Monthly Archives: September 2009

A Heads Up for the Next Lake Harriet CAC Meeting

LAKE HARRIET REGIONAL PARK CAC. The next meeting of the Lake Harriet Citizen’s Advisory Council (CAC) will be Thursday, September 24, 2009, at 7 pm at the Linden Hills Recreation Center (3100 43rd St. W.) CAC meetings are open to the public. For additional information about the CAC, go to

Park Board Proposal Won't Be On The Fall Ballot

The following article by Rochelle Olson appeared in the September 11, 2009, edition of the Star Tribune:


A referendum to make the Minneapolis Park Board a freestanding unit of government won’t go on the ballot this fall after a Hennepin County judge ruled it unconstitutional Thursday.

Judge Cara Lee Neville sided with the city’s request to keep the proposal off the ballot. She called it “manifestly unconstitutional” because state law allows only the Legislature to create separate units of government. The Park Board is currently a department of the city, she wrote in her 19-page order.

A group calling itself Citizens for Independent Parks had pushed for the referendum and announced plans to appeal. But one of the group’s lawyers, Brian Rice, conceded the issue won’t be on the ballot this fall because Friday is the deadline for providing ballot language to the county auditor.

The group had circulated petitions and met the 10,449-signature threshold for qualifying for the Nov. 3 ballot. Park Board supporters stated in their petition that they are concerned the City Council wants to “totally control” the board.

Mayor R.T. Rybak opposed the referendum, while former Mayors Don Fraser and Sharon Sayles Belton led the group of parks supporters.

City Attorney Susan Segal said the city opposed the question not on its merits, but because the city lacks the power to create an independent unit of government. The citizens group argued that the city had a duty to put the measure on the ballot.

The council voted 11-2 last month to exercise its discretionary power to reject the proposal.
Council Member Lisa Goodman struck a conciliatory note after the judge’s ruling. “We should all be able to work together because we care about parks,” she said.

Rybak said that “people in Minneapolis love our parks, and I’m eager to work cooperatively with the Park Board and the City Council to preserve and nurture our parks in tough times.”
The citizens group expressed disappointment.

“An independent Park Board would provide the best protection for our park system and the most accessibility for city residents,” it said in a statement. “We truly believe the citizens of Minneapolis have the constitutional right to decide how to best protect the parks

Park Board Independence Amendment Unconstitutional, Judge Rules

The following article by Cristof Traudes was published in the on-line edition of the Southwest Journal on September 10, 2009:


The decision means voters in November will not be asked whether to make the board “a separate and independent governmental unit of the state.”

A proposed charter amendment to increase the financial independence of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is unconstitutional, a Hennepin County District judge ruled today.

Judge Cara Lee Neville’s decision largely came down to one issue: How separate and new of a governmental unit would the Park Board become?

The charter amendment, as presented by the petitioners, would deem the Park Board “a separate and independent governmental unit of the state of Minnesota.” More than 17,000 people signed a petition to get the amendment on the Nov. 3 ballot, but the City Council, citing a city attorney’s memorandum, decided not to move forward. Asking the city charter to create a new independent governmental unit is beyond its powers, Deputy City Attorney Peter Ginder argued.

But during a court hearing on Sept. 3, petitioners’ attorney Fred Morrison argued the city looked too deeply into something that really came down to semantics. What the proposed charter amendment actually would do, Morrison said, is to expand the Park Board’s authority within its current semi-independent, within-the-city position.

Ultimately, Neville sided with the city.

“The language of the petition which was circulated clearly states the intent of the proposed amendment is to create a ‘separate and independent governmental unit of the State of Minnesota,’” she said in a memorandum. “Only the legislature however has the constitutional authority to create a ‘state governmental unit.’

Neville said city charters can make changes to city departments, but this seemed to be going beyond that.

“The proper entity to create another state governmental unit is the legislature,” Neville wrote.

