May 18 Park Board Meeting Highlights

5:00pm

Recreation Committee, called to order by chair John Erwin.

This committee took no official actions, but heard 4 study/report items. They were the following.

1. City Children’s Nutcracker Project is a year-round program in the parks presented in cooperation with Ballet Arts Minnesota, teaching children ages 8 to 12. Marcia Chapman of Ballet Arts Minnesota offers complimentary tickets to the Ballet Arts 2005 Spring Performance to the commissioners.

2. Extended Building Hours / Phat Summer. This is the 11 season for Phat Summer, and this year it would not have happened if not for a $100,000 grant from the Northway Community Trust (the Youth Coordinating Board appears to have had a hand in it someplace, and Mayor R.T. Rybak also apparently did a lot of work in getting the money). 23 sites will have extended hours for this program aimed at youth ages 12 to 18. Commissioner Jon Olson, not on this committee, gets time to comment and thank Hennepin County commissioner Peter Mclaughlin and the county board for their contribution. It’s not clear what Mclaughlin had to do with the portion of the money coming from the county, if anything. Commissioner Erwin points out that Mayor Rybak helped get the money.

3. Summer Playground supervision. Runs from June 20 to August 12 at 21 playground sites plus 4 mobile sites. They need to hire about 50 – 60 staff for this program yet. This program was started in 1950. It nearly got the ax last year in the budget negotiations until incensed parents primarily from Northeast showed up at a meeting and expressed their displeasure.

4. Summer Reading in the Parks, in cooperation with the Minneapolis Public Library. Theme is “What’s buzzin’ at your library.” Sponsors also include the Minneapolis Public Schools and Marshall Fields, the latter organization being thanked profusely for their support. “Rec Plus” kids ages 5 to 12 look like they are automatically part of this program. Kids not in that program should go directly to their libraries to get enrolled.

5:49pm — Adjourned.

[ It’s obvious that it is an election year — the commissioners all just unusually full of praise and thanks for the staff and the partnerships. ]

Administration & Finance Committee, called to order by chair Marie Hauser.

Action items 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3 are moved and approved with very little discussion. Commissioner Annie Young tries to offer a friendly amendment to 7.2 to hold $5,000 in reserve, but is told the $20,000 is already spent on funding the Midtown Community Works and this motion gives the other $15,000 in the board education and travel fund to the Teen Teamworks program, whose funding at the state got completely cut this year.

Study/Report Items

1. Field Use Fees.

Commissioner Walt Dziedzic interrupts the report to make a motion to postpone the report until he has had a chance to meet with the superintendent and with several groups who use and will pay for field usage. The sense is that a lot of people are upset at the new fees, and Dziedzic had not had time to meet with them yet. After some discussion, Dziedzic withdraws his motion.

6:00pm — Admin & Fin is recessed.

Regular meeting called to order to allow for Public Open Time.

First was Marcea Mariani of the Longfellow neighborhood in south Minneapolis. She was quite displeased with the Park Board for taking $112,000 in NRP money from the neighborhood to restore, renovate and open the Longfellow House to the public, and then to turn around and use it as Park Board offices. She complains about the lack of a working relationship with the neighborhood, and asks that 2 Park Board commissioners meet with the neighborhood organization.

Second was Joan Berthiaume of the Minneapolis Parks Legacy Society who thanked the Park Board for reconsidering the recent staff decision to build shelving and move general storage into the most historic rooms in the Wirth House: the Wirth Office and Drafting Room. Since these are the rooms the public most wants to see, Ted Wirth has asked that an alternate location be found for this storage. No decision has been made yet.

6:05pm — Regular meeting recessed.

Admin & Fin reconvened.

Continuing report and discussion of same regarding Field Use Fees and Permit Fees. New in 2005 are fees charged to non-MPRB and non-MPS youth teams which use MPRB fields.

Erwin thinks youth fees are a disincentive to participation by youth who need to participate, and wants the $8/hour fee dropped.

Dziedzic says the fees are causing a big problem, and that most kids signed up in March before they knew about the fees.

General manager Michael Schmidt says the fees were finalized March 10 and announced between March 10 and March 19 to groups they had contact with. But the fee change itself was in the Budget before the commissioners since September 2004.

