Star Tribune Editorial: Good Start For New Board

The following editorial appeared in the February 7, 2010 edition of the Star Tribune:

GOOD START FOR NEW BOARD

Minneapolis Park Board signals a new era with Gurban vote.

Disingenuous is perhaps the most charitable term to describe several
longtime Minneapolis Park Board commissioners’ objections to a search for
a new superintendent.

On Wednesday, the Park and Recreation Board voted 6-3 against extending
the contract of current superintendent Jon Gurban. A block of four new
commissioners who want new leadership drove the vote. Community relations,
never a strong suit for Gurban, will be a priority in years to come when
private funding must replace ever-shrinking taxpayer funds. It’s time for
a leader with innovative ideas.

Two holdover commissioners who opposed the decision deserve to be called
out for their outrageous comments. Bob Fine warned that a search would be
costly. Jon Olson accused the board of acting hastily. Carol Kummer also
voted no.

If anything set the Park Board’s high-water mark for hastiness, it was
board’s controversial 2003 vote to hire Gurban. He wasn’t even a finalist
for the job and hadn’t been interviewed. Yet he was whisked before the
board and essentially hired on the spot for a job that now pays about
$140,000 a year. Olson, Fine and Kummer served on the board at the time
and voted to hire Gurban.

Another milestone in hastiness was set in November — 24 hours after city
voters elected four new board members — when some on the old board tried
to extend Gurban’s contract through June 2011. It was a blatant attempt to
usurp the new board’s authority. But at that point, hastiness was a plus
from Olson and Fine’s perspective. They urged the old commissioners to act
quickly to avoid a lapse in leadership, even though Gurban’s contract
didn’t end for eight months.

Fine’s concerns about money are interesting, too. If Gurban’s contract had
been extended, it would have cost the new board about $100,000 for a
buyout — if it didn’t want to be saddled for over a third of its
four-year tenure with a superintendent not of its choosing.

The November vote dramatically changed the board. The new commissioners —
Liz Wielinski, Brad Bourn, John Erwin and Anita Tabb — are thoughtful and
in touch with voters; their vote to look for new leadership reflected
this. They were joined by respected veteran commissioners Scott Vreeland
and Annie Young. Park Board members deriding this decision as premature
should consider their own track records.