that money, more than $300,000 was distributed in grants to recreation programs statewide, according to the letter. The association ran into trouble because it delegated much of its gambling operations to the accounting firm Dittmer & Peterson.
The association paid the firm $9,000 a month. One association board member had questioned whether the payments were excessive, suggesting the market rate for such services was $800 a month.
Gurban said the association’s board approved gambling as a “turnkey operation,” meaning the management of the operations would be contracted, not run by the association.
Gurban blamed the Gambling Board for the association’s problems. “Somewhere along the line, someone at Dittmer & Peterson got somebody at lawful gaming [the Gambling Board] mad, and they were determined to get Dittmer & Peterson,” Gurban said.
Gurban has ties to the accounting firm, according to Gambling Board records.
Gurban’s high school acquaintance Joe Brady referred him to Dittmer & Peterson. Brady also landed work with the Park Association as the pulltab supplier, according to a letter in the board’s file written by association President Dolf Moon.
Barrett specifically denied any vendetta against Dittmer & Peterson. He said the Park Association needed to take a more active role in managing the gambling. “The concern we have with the organizations we license, they can’t just delegate,” Barrett said. “We also look to the CEO as ultimately responsible for the gambling operation.”
The association is now out of gambling, and gambling apparently won’t be an issue for the Minneapolis Park Board. As a trade group, the Park Association is funded through memberships, not the government.
As a governmental agency, the Minneapolis Park Board is barred from participating in gambling.
Fine, who also knows Gurban from high school, said he has a strong personal opposition to gambling.
Staff writer Paul McEnroe contributed to this report.
Rochelle Olson is at [email protected].