Monthly Archives: February 2012

Reports of Discrimination at Park Board Lead to Action

The following article by Nick Halter was published in the February 20, 2012 edition of the Southwest Journal:

REPORTS OF DISCRIMINATION AT PARK BOARD LEAD TO ACTION

A firm hired by the Minneapolis Park Board to take a deep look at the organization sped up the release of its findings after reports surfaced of racial discrimination against African-American employees.

The Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP wrote a letter to the Park Board in late December saying 60 employees and 100 park users complained of wrongful termination, unequal discipline or “outright racial humiliation of employees and customers” by Park Board staff.

Back in October, the Park Board hired a consulting firm, Dr. Betty Webb Consulting Inc., to look into, among other things, the internal climate of employees. The consulting firm, hearing of the NAACP letter, released much of its analysis early so that the Park Board could begin making changes immediately.

Much of what the consulting firm found, via interviews with 100 employees and documents from as far back as 1965, backed up what the NAACP said. It did commend the Park Board, under new Superintendent Jayne Miller, for taking initial steps to deal with the problem.

“The consultant team has concluded that it is not an overreaction to describe the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board as demoralized internally — where employees across racial and ethnic lines feel stymied in their ability to effectively meet job responsibilities and not meaningfully connected to the greater purpose and direction of the organization,” consultants wrote.

Miller, along with eight Park Board commissioners, sent a memo to employees promising to address the issues in the report. They also set up a series of meetings to listen to employees’ concerns.

Miller declined to discuss individual Park Board employees, citing them as personnel matters. Karen Robinson, who had been re-appointed Park Board Secretary on Jan. 3 and also served as assistant superintendent of administration, is no longer working at the Park Board. Miller declined to say if Robinson had been fired. Robinson’s duties included human resources.

The consultants say that “virtually everyone” with whom they spoke — white or black — said there is a climate of fear, vindictiveness, racial distrust and anger in the organization. Further, the report said the Park Board has a lack of understanding of different cultures and an unwillingness to connect to inner-city communities.

Bob Fine was the only Park Board commissioner who refused to sign the memo.

Fine said he doesn’t disagree that employee morale is low. In fact, Fine, a youth sports coach of more than 35 years who interacts regularly with recreation and maintenance workers, said employee morale over the past two years has been the lowest he’s ever seen it.

Miller’s memo says that many of the issues in the report have been present for years. Fine took issue with that part of the memo because he said it unfairly places the blame on former Superintendent Jon Gurban and previous Park Boards.

Fine says that budget cuts and restructuring done by interim superintendent David Fisher in 2010 have created stress and fear among Park Board staff. Maintenance and recreation workers, Fine said, have seen their staff size shrink while the Park Board has added more amenities to care for.

Miller, however, said that budget cuts date all the way back to 2003 and Park Board staffing has decreased from about 600 employees in 2003 to 463 today.

Miller said the Park Board received three complaints of possible discrimination in 2010 and 2011 combined. When a complaint is filed, she said, the Park Board brings in an outside investigator to look into it. She declined to discuss what those investigators concluded in 2009 and 2010.

Minneapolis NAACP President Booker Hodges wrote in an email to The Journal that since his letter to the Park Board went public, an additional 21 employee complaints have surfaced. But he also said he’s begun meeting with the Park Board regularly, and he’s been satisfied with the progress so far.

“The meetings have been very productive and we believe that the Park Board is taking steps to address our concerns and we look forward to continuing to work with them,” Hodges wrote.

Response to 2/12 Spokesman Article

RESPONSE TO 2/12 SPOKESMAN ARTICLE

The following is a letter to Charles Hallman, the reporter for the Spokesman-Recorder who wrote the February 12, 2012 article about employee criticisms of the Park Board:

Charles,

As a co-founder of Park Watch, I read your recent article with interest. Yes, we have been aware of MPRB employee dissatisfaction; but, as quoted in the article, “many of the deficiencies and issues noted are not new but have been present for years.”

In the years prior to Superintendent Miller’s arrival, there were many stories about long time employees who mysteriously disappeared from their positions at the Park Board. There is the one story about an employee who simply went in on a weekend, emptied his/her desk and resigned.

The current administration inherited a dysfunctional organization that was known for its tactics of intimidation and retaliation. An article entitled “Angry Management” that was extremely critical of the former superintendent was published in a 2010 issue of City Pages. (This March 3, 2010 article can be found at https://mplsparkwatch.org/node/1078)

Radical change does not happen overnight; we have observed recent staff hirings that indicate Superintendent Miller is serious about her role in transforming the Park Board.

We believe that her contracting with a consulting firm to conduct an organizational analysis of the MPRB demonstrates her intention to foster positive changes within the Park Board and the community it serves by implementing a proactive strategy to address and resolve long-standing problems.

Arlene Fried

Co-founder of Park Watch

http://www.mplsparkwatch.org

Mpls. Park Board Says " Climate " Change is Underway

The following article in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder by Charles Hallman was published on February 12, 2012:

MPLS. PARK BOARD SAYS ‘CLIMATE’ CHANGE IS UNDERWAY

Since the MSR’s January 4 article “Black employees call Minneapolis Park Board a ‘toxic workplace,’” Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) officials say they have already undertaken significant changes to the organization’s “internal climate” and there is more to come as “we…acknowledge and address our shortcomings.” Some workers fear the changes will be superficial and fail to go far enough.