The petitioners also had argued that if any part of the proposed charter amendment were considered unconstitutional, the parts that are deemed OK should be retained and still go before voters. But Neville said that after all the unconstitutional parts are chopped off, a very different question would end up before voters. The 17,086 signatories wouldn’t necessarily back that question; therefore, Neville said, it should not go before voters.

The petitioners are expected to appeal the decision, although they’re running out of time. The state-mandated cutoff date for ballot changes is Sept. 11.

Editorial: Ruling Needed on Minneapolis Parks

The following editorial appeared in the September 3 issue of the Star Tribune:


Who holds the power to create a new unit of local government?

The petition drive to make the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board a separate, independent unit of government took a recent detour into Hennepin County District Court.

That isn’t where the drive’s organizers wanted to go. They had hoped that the more than 17,000 signatures they collected were sufficient to deter the City Council from erecting a roadblock to their effort.

But their petition to put a charter change question on the Nov. 3 election ballot was grounded in the presumption that city voters have the legal authority to make the Park Board autonomous again, as it was in the early years of its existence. That may presume too much. Delaying this drive long enough to find out whether it’s on a legally solid road is a good idea, for Minneapolis and the rest of the state.

Minneapolis Deputy City Attorney Peter Ginder advised the City Council that, under the Minnesota Constitution, only the Legislature has the authority to create what would amount to a new unit of local government. That opinion persuaded 11 of 13 council members last Friday to refuse to put the proposed charter amendment on the ballot.

Proponents of the change filed a lawsuit the same day challenging the council’s action. The suit argues that the Legislature already authorized an independent Minneapolis Park Board, in 1883; this petition merely proposes to exercise anew that 126-year-old authority. Further, it says, the City Council cannot deny citizens their right to petition for governmental changes, and to shape their governments as they wish.

The question before the court, then, is not about the merits of having an independent Minneapolis Park Board. Rather, it’s this: Who can create a new unit of government? And if created, then altered, who is authorized to recreate it?

Those are not questions relevant only to Minneapolis. They arise at a time when local governments around the state are struggling with shrinking state aid and levy-limited taxing authority. If creating a new unit of government via charter amendment is found to be a legal route to acquiring more taxing authority, more state aid or both, other jurisdictions will take notice, and may attempt to follow suit. If they do, the cause of transparent, accountable, cost-effective local governance won’t be enhanced.

For that reason, this detour to the courts is welcome. The state’s judicial branch of government — and not the Minneapolis City Council — is best positioned to credibly balance the state’s interest in controlling the number and nature of taxing jurisdictions in Minnesota against citizens’ right to petition their local governments for change.

The detour is likely to be a brief one. The city election ballot must be set by Sept. 11; the legal question needs resolution by then. But if this pause in the Park Board’s campaign affords city leaders a chance to ask whether there’s a better way to sustain Minneapolis park quality in the lean years ahead, so much the better.

Judge Hears Both Sides of Park Board Referendum Case

The following article by Steve Brandt was published in the Star Tribune on September 4, 2009:


Supporters asked for a quick ruling so that the question of the Minneapolis board’s independence can be put on the Nov. 3 ballot. City attorneys argued that the proposed amendment goes too far.

The fate of a Park Board independence referendum in Minneapolis may hinge on whether a judge views it as keeping parks under the umbrella of city government or as creating a whole new unit of government.

Attorneys for the city and Park Board supporters disputed just how far the proposed charter amendment would go during a one-hour hearing Thursday before Hennepin County District Judge Cara Lee Neville.

Park Board supporters asked the court to order that the question be placed on the Nov. 3 ballot. The Minneapolis City Council last week rejected the question on the grounds that the proposal is unconstitutional and runs afoul of state law.

Attorney Brian Rice asked Neville to rule by Sept. 11, the deadline under state law to put the proposed city charter amendment on the fall ballot. He and Fred Morrison represented park supporters who circulated petitions and met the 10,449-signature threshold for qualifying for the ballot.

“I’ll do what I can to get this out as fast as I can,” Neville said.

Deputy City Attorney Peter Ginder told Neville that the proposal exceeds what’s allowed under the state Constitution and state law governing cities with home-rule charters such as Minneapolis. That’s because it essentially would make the Park Board a separate and independent unit of government, he argued.

