The September 15 meeting of the Park Board was more notable for its parliamentary and political maneuvering, than for outright fireworks.
At 5:00pm, the Administration and Finance Committee met and approved a variety of items with little discussion, except the purchase of 4 parking pay station machines. After some discussion about malfunction, ticketing, profitability and the public’s uneasiness with the newer technology, this item also passed with comr. Walt Dziedzic voting no with the comment that there were “too many complaints.”
Then the Admin & Fin Com heard the reports for two study items.
Item #1 was the mayor’s budget proposal and how it would affect the Park Board. Comr. Dziedzic took this opportunity to complain that there were no capital projects listed for the “east side” of Minneapolis. He also asked Asst. Super. Siggelkow what the latest state forecast was. Answer: about a $1 billion biannual deficit at the state.
Item #2 was a report on the Preplanning Fund by Asst. Super. Siggelkow. Chairperson Marie Hauser allowed Comr. Vivian Mason, who does not sit on this committee, to make some remarks. Mason noted that what she had asked for was an update on all reserve funds [not just this one], and that she was told by Siggelkow that he had that data and that it would be in the information packets for the commissioners the coming Friday. Mason would like the board to review that information at their next meeting. Siggelkow then held forth with a bunch of background on the fund, how it was sometimes reimbursed from projects that proceeded, how it was sometimes funded in years not so lean as recent ones, how it was used to react to plans by other government agencies, or to plan projects to take to other agencies that the Park Board wanted done. It’s also used for “testing.” The balance was $214,000 in mid-August this year. The low was $15,000 in 1992, and the high was $600,000 at the end of 2003. [So we’ve spent $600k – $214k = $386,000 from it this year already?] There is a state law capping the amount the staff can spend without elected board approval at $50,000.
Comr. Annie Young wants to know who decides when this fund is used. Siggelkow answers but never really says who. Young notes that larger amounts than $50,000 appear to have been spent, but Siggelkow insists that the board has always approved all amounts over $50,000. Young tries to press her question, but…
Chair Hauser interrupts Young, and cuts her off saying her 3 minutes are up and then calls on Comr. Rochelle Berry Graves.
Berry Graves immediately yields her first 30 seconds to Young, who finishes her remarks. Berry Graves then asks about the discretionary fund, and also wants to know when the previous long-standing limit of $25,000 before board approval was changed and how? Siggelkow says he has never heard of a discretionary fund, and that the Park Board has always been audited.
Hauser asks if the discretionary fund is the same place the money was going to be found to fund the skate park at Elliot Park [at the time, there was no money but the claim was made that some could be found someplace].
Hauser adjourns the Admin & Fin Committee
Operations and Environment Committee called to order by Young. The only item on the agenda is an item to increase the number of voting members on the Minneapolis Water Quality Monitoring Task Force. Presently there are 5 voting members: 2 city council, 2 Park Board and 1 mayoral. Proposal is to add 4 members for the 4 watershed districts which impact Minneapolis surface water quality. Comr. Carol Kummer and Young have been serving as the Park Board reps. Kummer and Young speak in favor of this action.
Comr. Dziedzic wants to point out to the public that this is not about drinking water for the public.
The item (5.1) is passed unanimously and moved to the full board.
Young adjourns the Op & Env Committee.
Commissioner President Chairman Jon Olson calls the Regular meeting to order. Comr. Bob Fine is absent.
* The agenda is updated and approved.
* Petitions and communications.
Dziedzic talks about some brochure from a 1960s-era De La Salle program, that he passes around, Vikings coach Mike Tice presenting $5,000 to some program, etc.
Hauser says someone spoke to her about banning smoking in the parks, even outdoors.
Mason received comments from a number of citizens concerned that diseased elm trees were not being removed quickly enough, about the fate of the Wirth and Longfellow houses, and about meeting agendas not being mailed to citizens at all or on time.
Comr. John Erwin mentions the success of traffic calming on West River Parkway, and that he met with Jim Parsons of People For Parks and that he believes they will reach some sort of agreement. Erwin also remarks that a discussion of the disposition of the Wirth House is overdue since the tenant (Mn. Rec. and Parks Assoc.) will be vacating by end of this month.
Kummer mentions Tobacco Free Minnesota regarding smoking in parks, and also notes that Mason has requested that the Standards and Conduct Committee, of which Kummer is chair, meet [to discuss Dziedzic’s outrageous verbal assault at the August 18 meeting].
Olson moves meeting to Open Time so public can speak.
* Liz Wielinksi of Northeast:
“President Olson and commissioners,
During the past 18 months I have been coming to meetings of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. At first I was very impressed with hose the meetings were conducted. The Superintendent, Assistant Superintendents and staff made frequent reports to the board which were very informative and kept the commissioners abreast of happenings within the system. Sounds recommendations were given and the board made reasonable decisions based on this information. In fact, the only thing I found hard to handle (as a speed talker myself) was Dr. Merrirfield’s charming yet exquisitely slow Southern drawl.
This has all changed. Since the appointment of Interim Superintendent Gurban, the meetings and activities of this board have become soap-operaesque. Clandestine planning, hidden agendas and all out hostilities have become the norm. Much as this may make for entertaining television, this does not make for good governing. A prime example is Commissioner Dziedzic’s behavior at the August 18th meeting.
