The meeting was a long one–five hours (from 4 pm to approximately 9 pm)with a number of significant issues on the night’s agenda.
CITIZEN PARTICIPATION ORDINANCE. The Planning Committee discussed the proposed changes to the existing Citizen Participation Ordinance. The proposed revisions will limit citizen involvement to MAJOR new park facilities or SIGNIFICANT redevelopment of existing park facilities, and only AFTER the projects have been proposed and FUNDED. Appeal times are shortened and there will be fees for citizen appeals.
So, essentially, all meaningful citizen participation is being discouraged and/or eliminated. What this means is that in the not-so-distant future Superintendent Gurban will not have to bother with convening a Citizens Advisory Committee for his new road at Parade
What I have observed is that when Park BoardÂ’s administrative staff does not want to be bothered by a Park Board law or policy, the pesky law or policy is either revised or eliminatedÂ-and not in the best interest of transparent or accountable government.
Superintendent Gurban has publicly stated that citizen participation is Â”cumbersome.Â” So it should be no surprise that the Citizen Participation Ordinance is being gutted. After all, the democratic process is a cumbersome one.
I urge everyone who believes in a fair and open government process to contact his/her Park Board representatives and tell them that we want MORE transparency, MORE accountability and MORE citizen participationÂ-not less.
PARADE STUDY SESSION. This was scheduled at the request of several of the commissioners, including Tracy Nordstrom, Walt Dziedzic and Annie Young, who thought that the commissioners needed clarification from the staff about exactly what was happening on the Parade site. Park Watch appreciated their efforts to schedule this meeting.
Because Superintendent Gurban had been meeting with various groups about his “vision” or plan for a $50,000,000 sports complex on the Parade site, there was a public perception that this “vision” or plan had been approved–or
would be approved–by the commissioners without any public process. The
superintendent and administrative staff had even gone so far as to commence fund-raising for the Parade project with the support of The Foundation for Minneapolis Parks and a jointly sponsored brochure.
Park Watch knew that there had been no Board direction or approval for this “vision;” but it certainly appeared from the many documents that Park Watch had acquired through the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA) and from the administrative staff’s fund-raising activities, that the superintendent and the administrative staff were seriously advancing this larger project without bringing it to the Planning Committee or involving any meaningful citizen participation.
It was for these reasons that a Citizens’ Petition for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) was circulated and submitted to the Park Board.
As Mary Merrill Anderson said during the discussion, “We have confusion.”
The Parade study session served to both clarify an issue that Commissioner Scott Vreeland said “had gotten out of control;” and to remind staff that it is the Board’s–not the staff’s–responsibility to control the agenda.
A number of concerned citizens, from the Lowry Hill neighborhood and elsewhere in the city, interested in this issue were at the meeting.
Commissioner Vreeland, who was visibly disturbed, chastised the staff for its “poor communication,” for allowing the Parade project to get “out of control” and for “raising money for an unapproved project.”
He expressed his frustration that the “Board has to answer questions that staff have created.”
Commissioner Tom Nordyke wanted to know more about the road at Parade that had been mentioned previously by staff–but never in detail. Because we had reviewed documents about Parade that Park Watch had obtained through the MGDPA, it was obvious to Park Watch that the new road was intended to service the event center. Therefore, it–the road–was an important component of Superintendent Gurban’s “vision.”
Park Watch has observed that the administrative staff had carefully framed this new $290,000 road as a “road realignment” or a “maintenance project” in an effort to avoid calling it a new road so that it could be built without commissioners’ approval or citizen participation.
When questioned by Commissioner Tom Nordyke, Judd Rietkerk, director of planning and project management, attempted to tap dance around the issue; but eventually he was nailed by Commissioner Nordyke’s direct and persistent questioning. He finally had to admit that there were, indeed, plans for a NEW road at Parade. The Parade study session, and Commissioner NordykeÂ’s astute questioning of staff, was successful in clarifying the intentional confusion about the road.
The Board concluded the study session with the decision that there would be no further development of Parade during 2007 and 2008 and no further development without Board direction. In other words, no event center, no field house, no new road through 2008.
The only Board approved project at Parade is the artificial turf field with lighting, scoreboard, sound system, a grandstand, seating for 1,500, fencing, press box platform and irrigation system. So far, only the field, the lighting and the irrigation system have been installed.
Later on in the evening, the Board voted to deny the CitizensÂ’ Petition for an EAW.
DELASALLE. The Board voted to approve the DeLaSalle land exchange, a complex land deal that gives DeLaSalle the right to use valuable parkland to build an athletic facility that the public will not be able to use as originally negotiated.
Essentially, this land deal is a shell game designed to help DeLaSalle evade its agreement to pay fair value for the parkland which was originally acquired through eminent domain at a cost of $1,000,000 and which was recently appraised at $2,000,000. With this vote, DeLaSalle has gained its field at taxpayersÂ’ expense and without having to provide any benefit to the public as originally intended.
Commissioner Vreeland made a valiant attempt, without success, to get DeLaSalle to honor its contractual agreement with the Park Board to compensate the Park Board for the cost of replacement land.
And Commissioner Young mentioned her concerns about the disregard of separation of church and state.
Then Commissioner Nordyke made a motion requiring DeLaSalle to post a bond before beginning any construction. He pointed out the need for the Park Board to be protected if DeLaSalle decides to disturb parkland before the legal challenges (now numbering three) have been resolved. DeLaSalle would be responsible for undoing any construction if any of the legal challenges are successful. Without a bond, the Park Board would be responsible for such costs.
Commissioner Dziedzic agreed that the Park Board needed to be protected and seconded the motion for the $250,000 bond. It passed 6 to 3. Surprisingly, Commissioner Bob Fine, a real estate attorney, voted against the bond requirement. Also voting against it were Commissioners Carol Kummer and Mary Merrill Anderson.
THE 201 BUILDING. I will wrap this topic up at a later date.
Co-founder of Park Watch