Under state law, Ginder argued, cities can use their charter to organize themselves internally, but the Constitution reserves creating new units of government for the Legislature. “You charter yourself,” he said. “You do not create other units of government.”

But Morrison said that Minneapolis historically has had two bodies, the City Council and Park Board, that govern separate areas under one city charter. He said the aim of amendment supporters is to stake out more independence under that charter, rather than create a separate and independent new unit.

Ginder responded that the text of the proposed amendment would create an independent unit of government. But park supporters said the amendment wouldn’t accomplish that unless the Legislature eventually granted those powers, as the amendment states.

Neville quizzed both sides about those distinctions and also about the burden of proof the city needs to meet in arguing that the proposal is unconstitutional and should be denied a spot on the ballot.

The council voted 11-2 a week ago to exercise what Ginder advised was its discretionary power to reject the proposal. It previously rejected a medical marijuana charter petition in 2004 because the proposal violated state and federal laws, even though it wouldn’t have taken effect unless those laws were loosened.


The following article by Tim Harlow was published in the Star Tribune on September 5, 2009:


Ted J. Wirth, namesake and grandson of legendary Minneapolis Parks Superintendent Theodore Wirth, died Friday after a long illness and complications of Parkinson’s disease in Minneapolis, where he had been living for the past five years.

Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, Ted J. Wirth made a name for himself as a landscape architect who during his long career designed more than 350 park and recreation areas throughout the United States and as far away as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. His work on municipal, state and national parks included turning a decaying industrial site on the Mississippi River in north Minneapolis into Boom Island Park, and conducting the conceptual studies for the Cedar Lake Trails that generated more than 60 miles of bicycle trails throughout Minneapolis.

He won the bid to develop the first national park in Saudi Arabia. His team of architects and landscape artists designed and built the 1.5 million-acre Asir National Park overlooking the Red Sea. In following the family credo, “Parks are for People,” Asir included an amphitheater, tennis courts, fountains, wading pools, open space and shaded areas, soccer field and picnic grounds.

Wirth also developed more than 80 parks in Kuwait City and used green space to connect them in an “effort to replicate what his grandfather had done in Minneapolis,” said Joan Berthiaume, co-founder of the Minneapolis Parks Legacy Society and a family friend.

“He was quite passionate about parks,” said Todd Clafin, who was project manager for Wirth’s sprawling Kuwait Urban Garden project. “Ted truly believed that parks provide an important resource to people who live in a community and that parks add to the quality of life and essential for survival.”

Ted Wirth was born in New Orleans, but as a child and teen spent summers in Minneapolis with his grandfather, who lived in the historic home built for the elder Wirth when he become parks superintendent in the early 1900s. After high school, Ted Wirth enrolled at the University of St. Thomas and later graduated with a degree in landscape architecture from Iowa State University in Ames. One of his first jobs was designing the Kentucky Dam State Park.

During his career with the National Park Service in the 1950s and 1960s, he worked in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. In the 1960s, he opened his own firm, Wirth Design Associates based in Billings, Mont., and designed recreation areas in nearly every state. Known for his park planning, Ted Wirth was an elected fellow and a past president of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Wirth returned to his Minneapolis roots when he designed Boom Island Park in 1987. In recent years he had been living in Minneapolis and devoted his efforts to getting people to know about and understand the 126-year history of the Minneapolis Parks System, said parks commissioner Scott Vreeland.

Those efforts included republishing his grandfather’s book, “Minneapolis Park System, 1883-1944,” designing the Theodore Wirth Interpretive Statue Garden in Wirth Park and forming the Minneapolis Parks Legacy Society, whose mission is “to preserve, protect and interpret the rich history of the Minneapolis Parks System.”

Ted Wirth is survived by two children, Cherie and T. Jay, and six grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at noon Sept. 14 at the Lakewood Cemetery Chapel, 3600 Hennepin Av. S., Minneapolis. A reception will follow at the Theodore Wirth Home and Administration Building, 3954 Bryant Av. S., Minneapolis.

