Monthly Archives:

Heads Up For December 2, 2009 Park Board Meeting

The regular MPRB meeting will be held at 5:00 pm on Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at Park Board Headquarters, 2117 W. River Road. For the meeting agenda and other information, go to the Park Board’s website:

http://www.minneapolisparks.org/default.asp?PageID=37&calid=590

During the Planning Committee there will be a staff study report comparing solar, wind and hydroelectric power as an alternative energy source. Paul Rosen is assisting in the analysis that will compare the cost of solar, wind and hydroelectric power as alternative enery sources to “get off the grid.”

Due to the short work week, this report was not sent out in advance of the December 2nd Planning Committee meeting. This means that members of the Planning Committee, as well as the public, will not have an opportunity to review the report in advance of the meeting.

Because there is no urgency regarding this issue, the Planning Committee should postpone hearing the alternative energy study report until the next Park Board meeting so that the Commissioners and the public have an opportunity to review the report BEFORE the meeting.

In fact, if staff could not complete the report in a timely manner, then the topic should not have been placed on the agenda in the first place. To proceed with a topic without providing adequate time for thoughtful review is unacceptable.

* * * * * * * * * *

MPRB meetings are broadcast live from 5 to 9 p.m. on the City of Minneapolis Government Meeting Channel 79 on Comcast cable and online at http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/webcasts

The regular meetings are rebroadcast on Channel 79 at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 5 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month. Webcasts for the recent two months are posted two to five business days after the meeting and are available for viewing at Webcast Archives.

Final Lake Harriet C A C Meeting

What presumably will be the final meeting of the committee looking into the future of concessions at Lake Harriet has been scheduled for Monday, Nov. 30.

The citizens’ advisory committee, formed in the spring, has met six times before. Members currently are in the process of writing a report that it will take to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, tentatively on Dec. 16.

The committee is expected to recommend that the Park Board consider expanding food options at the lake. However, they will not recommend the addition of a new building. Instead, they’ll likely suggest reworking the interior of the existing Lake Harriet refectory.

The committee’s meeting is open to the public. It will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Linden Hills Recreation Center, 3100 W. 43rd St.

More information at lakeharrietcac.ning.com

Final Lake Harriet C A C Meeting Set For Monday, Nov. 30

The following article by Cristof Traudes was published in the November 23, 2009 issue of the Southwest Journal:

FINAL MEETING FOR COMMITTEE INVESTIGATING HARRIET CONCESSIONS SET FOR NOV. 30

What presumably will be the final meeting of the committee looking into the future of concessions at Lake Harriet has been scheduled for Nov. 30.

The citizens’ advisory committee, formed in the spring, has met six times before. Members currently are in the process of writing a report that it will take to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, tentatively on Dec. 16.

The committee is expected to recommend that the Park Board consider expanding food options at the lake. However, they will not recommend the addition of a new building. Instead, they’ll likely suggest reworking the interior of the existing Lake Harriet refectory.

The committee’s meeting is open to the public. It will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Linden Hills Recreation Center, 3100 W. 43rd St.

More information at lakeharrietcac.ning.com

2009 ELECTION SUMMARY

2009 ELECTION SUMMARY

Two and one-half weeks after the 2009 Park Board election, the final results have finally all been tabulated. They are:
DISTRICT 1 – LIZ WIELINSKI (NE MPLS)

DISTRICT 2 – JON OLSON (N MPLS)

DISTRICT 3- SCOTT VREELAND (SOUTH, CEDAR RIVRSIDE, SEWARD, PHILLIPS, ETC)

DISTRICT 4 – ANITA TABB (DOWNTOWN, BRYN MAWR, LAKE OF THE ISLES, CEDAR, ETC)

DISTRICT 5 – CAROL KUMMER (S MPLS, EAST OF 35W TO THE RIVER)

DISTRICT 6 – BRAD BOURN (SW MPLS)

AT LARGE – JOHN ERWIN, ANNIE YOUNG and BOB FINE

Liz is replacing Walt Dziedzic who is retiring. Anita is replacing Tracy Nordstrom who opted not to run again. Brad is replacing Bob Fine. John Erwin and Bob Fine won at-large seats and are replacing Tom Nordyke and Mary Merrill Anderson.

WAITING IS OVER FOR NEWLY ELECTED PARK BOARD

The following article by Steve Brandt was published in the November 21, 2009, issue of the Star Tribune:

WAITING IS OVER FOR NEWLY ELECTED PARK BOARD
What was probably the most drawn-out election count in Minneapolis election history finally rounded out the makeup of next year’s Park Board on Friday.

Bob Fine, Annie Young and John Erwin won the three at-large seats. Only Fine hit the election threshold of 25 percent of votes under the city’s ranked-choice voting system. Young hit nearly 23 percent and Erwin 21 percent before alternate voter choices from dropped candidates were exhausted.

