The following articles by Cristof Traudes appeared in the May 18, 2009 issue of the Southwest Journal:
PARK BOARD PENSION DECISION CREATES NEW SPARKS WITH CITY
While the city is staring down skyrocketing costs because of pension fund payments, the Park Board is expected to take a wait-and-see approach. That has left city representatives unhappy.
Because of the rocky economy, the city over the next five years is anticipating owing as much as an additional $155 million, something that could lead to much higher property taxes. The city is hoping to mitigate the issue by trying to talk the pension funds into merging with a state fund, but oversight boards have been hesitant.
That led city representatives in April to the Park Board, hoping to find support for their direction.
“As goes the city, so go the parks,” City Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) said.
But a May 6 report from General Manager Don Siggelkow didn’t see the situation as that dour for the parks. While Siggelkow said it is troubling from a city finance perspective, past pension fund crises have never had a significant effect on the Park Board. He also said that, contrary to city reports, the pension funds’ oversight boards appear willing to help prevent the massive tax impacts.
Hodges and Peter Wagenius, Mayor R.T. Rybak’s senior policy aide, sat in the front row during the report and could be seen shaking their heads throughout. When Siggelkow was done, they asked from their seats whether they could speak. Committee Chairwoman Carol Kummer declined, which led Wagenius to stand up and yell, “Wow! Wow!”
He later called out the Park Board’s attorney, Brian Rice, for representing both the board and the pension funds.
“This conflict of interest is not a grey area,” Wagenius said. “… This is basic ethics in government.”
The Intergovernmental Relations Committee unanimously adopted a resolution that requests the city and the pension funds find a solution. The full board will vote on it May 13.
LAKE HARRIET CONCESSION EVALUATION STARTS THIS MONTH
A Citizen Advisory Committee will begin meeting this month to evaluate the future of the Lake Harriet concession.
Park Board staff had recommended putting a Sea Salt Seafood Eatery in the stand and building a small new structure by the Lake Harriet Band Shell from which to sell popcorn and ice cream. Commissioners and neighbors wanted a second opinion — hence the creation of the advisory committee, whose job it will be to assess the scope of concession opportunities, the atmosphere of the band shell area, and a design and site for the possible new structure.
The committee members are Joel Chechik, Roann Cramer, John Finlayson, Sarah Harris, Donovan Hart, Janet Holloway, Elizabeth Larson, Bruce Manning, Lisa McDonald, Mark Peterson and Joseph Schmidt. Matt Perry will serve as chairman.
They will meet four times — May 19, June 1, June 22 and July 13 — at 7 p.m. at the Linden Hills Recreation Center, 3100 W. 43rd St.
PEDESTRIAN BRIDGE COULD QUALIFY FOR STIMULUS FUNDS
LYNNHURST — The Park Board approved investigating the use of a long-unused special assessment to help pay for $234,000 in repairs of the shuttered Bryant Avenue pedestrian bridge. However, they also left open the possibility that federal stimulus funds could cover the entire project.
Parks planner Judd Rietkerk said the bridge is No. 9 on a list of 10 projects being weighed over by the Metropolitan Council. A decision from the council is expected in late May or early June.