Committee Members Show Little Interest in New Concessions Building at Lake Harriet

The following article by Cristof Traudes was published in the September 4, 2009, on-line issue of the Southwest Journal:


After four meetings mostly spent deciding how to survey others, members of a citizens’ advisory committee investigating the future of concessions at Lake Harriet have finally weighed in with some opinions of their own. One thing appears clear: Most committee members currently have little interest in adding a new concessions building.

Park Board staff earlier this year proposed putting a seafood restaurant inside the Lake Harriet refectory while moving popcorn and hot dog sales to a building that would be constructed nearby. General Manager Don Siggelkow said there would be no way that the refectory, in its current condition, could house both a seafood restaurant and popcorn and hot dog concessions. The hexagon shape of the building, for example, makes it a challenge to work in.

But several committee members said there just doesn’t appear to be much support for a new building.

Groups such as the Lake Harriet Yacht Club sent letters to the committee in which they said they were concerned about access to the lake, more congestion and taking away open space. At a July 30 community meeting hosted by nearby neighborhoods, the majority of about 100 attendees said they didn’t like the idea of a new building because of how it could interact with the current picnic- and family-friendly feel of Lake Harriet.

“We could cause a very large shift in what is now a beautiful park,” committee member Joel Chechik said.

Others disliked the Park Board’s earlier proposed location for the new building, atop a flowerbed behind the band shell.

“Is there a world where anybody here wants to put a building on a tulip bed?” committee member Bruce Manning said, while others shook their heads.

Removing the flowerbed, committee member John Finlayson said, “just doesn’t do it for me.”

At the same time, committee members were intrigued by results from a survey of 1,103 random users of Lake Harriet that showed some interest in an expanded menu at the refectory. Almost 40 percent of those surveyed said they would come to the lake more often if the menu were expanded, and about 51 percent said they would spend more money.

Since Park Board staff’s proposal for menu changes originated from an interest in more revenue for the cash-strapped parks — and because Tin Fish and Sea Salt Seafood Eatery at Lake Calhoun and Minnehaha Falls, respectively, have been successful moneymakers — committee members said they were inclined to support an expanded menu. But they added that the Park Board should try to do it within the existing refectory, whether that means renovating or partially expanding the building or hiring a consultant to find more efficient use for the current space.

The committee asked Siggelkow to have Park Board staff do more research on what’s possible at the current building. Results from that work should weigh in on whatever recommendations the committee will make to the Park Board — recommendations that are expected to be finalized at the committee’s next meeting. A date for that meeting has not yet been finalized, but Chairman Matt Perry said it would likely be on either Sept. 24 or Sept. 28.

In other committee news, the group welcomed a new member: Patty Selly of East Harriet. Selly replaced Sarah Harris, who left the committee in July because of other obligations.



The following article by Chris Steller appeared in the September 1, 2009, issue of the Minnesota Independent:


A battle royale within Minneapolis government escalated Friday when the park board’s lawyer, acting on behalf of a citizens’ group, filed a lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis.

The suit asks a judge to force the city council to allow a referendum on the November ballot that, if passed, would give the park board new tax-levying autonomy.

Attorney Brian Rice took his case to Hennepin County District Court (pdf) only hours after the city council voted 11–2 not to put the proposed city charter amendment before voters at the upcoming city election.

That vote was despite sufficient petition signatures submitted by the Citizens for Independent Parks Committee — subject to the council’s review of the proposed ballot language.

Most city council members voted in accord with a city attorney opinion (pdf) that said the petition language overreaches, in essence birthing a new local body of government as only the state Legislature can do.

Only Council Members Sandy Colvin-Roy and Cam Gordon dissented. Gordon said the threat of constitutional challenge shouldn’t be enough to knock a question off the ballot.

Council President Barbara Johnson traced the disharmony within city government to a failed effort begun early this year to put a different referendum question on the fall general election ballot: Should the park board lose its quasi-independence and be absorbed into city government as a department under the city council and mayor?