The race was one of the most competitive in the city because it featured four incumbents and Erwin, a former commissioner.

Among those losing were Mary Merrill Anderson, who served a term on the board after stepping down as superintendent, and Tom Nordyke, the current board chair.

Nordyke said the makeup of the incoming board means it will likely seek a new superintendent to replace Jon Gurban, whose term expires June 30.

One factor affecting the race was the failure of the state DFL organization to get its sample ballot of endorsees, which is influential in Minneapolis, to voters before the election. A mailing snafu caused that, which probably cost party endorsees Erwin, Merrill Anderson and Nordyke votes.

“I think it probably made a pretty big difference,” Nordyke said.

Fine’s status at the head of the pack continues a remarkable string of victories for the lawyer and longtime coach despite not winning the DFL endorsement he has sought several times. He ran citywide after failing to win endorsement against Brad Bourn, who went on to win Fine’s current southwest Minneapolis district seat.

Neighborhood employee Young, who had the backing of the Green Party, will start her sixth term. Erwin, a horticulture professor, will be sworn in for his second term after sitting out a term for family reasons.

They’ll join incumbents Scott Vreeland, Jon Olson and Carol Kummer and newcomers Liz Wielinski, Anita Tabb and Bourn.

The 17-day wait for election results caused anxiety.
“It’s hard,” said Merrill Anderson. “Everyone asks me every day, and you don’t have any answer. It really puts you in limbo. How do you plan for the future — the future being whether you’re on the board?”

Erwin said, “I think it’s stressful for everyone. You build up to election night and you don’t know the answer for weeks. There’s no easy way to second-guess the outcome until it happens.”

Fine said he was confident but still had anxiety. “I can tell you that my daughter, who lives in Chicago, has been calling all the time, and she wants to know right away, so she’s nervous,” he said.

Another Power Grab?

HEADS UP FOR NOVEMBER 18, 2009, PARK BOARD MEETING

The regular MPRB meeting will be held at 5:00 pm on Wednesday, November 18, 2009, at Park Board Headquarters, 2117 W. River Road. For the meeting agenda and other information, go to the Park Board’s website http://www.minneapolisparks.org

MPRB meetings are broadcast live from 5-9 p.m. on the City of Minneapolis Government Meeting Channel 79 on Comcast cable and online at http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/webcasts.

The regular meetings are rebroadcast on Channel 79 at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 5 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays. Webcasts for the recent two months are posted two to five business days after the meeting and are available for viewing at Webcast Archives.

There are two items of particular interest on the agenda for this meeting:

First, there will be an opportunity for public input on the 2010 Budget.

And then Crown Hydro is back again. This time it’s being pitched as a public buyout. Staff is going to be giving a report on the feasibility of public ownership of a hydro electric power plant. They will be discussing the results of a survey that staff developed and sent to a limited number of individuals.

THE RETURN OF CROWN HYDRO AT THIS TIME SHOULD BE OF CONCERN TO EVERY TAXPAYING CITIZEN OF MINNEAPOLIS.

By sending out a survey seeking a response to public ownership of a hydro electric power plant, there is a presumption that if public ownership is acceptable, then the project is acceptable.

But there are many questions to be answered BEFORE this proposed project is advanced in any way.

The first question to be asked is not just about the feasibility of public ownership of a hydro electric power plant, but should the park Board even be in this utility business, which is a highly regulated and complex business? Does Park Board staff have the expertise to manage and/or oversee this sort of business venture?

What guarantees are there that this project is an appropriate project for the Park Board to commit to? What guarantees are there that this project can be profitable?

What happens when there is a prolonged drought? St. Anthony Falls belong to all of us and are the centerpiece of the historic St. Anthony Falls District. Will the falls be allowed to run dry so that the aesthetic value is sacrificed for the economic value?

What are the risks? Could St. Anthony Falls be at risk?

What is the Park Board’s track record with previous enterprise projects? It is known by those who pay attention to Park Board issues that two previous enterprise projects resulted in costly litigation. One of those projects, the Fuji-ya/Columbia/Wave, has just been resolved.

It appears that this hydro electric power plant project is back on the agenda at this time so that it can be approved by the current board at one of the current board’s last three meetings. Two of the project’s strongest supporters are Commissioners Bob Fine and Carol Kummer, who may or may not be back on the new board when the new board convenes in January.

Like with the superintendent’s contract, this is another example of an attempt by certain commissioners on this lame duck board to usurp the power of the new board.

Because of the complexity of the larger issue about whether or not the Park Board is even qualified to be in the utility business, much more information is needed before making any decisions about entering into ANY agreement with Crown Hydro about assuming ownership of their hydro electric power plant project. There is no urgency to this particular project. ANY DECISION OR ACTION RELATING TO THIS ISSUE NEEDS TO BE DEFERRED TO THE NEW BOARD.