Commissioner Mason asked reasonable questions of Interim Superintendent Gurban about the plans for moving the park police. He gave her some mumbo jumbo about tentative plans written on napkins and suggestions made in passing. When she confronted him about the professional plans she had seen, he was defended by Commissioner Dziedzic. He proceeded to get into a temper over her picking on staff. He even made what appeared to be threats that only those familiar with School Board history would know referred to when Commissioner Mason’s late husband was attacked by a disgruntled staff member at a meeting.
I am a constituent of Commissioner Dziedzic’s and I am not only embarrassed by this but very disappointed. I thought I had voted for him to represent myself and my neighbors to oversee the workings of this fabulous system. Questioning staff on their plans and expenditures is part of his job as a supervisory board member just as it is for Commissioner Mason and the other elected members of this board. How else would making decisions which provide excellent services while keeping costs contained be achieved?
Today I see a return to the boring and yet productive and well intentioned board of last year. Please continue. I believe an apology from Commissioner Dziedzic to Commissioner Mason is also necessary to improve the working relations of the board. The next step would be for Interim Superintendent Gurban to do the job he was hired to do, including making his reports or at least deferring to the experienced Assistant Superintendents who are very familiar with the system. In fact I hope that if Interim Superintendent Gurban is actively pursuing the position of Superintendent he would make an effort between now and December to demonstrate he has the necessary abilities to do the job. Not just to the commissioners but to the citizens of Minneapolis who are through their tax dollars paying his salary.
Minneapolis has a stellar park system. A gem which needs to be maintained and kept intact for future generations. This can best be accomplished with cooperation between a dedicated staff and board devoted to sound management.”
* Arlene Fried of Bryn Mawr:
[Regarding the superintendent search which was originally not on the agenda for tonight’s meeting, but now has been added.]
“This matter is important and it deserves close public scrutiny. The public wants and needs to be kept informed of the search progress.
On behalf of other interested citizens, I am asking the following questions:
1. In what specific publications and websites have the ads for superintendent been placed?
2. Have you received any applications so far and, if so, how many? [roughly 10 says Andrea Sims of the Oldani Group]
3. On what date will the public be invited to question the finalists? [tentative date of December 1]
Thank you for your prompt response.”
Pres. Olson refers her to Asst. Super. Siggelkow for answers.
* Back to Petitions and Communications
Berry Graves encourages attendance at the annual Peace Ball, and wonders how a no smoking outdoors in the parks law would be enforced.
* Reports from Officers gets SKIPPED [Gurban once again does not report.]
Items from standing committees all get passed without discussion except item 7.2 from Admin & Fin, an authorization to accept bids from St. Croix Recreation Company, Inc to build skate parks at Armatage, Creekview and Elliot Parks:
* 7.2 – Young has a number of questions. Berry Graves asks why the first park to request a skate park years ago is not on this list of 3 parks being approved for construction bids. President Olson says that park is “next.” Berry Graves thinks that $50/hour for meeting with the community is too high. She has also heard there might be a conflict of interest in that the significant other of a staff person works at the company which has the bid.
* Unfinished Business
Items 8.1 and 8.2 pass.
* 8.3 – That the board authorize the capital project appropriation of $350,000 for the [added] renovation of the headquarters building and the moving expenses associated with relocating the park police operations… The board further authorizes the finance manager to process a LOAN of $350,000 from either the self-insurance fund or the tax fund balance as appropriately determined at year end.
Mason remarks that she will not be voting yes because a complete estimate, etc. was not done. Mason reiterates the issue is not about the police department, but about proper process. She says “any project worth moving forward with can withstand public scrutiny.”
Berry Graves is concerned about this much money coming out of the self insurance fund. What is the balance?
Erwin supports the project but the original motion at the last meeting, which he himself made, was to move forward but to get better estimates before approval. He needs to know those estimates before he can vote.
Hauser asks if exact dollar amounts can be gotten.
Assistant Superintendent Judd Rietkerk circumlocutes about how all estimates and bids are subject to change orders, contingencies, etc., essentially saying no number is ever exact. He has some rough guesses that he just got from a contractor this morning [why so late in the game?]: framing and finishing, $125,000[?], HVAC, etc. $117,000[?], electrical $55,000 and IT/phones $35,000 for a total of $342,000 and thus $350,000 is a good ball park figure.
Young is also concerned about the income [lost] from the lease on the same area, and remarks that they have not yet discussed the funds.
Berry Graves withdraws her motion.
Olson is about to move on without 8.3 passing.
Dziedzic makes motion to pass 8.3 It dies for lack of a second.
The half a dozen or so Park Police officers who showed up for this moment, start to file out and Dziedzic blurts out to them “thank you for coming officers” to which a few respond, interrupting the meeting that Olson is trying to conduct.
* 8.4, that the board authorize staff to execute a letter of intent on the 201 Building [the building at Ft. Snelling which was to be the location of the failed “The Fort” sports complex which has not payed its contractors, and who as a result have filed $1.7 to $2.0 million in liens against the Park Board] and/or adjoining property.
8.4 is moved for discussion.
Berry Graves wants to know if one of the groups that Siggelkow described as being interested would come to the board and make a presentation. Siggelkow says no, neither group knows if a project is viable at that location. [so why the letter of intent?]
** Meeting ADJOURNS at 6:40PM **
Several people from the audience remark aloud “what about the superintendent’s report.” Olson [I believe, in the post meeting hubbub] says something to the effect it was an oversight, but it’s too late, they’re adjourned.