PARK WATCH IS STILL WATCHING…
On November 24 and 25, 2011 there was an exchange of comments on the Issues List: http://forums.e-democracy.org/groups/mpls/messages/topic/333bHgsXCASUobyiZ9AlNJ by Connie Sullivan and Shawne FitzGerald (5th and 7th posts on this topic, titled “MPRB: Consultants Gone Wild”) The following post highlights Connie’s comment; it is followed by Shawne’s detailed response.
CONNIE: “We must question, especially now that Park Watch is no longer, and we can express thanks to Commissioner Wielinski (formerly of Park Watch)for answering our questions.”
SHAWNE: “Mpls ParkWatch is still watching the Park Board. See http://www.mplsparkwatch.org/. I’ll start posting the ParkWatch HeadsUp! for MPRB meetings and other key announcements to this list. One role of Park Watch has always been sharing information with community members struggling to react to or influence Park Board decisions. PW knows how the system works and we either have data, or know where to find it, or know how to request it. By sharing information, we empower community members who know an issue better than we do to advocate for themselves.
This year, we provided research and information to residents concerned about the proposed Sculpture Garden-Loring conservancy, the North Wirth Park plan, the Sixth District Dog Park, and less controversial issues. PW remains committed to helping residents locate the information they need to understand and advocate for Park Board decisions.
Feel free to contact me off-list or e-mail via the PW website if you have a park concern and want more information about how to resolve the concern.
Thanks to many list members who are also watching the Park Board. The Park Board Commissioners are very familiar with the opinions of PW folks. When the issues are raised by others on this list, I think the Commissioners are more likely to pay attention and to listen. So I encourage list members to keep raising park issues. I am immensely grateful to the current crop of Commissioners who have made the MPRB incredibly more transparent and who are committed to transparency.
When ParkWatch started, the Park Board was not promptly adopting meeting minutes. Today, minutes are posted online and are text searchable with Google site search. When ParkWatch started, MPRB agendas were available on the Monday before the Wednesday meeting except when Monday was a holiday. Then, the agendas were released on the Tuesday before the Wednesday meeting. PW fought this and after a year or so, the agendas and Board packets were released on Friday before the Wednesday meetings (when sent to Commissioners and so, were public).
But the MPRB wouldn’t put these online. So, for years, three dedicated volunteers including now Comm. Liz W. went to Park Board HQ on Friday after 3 pm to get agendas and related documents in person. One volunteer scanned these and we spent weekends reading documents – posting alerts here as we could. This is how ridiculous the old system was! This is gone, in the past. Agendas and staff reports are available on-line. (Not perfectly–changes made after the initial release should be uploaded.) When Park Watch started, Park Board meetings were not televised. They were not available on the internet. Today, we have this access including staff reports attached to the agendas. The quality of staff reports have improved tremendously this year!
Another recent change (TY!) is that Park Board meetings not on the cable tv schedule are now available on the internet – like last Tuesday’s meeting. (We have asked that the Park Board designate a repository and retain digital meeting recordings. Maybe this will get done next year, in the meantime, a Park Watcher maintains a library of MPRB meetings going back several years.)Thanks to this Park Board for hiring an interim superintendent and for our new Supt. Jayne Miller, both committed to sharing information and answering the public’s questions. They have changed the culture,removing the need for most data practices requests. In general, just ask for the info you are seeking and the appropriate MPRB employee should provide it. MPRB General Info 612-230-6400. Applause! Applause!
Earlier this month, the Park Board passed a revised citizen participation ordinance and a new citizen engagement policy
–see http://www.minneapolisparks.org/documents/agendas/2011-11-09/8-1-190REG.pdf. Formal Citizen Advisory Committees (CACs) are still required for major capital projects. The exciting piece is the new policy that requires MPRB staff to reach out to the community, and in some cases, work with community advisers, on any significant changes to a park -from capital projects to program changes. Remember when the Park Board used to do this? It’s back! Please share this with neighborhood organizations, rec councils, booster groups, school teams, environmental organizations, and all stakeholders – this is your chance to advise on changes at the parks you love.
This Park Board has approved reorganization so that the head of Finance is now an assistant supt. and answers only to the MPRB Supt. This is a great move for Finance is no longer influenced to make their bosses look good (& I’ve seen enough expenses move around to suspect this was happening). Instead, accountants now rule! Next month, the MPRB will approve new financial policies: http://www.minneapolisparks.org/documents/agendas/2011-11-22/7-1-206ADM.pdf This is not a stick-it-in-the-budget with no time for discussion. Rather, Comm. Scott Vreeland and Finance staff have struggled to align MPRB policies with standard government accounting procedures, state and city laws, and MPRB past practices and current needs. The policies may need some future tweaking or political changes – but hats off! to a tremendous effort resulting in logical policies.
The changes in budget transparency are incredible! I remember attending my first MPRB budget presentation in the mid-2000s and the only info available was a fold-out brochure. Then, there were a few years of drowning-in-paper – attaching financial policies and the comp plan to the budget, all done last minute. This year, thanks to Supt. Miller and MPRB finance staff, it is a different world. The MPRB budget is actually readable and, new this year, staff has taken questions from Commissioners and published the answers: http://minneapolisparks.org/default.asp?PageID=768Financial Reporting.
The MPRB Commissioners now receive quarterly year-to-date spending reports. Compared to prior year. A vast improvement! (Even better…it would be nice to link these reports to a webpage rather than requiring folks to search through Board meeting agendas/minutes.) This means our elected officials might have enough data to make changes mid-year or 3rdQ for, if a category is underspent and all else is inline, there might be a chance to amend the budget. Without such data, our elected officials could ask – but only MPRB staff could locate possible sources of funds. So, it was political….but now with YTD data, the elected Commissioners are back in charge.
I became involved in PW after reading a newspaper report about liens being filed against an MPRB property. This was a wake-up call that something was very wrong at the MPRB. Once involved in PW, I discovered that the MPRB was in terrible shape – totally ignoring many, many good government practices that we take for granted.
I was once in the non-profit sector so let me tell you, the MPRB would not have qualified as a United Way agency. I am not sure that it would qualify today. There is a greater need for knowing who the MPRB is serving and at what cost as well as knowing who the MPRB is not serving for these households pay for parks via property taxes. Equity is an MPRB goal. Thanks to major steps forward, good government practices are coming back to the MPRB. Getting the basics back into place and integrating these with new technologies that weren’t available in the pre-Gurban years, is a major effort. When this is done – and assuming the MPRB remains firmly grounded in transparency and citizen access and participation – there will no longer be a need for ParkWatch. We will all have the tools to watch our independently elected park board & the system. Then we can just argue the politics.”
Member of Mpls ParkWatch