Arlene Fried
Co-founder of Park Watch

FATE OF SUPERINTENDENT'S CONTRACT TO BE LEFT TO NEW BOARD

The following two articles by Cristof Traudes were published in the November 16, 2009, issue of the Southwest Journal:

FATE OF SUPERINTENDENT’S CONTRACT TO BE LEFT TO NEW BOARD

The current Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will not decide whether to extend Superintendent Jon Gurban’s contract.

On Nov. 4, the day the board was set to decide to keep Gurban through June 2011 — he currently is employed through June 2010 — commissioners voted to instead pull the issue from their agenda. Commissioner Jon Olson introduced the postponement idea because, he said, the superintendent’s fate really should be decided by the new board.

Two weeks earlier, it was a different story. The board then said they didn’t feel confident in letting fresh commissioners take a stab at the superintendent issue. Several reasons were offered, including that the search for a new superintendent would take at least a year — beyond when Gurban’s contract would be up. Some commissioners also had expressed concern that it could be too big an issue for a board with at least three new members to immediately delve into.

But Olson said he feels the newcomers will be enthusiastic and well-educated when the issue returns to the board, probably in January. They’ll have about two months to prepare, during which time they should be able to get to know Gurban, he said.

The decision to postpone, Olson said, shouldn’t be seen as a statement on job performance. He called Gurban a great superintendent who has tackled big issues head-on. Rather, the postponement was a reaction to the board being two months away from big changes when the contract process really should have been started earlier, Olson said.

“We’re just in a situation now where I think it’s good for the new board to decide on this issue,” he said.

Gurban’s contract was a frequent Park Board campaign topic. Some candidates, including possible new commissioners Brad Bourn and John Erwin, said they would support opening up a nationwide search for superintendent. While Gurban has been praised for steering creation of the Comprehensive Plan and improving diversity in the parks system, he also has been faulted for his relationship with the public.

Anita Tabb, the newly elected District 4 commissioner, said she appreciated having the contract decision delayed. She said the current board’s action is what’s best for the democratic process.

“We really don’t know what the makeup of the new board will be,” Tabb said. “To have that kind of an important decision made for you really limits what you can do.”

———

What will the new Park Board look like?

Hand counting has only just begun to determine official outcomes of the Nov. 3 election, but it’s already obvious the next Park Board will have a different look from today’s, with at least three new faces coming on board. Here’s what we know:

District 1: The Park Board’s Northeast seat is expected to be won by Liz Wielinski. A co-founder of Park Board watchdog Park Watch, Wielinski has been attending board meetings for years. She’ll replace retiring Commissioner Walt Dziedzic, who has been on the board since 1998.

District 2: Barring a large number of ballot errors not caught by machines, North Minneapolis’ seat will be retained by Commissioner Jon Olson after he received 56.2 percent of first-round votes. The past president of the board has served since 2001.

District 3: No change is expected in the representation of the top half of South Minneapolis, as incumbent Commissioner Scott Vreeland received 72 percent of votes. It will be Vreeland’s second term on the board.

District 4: After one term, Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom is stepping down. Her seat will be filled by newcomer Anita Tabb, who has kept a close eye on Park Board issues for about two years and was the only uncontested candidate in the city.

District 5: This is the toughest district race to call. Neither of the top vote-getters, incumbent Commissioner Carol Kummer and opponent Jason Stone, reached the 50 percent threshold needed to win outright. Kummer has a 2 percent edge in first-round ballots and appears to have received more second-choice votes, too. However, because of the way runoff counting will work, it’s unknown exactly which second-choice votes will end up counting.

District 6: Incumbent Bob Fine decided to leave the district behind and run citywide, meaning a newcomer will represent far Southwest Minneapolis. Mathematically, Brad Bourn, a nonprofit youth coordinator, seems poised to win, although he currently stands about 2 percent below the threshold needed to claim victory.

At-large: These seats are a toss-up. Bob Fine seems closest to victory, as he currently stands about 3 percent below the necessary 25 percent threshold. But he’s closely followed by incumbent Commissioner Annie Young and former Commissioner John Erwin, while incumbents Mary Merrill Anderson and Tom Nordyke also could still be in the running — although Nordyke, the current board president, said he doesn’t expect to be back next year.

PROPOSED 2010 PARKS BUDGET WOULD BE SMALLER, KEEP 36 VACANCIES

The following article by Cristof Traudes was published in the Southwest Journal:

PROPOSED 2010 PARKS BUDGET WOULD BE SMALLER, KEEP 36 VACANCIES

Because of the economy and cuts to local-government aid, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s 2010 budget looks like it will shrink from 2009.

