City Pages: Park and Wreck

In an entertaining article subtitled “This election season, the dysfunctional Minneapolis Park Board is ripe for reform,” Britt Robson reports on the higher profile the Park Board has in this election:

“ the park board has been a poster child for unchecked government. ”

» Despite these impressive credentials, the park board has traditionally kept a relatively low political profile throughout its long history. In the past few years, however, a series of embarrassing incidents and controversies has contributed to the impression that the MPRB has been operating like a private club, rife with cronyism and a lack of public accountability. More than that, there have been controversial expenditures by the board over the years, and an unseemly rift on the board itself. Now, on the verge of an election in which all nine seats–six district positions, and three at-large–on the park board commission are up for grabs, this typically sleepy corner of city government has become a highly scrutinized hotbed of political activity.

The defining event of the recent park board power struggle, one that birthed a cadre of reform-minded board critics, happened in December 2003, when the board hired its current superintendent, Jon Gurban. Not only hadn’t Gurban participated in the interview and screening process, but his candidacy was unknown to the public–and four of the nine commissioners–until just hours before the meeting to elect him. At the time, he was executive director of the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association, a state entity, and a former high school classmate of then-park board president Bob Fine.

In short, the park board has been a poster child for unchecked government. The uproar over Gurban’s hiring motivated a group of citizens to form Minneapolis Park Watch, which set up a website and began issuing detailed minutes and critiques of subsequent park board meetings. Among many complaints, Park Watch members charged that the minutes of board meetings were too vague, and that public feedback was discouraged because of scant prior notice of meeting topics and too little time set aside by the board to hear citizen concerns. «

Read the entire article on the City Pages website.