Dziedzic talks at length about what he calls the $8 – 16 problem, and wants to defer those fees until next year. He mentions a “pick up” game getting stopped for not paying fees. [Official policy appears to be contrary. Pick up games can use the field without a fee, but anyone who has paid a fee can kick them off the field.]

Young says she has gotten some of the same complaint calls as Dziedzic, and says we have a communication problem.

Olson asks questions regarding clarification of who these “traveling teams” are. He says some go to the suburbs and pay to play, some even go out of state, e.g. even to Florida. He says yes it’s hard but it’s the reality of our budget.

Commissioner Vivian Mason says it is premature to make a motion, and support Dziedzic having his meetings first. She says they have to stand by the budget.

Erwin talks about the ramifications. He says most of the kids Olson talked about are Minneapolis kids [not suburban kids].

Dziedzic says “commissioner Mason has good advice and we should follow it.” He says many kids can’t afford the fees.

6:23pm

Commissioner Bob Fine asks if we raised the hourly fee? Did it go from $6 to $8 an hour?

Schmidt answers, no, not necessarily. He reiterates that this is a new fee of non-park teams. These teams paid zero last year, and will pay $8/hour this year. They are known as the so-called traveling teams.

Fine asks if they are willing to make exceptions or concessions?

Schmidt says yes.

Fine says many such organizations plan [internally] for having kids who cannot afford it [by raising money for them].

Olson says we have a lot of [park board] teams at our parks, and thus they are affordable to our kids through the recreation centers — versus private/traveling teams.

Commissioner and committee chair Marie Hauser goes outside of normal protocol and allows a member of the public to comment.

Gregory G?? [missed his last name] from south Minneapolis comments that most of the teams that his son has played on and with do not have sponsorships and some don’t even accept them. It is just parents paying to give their kids a different kind of baseball or soccer opportunity [than the standard Park Board league opportunity].

Young says let’s have the meeting [Dziedzic’s] and put this item on our agenda in 2 weeks.

2. Assessment Changes.

Staff reports on proposal to provider a deferral of special property tax assessments for seniors, age 65 plus, to be repaid at time property is sold or until hardship is gone. Such a program has existed at the City since approved by the state in about 1980. GM Siggelkow says such a program would have minimal impact on the budget, and they would ask the city ombudsperson who currently handles it for the city to do likewise for the Park Board, as to the qualifying people for the program.

Olson says he supports the program, says lots of trees are dying [and are expensive to take down].

Dziedzic brought this item forward and moves to move it to the full board. Motion PASSES.

Young states the forestry department needs to know about this program’s existence so that they can pass the information on to people on an as needed basis.

6:44pm

3. Improved Customer Service through Online Reservations and Program Registration.

[Welcome to the 20th century, Park Board…]

Working with vendor Reserve Master, Inc. the staff has implemented a customized software solution.

Mason is asks about citizens without computers.

Staff answers that rec center managers can to choose to reserve a number of slots for in-person registrations only at those rec centers.

Young raises the issue of non-English speakers.

Siggelkow says the rec center directors talk to people.

Discussion devolves into a variety of suggestions for redesign of parts of the web site.

Siggelkow says the next phase is to do permits and more online, e.g. parking, picnic, etc.

Dziedzic brings up the problem with the parking tickets to memorial service attendees which got press in the Star Tribune. He wants parking info included on the permit. He takes advantage of this situation to look good. He wants the board to approve his paying for them and negotiating with a referee on the amount.

Commissioner Rochelle Berry Graves points out it may well be illegal for the board to approve Dziedzic paying for the tickets. He can do what he wants as a private citizen, but if the board takes action, it clearly is displaying favoritism to some parties who got tickets and not others.

Siggelkow [who we didn’t know had his law degree] says he doesn’t think it is a problem legally. Dziedzic can do what he want as a private citizen.

Young asks if they would be setting a precedent.

7:13pm — Admin & Fin Adjourned

[ Notice how much important business gets discussed, decided and conducted in the committees — yet their are no official minutes kept for the committees, only for the regular meeting. ]

7:13pm — Regular Meeting reconvened.