In a proposal by Superintendent Jon Gurban, unveiled Oct. 21, about 36 already empty positions would continue to remain vacant. That amounts to a 7 percent drop in Park Board personnel from the 2009 budget. But it also avoids layoffs, Gurban said, unless a vacancy begins to create serious problems. If one department needs to hire more personnel, other departments might have to absorb a hit — but that would only happen “if things change dramatically,” he said.

The board is expecting an additional $1.8 million generated from property taxes. That’s offset, however, by a $2.4 million cut to local-government aid. With a 16.5 percent increase in health-care costs also expected, the board’s budget would actually end up about half a percent smaller than in 2009.

Gurban also laid out several strategies for 2010, including no fee increases, generating more revenue from the annual Minneapolis Bike Tour and improving the parks’ parking systems — a change that’s estimated to bring in $75,000 in new revenue. Gurban also suggested continuing to seek enactment of the long-in-development park dedication fee, which would charge developers to create or manage green space.

The board will take public input on the budget during a 5 p.m. meeting Nov. 18 at its headquarters, 2117 W. River Road. Adoption of the budget is expected on Dec. 7.

2009 PARK BOARD ELECTION

2009 PARK BOARD ELECTION

Well, the 2009 election has come and gone, but all of the results will not be known until some undetermined future date because of Instant Run-off Voting or Ranked Choice Voting. Whatever you call it, I find it a very frustrating system.

What we do know is that Liz Wielinski, Co-founder of Park Watch, won in Park District 1 and that Incumbent Jon Olson won in Park District 2. Incumbent Scott Vreeland won in Park District 3. Anita Tabb, who is associated with Park Watch and ran unopposed, won in Park District 4. But as for the other races, no one is sure yet.

WISER HEADS PREVAIL AT PARK BOARD

The following editorial commenting on Wednesday’s Park Board meeting was published in the Star Tribune on November 6, 2009:

WISER HEADS PREVAIL AT PARK BOARD

Vigilance needed to ensure contract extension vote stays tabled.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board stepped up and did the right thing this week by postponing a vote to extend Park Superintendent Jon Gurban’s contract another year. That decision belongs to the newly elected board, which will be seated in January. The issue must stay tabled until then.

Current commissioners will have to keep vigilant over the next two months lest colleagues more sympathetic to Gurban try again to usurp the new board’s authority and push the contract extension through before the end of the year. That may be a challenge. While vote tallies in Park Board races are still being sorted out, it appears that the new board would be far less likely to approve an extension than current commissioners. The superintendent has several ardent and wily supporters on the current board. They’ll be tempted to maneuver this through before January and have plenty of time to try.

The board’s lack of transparency in handling the extension vote underscores concerns about back-room deals over the next two months. Commissioners abruptly pulled the scheduled vote from Wednesday’s meeting agenda, apparently after a flurry of last-minute behind-the-scenes talks. Not one word of explanation was given to the public gathered for the 5 p.m. meeting. After the quick adjournment, Board President Tom Nordyke said little about the matter, other than that commissioners didn’t want a lot of “fireworks” around the issue. A previous Star Tribune editorial was critical of the contract extension.

Nordyke and Commissioner Jon Olson did praiseworthy work in heading off this vote. The board appeared poised to extend the contract; Gurban earns $139,817 annually, plus a $500 monthly car allowance. At a recent meeting, six commissioners, including Olson, indicated their support for doing so. But on Wednesday, according to a story by Star Tribune reporter Steve Brandt, it was Olson who wanted to remove the matter from the board’s agenda, saying the matter should wait until the new board takes office on Jan. 6. More transparent decision-making would inspire confidence that this issue really is shelved until the new year, as it should be.

Gurban deserves prompt action on this issue by the new board. His contract is up at the end of June. If he will not be staying on, courtesy demands letting him know as soon as possible so that he can plan accordingly. Other issues also deserve high-priority placement on the new board’s agenda.

Chief among them is a recommendation made by Nordyke and City Council President Barb Johnson last summer. As the battle escalated over Park Board independence, they, along with City Council members Lisa Goodman and Scott Benson, proposed a commission to “forge solutions that could include streamlining our operations and bringing greater efficiencies to both the Park Board and City enterprises.” This compromise helped convince the Minneapolis Charter Commission to back off from a proposal to fold the Park Board into city operations.

Far too little work has been done to identify these cost savings, and with Nordyke unlikely to return to the board, there’s a real danger that this work will fall further behind. The new board absolutely cannot let this happen. Minneapolis residents face the highest property tax burden among 117 metro-area communities, according to a new Citizens League ranking. The new board can no longer view itself solely as a guardian of the parks; it must also protect taxpayers. Working with the City Council to find efficiencies and cost savings would be a good start.

TO LEARN MORE

Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson and Park Board President Tom Nordyke last summer proposed a commission to bring efficiencies to Park Board and City Council enterprises. They outlined their proposal in a letter to the Minneapolis Charter Commission. To read it, go to http://tinyurl.com/yly8786