The following article by Amy Finch was published on April 18, 2001 on the Southwest Minneapolis Patch website:
MEET PARK BOARD SUPERINTENDENT JAYNE MILLER
Photo Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
It doesn’t take long to realize that Jayne Miller loves her work. To hear her talk about Minneapolis Parks and Recreation, you quickly realize how lucky we are to have our extensive park system, and how unique it is in the country.
“The credit goes to the visionaries back in the early to mid-1800s: Horace Cleveland, Loring, Falwell. They had the vision to create this park system and bring it to fruition,” Miller said. “I’ve been in the parks profession for 30 years, and I’ve been all over the country. I’ve never seen a park system like this before. This city is built around its park system, and the community really cares passionately about it.”
Growing up in upstate New York, Miller spent her childhood downhill skiing at a nearby resort, skating in the front yard ice rink her father constructed each year, and generally just being outside.
“Ours was the backyard everyone came to play in,” Miller said. “When summer came we spent our days camping, swimming, boating and skiing on Lake George. So I really came to realize that’s what I loved, and I grew up in a wonderful part of the country, so it made sense that I would go into parks and recreation,” Miller said.
Before moving to Minneapolis last fall, Miller was the director and chief executive officer for the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority, Michigan. Prior to that she spent fifteen years working for the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan in parks and recreation and as a deputy city administrator. Miller said what attracted her to Minneapolis was its similarities to Ann Arbor both in terms of politics and public commitment to parks.
So what exactly does the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Superintendent do?
“Well, I meet with a lot of staff. There are five assistant superintendents who handle the day to day operations, so I provide them with direction and guidance on projects and community engagement,” Miller said. “I also make sure that the entire organization, which has 485 full time employees, is moving in the same direction. Where do we want to go and how do we we want to approach it?”
Miller also spends time meeting with the city council, park and county commissioners, state legislators and neighborhood groups. She said she wants people to know what the park board is doing and what plans are taking shape for the future. She also wants residents to get to know her. Sixth district park commissioner Brad Bourn said Miller’s focus on the community has been a plus.
“Jayne is an excellent addition to the park board and I’m grateful we found her. She’s doing a wonderful job of responding to the needs of the community and commissioners. She’s very customer-focused and she’s helping us become a better organization every day,” Bourn said.
Southwest neighborhood activist Betty Tisel agreed. She said she’s had a chance to get to know Miller at recent community meetings.
“I was delighted when she moved in to the Wirth House. I’m happy that she welcomed people to the house when Minnesota Senate District 60 had its town hall meeting there. Having someone from ‘outside’ of the Twin Cities lead the park system is a breath of fresh air. I think the timing is good and I feel very optimistic about Jayne’s leadership,” Tisel said.
Miller’s decision to live in the Theodore Wirth House at Lyndale Farmstead Park was her own. She said the historic home was designed to house the superintendent, so it only made sense for her to live there. She said it’s been great so far, and she has enjoyed having a park right outside her door, right in the middle of a neighborhood.
“I had heard there was a superintendent’s house but I really didn’t know anything about it. I found out that all but three park superintendents had lived in the house, so I approached the board,” Miller said. “The park commissioners really supported the idea, so I thought I’d try it on a six month trial basis. The contract goes through the end of June, but I’ve requested to extend that. It’s a wonderful opportunity,” Miller said.
With spring here, many park board projects are picking up speed, including the Riverfront Design Competition, which just awarded a winner with a contract to begin a public engagement process for new riverfront improvements from the Stone Arch Bridge northward by five miles. Miller said by early September the board will be ready to approve recommendations for the project so implementation can begin. Also, a new assistant superintendent of planning services, Bruce Chamberlain, from Linden Hills was just hired. Miller also just presented the park board with a revised community engagement ordinance, which will give the community better access to information on park board projects and initiatives.
Oh, and there’s good news for kids: Miller has been working with staff on plans to expand hours of operation at neighborhood park buildings and rec centers. She’s implementing the Community Services Area Model, in which staff at groupings of neighborhood parks work with the community to better their programming and building access. As part of the plan, at least one park building in each community services area will be open seven days a week, including summers and holidays.