Agenda amended to add 2 items:

7.6 to approve the deferral of special property tax assessments for senior citizens, and

8.2 to approve resolution No. 2005-107 requesting the City Council and Board of Estimate and Taxation to sell net debt bonds for the Park Board’s 2005 capital improvement projects.

[ Up until the Park Board bonded the first $6 million of what ultimately became $14 million in bonded debt for the Neiman Complex, the Park Board had never gone into debt in its entire 120+ year history. Now, without even being on the original agenda, and with no details in the commissioners meeting packet information, it appears they’re willing to go further into debt. What’s up with item 8.2? Are they charging up the credit card like the previous regime at City Hall which voters turned out? ]

** Reports of Officers **

– Superintendent Jon Gurban highlighted his activity report (written) for April. The written report contains some items which may be of interest to some readers. Gurban report that he:

1. “Met with representatives of the Calhoun Yacht Club and Lake Calhoun Sailing School [corrected name] to further and explore their involvement in the pending Lakeside Pavilion project. The meeting went very well. We believe we will be bringing the proposal forward to the Planning Committee in June.”

2. “Met with DRI Consulting (John Fennig) in an effort to improve both my communication and management skills.”

[ It appears that DRI Consulting is the “company” that did the psychological management testing for the superintendent candidates both this past year when the finalists were Jon Gurban and Cris Gears, and the previous year when Jon Gurban was not a finalist, but was slipped in and given a “take home” test by DRI. Now DRI is Gurban’s personal management coach? And taxpayers are paying how much for this? DRI’s ethics are less than stellar at this point. ]

– General manager Don Siggelkow reported on contract negotiations.

– General manager Michael Schmidt gave a forestry update.

– Park police chief Brad Johnson gave a public safety report. Through a small grant and a cooperative effort with the UofM, the horse patrol will continue.

Erwin asked about the Hidden Beach status.

Johnson said there were allegations of excessive force and that it is an on-going investigation.

Johnson clarified the situation with the 4 reports of robberies near the Cedar Lake Trail. Only 2 were actually on the trail and on park property. The other 2 were in neighborhoods near the trail.

Dziedzic asks Johnson if he is chief or captain. [As a former cop and the Park Police department’s biggest booster on the board, can anyone imagine Dziedzic not knowing the answer to this question? Listening to Dziedzic sometimes reminds me of listening to Peter Falk’s Lt. Columbo — you just never know where he’s going with some things.]

Dziedzic asks Johnson when they are moving into the HQ building. Answer: August 1 is the target date.

** Consent business

Items 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, 2.6 and 2.7 are all moved, seconded and passed with no controversial discussion.

** Reports of Standing committee

Planning: 4.1 is moved and passed with no discussion.

Admin & Fin: 7.1, 7.2, 7.3 and 7.4 are all moved and passed with no discussion.

7.5, to spend board education and travel budget on funding Midtown Community Works Partnership [remember in first message, this was already spent] and Teen Teamworks is moved and passed. Young asks how it could already spent with no funding source identified. [bah! details!]

7.6, the hardship assessment program for seniors, moved and passes with no discussion.

** Unfinished business

8.1 thanking General Mills Foundation for its grant of $15,000 to Teen Teamworks, passes.

8.2, resolution to sell net debt bonds. Role call vote: 7 ayes, 2 absent [Mason and Olson, who had left to go to GetBob meeting — an amusing story in itself]

** New Business

Young reminds board that the budgeting process is starting again in June. Young also would like a record/chart of how votes were taken on resolutions, similar to the one that Dziedzic got instituted at the City Council in 1980.

7:47pm

** Petitions and Communications

Fine got a letter suggesting they plant disease resistant elms. GM Schmidt pointed out that the forestry department already does that.

Young mentions the Linden Hills festival on Sunday [in Fine’s district — wonder why he didn’t mention it].

Kummer has gotten complaints about speed on the parkways and says she “did saw something,” the aftermath of an auto/bicycle accident.

Berry Graves got a letter supporting better use / improvements of the Fruen’s Mill area.

Erwin reports that an EPA cleanup grant reports the BF Nelson site was selected, but no dollars yet.

Gurban suggests renaming the BF Nelson site.

8:00pm Meeting Adjourned.