That effort, by council members Paul Ostrow, Ralph Remington and Don Samuels wasn’t the origin of all tensions between the council and the park board. But it set off a series of moves in a kind of civic chess match over who sets taxes in the city. A charter amendment to abolish the Board of Estimate and Taxation, an intermediary in taxation skirmishes between the city council and park board, will appear on the ballot in November.

“I really regret that this Pandora’s box was opened. The threat to the independence of the park board has produced a seesaw [of reaction],” Council President Johnson said at the meeting Friday.

Johnson’s colleagues gave voice to some of the malevolence released from the Pandora’s box.

“This debate may be injuring our ability to work together,” said Council Member Robert Lillegren of the council-park board tiff. He decried a lack of “transparency and accountability” on data about where the park board spends money.

“I’ve been requesting this for years,” Lillegren said. “Sometime I feel like I’m trying to get Col. Sanders’ secret formula or the recipe for Coca Cola. … It’s simple data.”

Council Member Lisa Goodman said a petition-signature gatherer had told her that “the [Columbia] golf course would be made into condos by the City of Minneapolis” without the park referendum. Rhetoric suggesting council members don’t understand parks “is very insulting,” Goodman said.

Council Member Ralph Remington used the occasion to decry, in general, “lowest common denominator politics” built on deceptive slogans such as “save our parks” or even “save the children.” Ballot referendum issues are “insider baseball,” Remington said, so for most voters, “They hear the slogan and they sign their name.”

In an interview with the Minnesota Independent after the vote, Citizens for Independent Parks campaign manager Justin Fay called such remarks an “unfortunate” use of council members’ “bully pulpit.”

He saw no role for “personal grudges with the park board or individual members of the park board” in the council’s legal evaluation of the proposed amendment.

Rice, also interviewed after the vote, said a negative court ruling or failure of the effort at the polls might lead to seeking new legislation at the state Capitol. Rice is providing free legal services to the referendum campaign, as is University of Minnesota School of Law Professor Fred Morrison. Rice also serves as attorney and lobbyist for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

The first hearing in the case is Thursday at 1 p.m., a rushed date since ballot questions must be set by Sept. 11.

Park Board Independence Initiative Headed to Court

The following article by Cristof Traudes was posted on the on-line issue of the Southwest Journal on August 28, 2009:


The initiative to make the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board a financially independent body is headed to court.

A citizens’ group representing a push to reshape the Park Board as a fully separate local governmental unit filed a lawsuit Aug. 28 against the city of Minneapolis, after the City Council voted 11-2 not to place a referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot. The group recently completed a petition drive — gathering 17,046 signatures, of which at least 10,449 were certified — and the issue appeared headed to voters this fall.

But deputy city attorney Peter Ginder told the council that the group’s question could be unconstitutional. It’s not legal, he said, for one local government to create another.

In a 10-page memorandum, Ginder wrote that the petition could be rejected because the issue is preempted by state law and conflicts with state public policy. Furthermore, if the referendum were approved in November, the Park Board would still have to wait until the next legislative session before finding out exactly how their new body of government would operate.

“As the board sits today, they don’t know what they’re creating,” Ginder said.

Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) said several times before the council’s vote that its decision wasn’t going to be about the content of the petition’s question.

“The question before us is a matter of law,” Hodges said during an emotionally charged meeting. “It’s about law. … We’ve been told in no uncertain terms by our attorney that this is unlawful.”

The petitioners, represented by a citizen group calling itself Citizens for Independent Parks, quickly shot back, promptly filing a lawsuit against the city. They are hoping a Hennepin County District Court will hear their case and rule quickly so the issue can still get before voters this fall. The deadline to get a question on the ballot is
Sept. 11.

Former City Council Member Pat Scott, one of the faces of the petition effort, said the council’s decision was disappointing but not surprising.

“It’s unfortunate Pandora’s box was opened,” she said. “But it was opened by them.”

Council members Cam Gordon (2nd Ward) and Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward) dissented from the council’s vote.