The following article by Steve Brandt was published in the February 4, 2010 issue of the Star Tribune:
Minneapolis park commissioners agreed Wednesday to search for a new superintendent to run the city’s renowned park system.
The Park and Recreation Board voted to find a replacement for Superintendent John Gurban, whose contract expires June 30. Gurban didn’t respond to a request for comment.
His pending ouster reflects last year’s election, which seated a board majority that favored new leadership. The board said it would be open both to inside candidates and those from other systems.
The vote was 6-3 with John Erwin, Brad Bourn, Anita Tabb, Scott Vreeland, Liz Wielinski and Annie Young supporting a search, and Bob Fine, Jon Olson and Carol Kummer opposing it.
Last year’s board considered extending Gurban’s contract, but it deferred that decision to the board seated last month, which has four newcomers among its nine commissioners. But a committee recommendation to launch a search prompted heated and lengthy debate.
“I think we’re making a terrible mistake tonight,” said Olson, a holdover commissioner. He accused the majority of acting hastily. But Wielinski, who was elected from northeast Minneapolis, said many voters told her they wanted a leadership change. Fine warned that a search would be costly.
Park commissioners last evaluated Gurban in late 2008. They gave him high marks for leadership, especially with park staff, and judged him highly competent. But they also repeated previous criticisms that he had difficulty communicating with the board and public. He was named superintendent in late 2004 on a 5-4 vote by a bitterly split board.
The park system’s accomplishments under Gurban included adopting the system’s first comprehensive plan in decades, improving winter recreation options at Wirth Park, buying the financially failing Edison hockey arena, launching an annual parkways bike tour, planning completion of the parkway system on the city’s East Side and connecting the city to the Luce Line trail.