MPRB board and staff recently received an environmental and organizational analysis interim report by a local consulting team. The report, originally scheduled to be completed and released in April, confirms the findings of a six-month Minneapolis NAACP probe into employment conditions at the Park Board among Black employees.

“Unfortunately, many of the deficiencies and issues noted are not new but have been present for years,” admits MPRB Superintendent Jayne Miller in a January 25 cover letter to the report.

The 11-page report identifies current issues that “require immediate attention by everyone in the entire organization… It is not an overreaction to describe the MPRB as demoralized internally — where employees across racial and ethnic lines feel stymied in their ability to effectively meet job responsibilities.”

The reports recommendations include developing strategies to address culture issues, building a strong human relations department, reinstating a diversity council and strengthening and supporting the community outreach department.

“To fix this situation will require a laser-like focus” by MPRB officials, the report surmised. As a result of the report and NAACP investigation, Miller has set up a series of 10 employees’ meetings, which began January 26 at various MPRB locations around the city. She “and at least one Board member” will be in attendance “to hear…concerns, opinions and suggestions,” she wrote.

However, several Black and White MPRB employees told the MSR last week that these meetings are “being jammed down our throats” and are nothing more than having them “forced to confess” their concerns in an open setting. The employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of employer retaliation, said, “We don’t want to go [to the meetings] because you are going to hear the same old stuff.”

A White Park Board maintenance worker said, “They’ve got managers there [in the meetings] that people are afraid of or mad at. People aren’t going to speak openly about what’s going on, because they are afraid of retaliation. The managers that I have — they will retaliate on you. They are sitting there taking notes.”

Although the workers say the MSR article “was a shock” to many top MPRB officials, they add that the organization “is still toxic.”

“They fired [former human relations head] Karen Robinson — wow! But I feel it’s back to business as usual,” said one employee. “I want them to be serious about making changes.”

“From the NAACP standpoint, we are extremely concerned that employees are still feeling that it is a toxic work environment right now, even though [the MPRB] have taken few positive steps in the right direction,” said Minneapolis NAACP President Booker T Hodges, who has met with Miller and MPRB President John Erwin several times recently to discuss an “organizational complaint process” for all MPRB employees.

“This has to be a process that everyone can participate in,” Hodges told the MSR last week. “Hopefully we can get this process moving.”

Changes the workers strongly suggest to improve the MPRB workplace include firing several other officials who they see as a “longtime cancer” to the organization: “They need to get rid of some people in management and hold them accountable for their actions. Getting rid of that one person is not enough.”

MPRB employees “who are on the front line” need to be more consulted and respected by supervisors and upper management, the employees told us. They also want to see “an equal opportunity for Blacks and other people of color be hired by unbiased individuals. Qualified people should have the opportunity to move up and not be judged by whether or not someone in management likes them.”

Hodges admits that more immediate changes must occur at MPRB, including putting an end to “unequal” firings and reprimands. “Our hope is that the Park Board will continue to take steps to address [concerns]. Systemic organizational change is not going to happen overnight.”

The MSR spoke briefly with MPRB Superintendent Miller February 6 before going to press with this story.

Asked for her thoughts on the series of employee meetings currently underway to address their concerns, she said, “They are really going well.” She said of the meetings with NAACP President Hodges, “They are really productive.”

Regarding some employees’ skepticism about the open meetings, Miller said she “respects and understands” that not everyone will be comfortable speaking in an open setting, but she has offered each employee the opportunity to contact her personally either by letter or by setting up a time to meet personally and share any and all concerns that they may have. “I am open to hear” from them, she said.

F E R C Letter to Crown Hydro

FERC LETTER TO CROWN HYDRO
 

On February 13, 2012 FERC sent a three page letter to Crown Hydro requesting that Crown Hydro, LLC provide its response within 30 days relating to the project development progress for the Crown Mill Hydroelctric Project under P-11175 provided by Crown Hydro in a letter dated May 25, 2011.  The essence of the FERC letter is that Crown Hydro needs to demonstrate that no MPRB lands would be affected or included in the new proposed plan.

The last three paragraphs of the letter state FERC’s expectations of Crown Hydro as follows:
 
PROJECT NO. 11175-024

 
In the progress report, you included a letter from the USACE, which contains comments on the proposed location of the project’s powerhouse. One of the comments states “The city of Minneapolis, acting through its MPRB, holds a
perpetual easement, granted by the Secretary of the Army, over those lands, identified by Crown Hydro, as being the site for its proposed powerhouse. The easement was granted in 1999 for the purpose of allowing MRPB to replace the
existing service road at USAF and to continue to operate and maintain the area for visitors of Mill Ruins Park.”

 
Based on our review of the history of the license and your filings, and before we will agree to consider your proposal and not to pursue the implied surrender of your license, you must: (1) affirmatively demonstrate, with a detailed
map and proposed project description, that no MPRB lands (to include any subsurface rights, easements, or other legal claims) would be affected or included in the new proposed scheme of project development and boundary; and (2)
provide a plan and schedule, including all efforts and steps needed, to complete the development of this project.

Therefore, please respond to this request within 30 days of the date of this letter.
________________________________
 

Here’s the link to FERC’s entire letter:
http://elibrary.FERC.gov/idmws/file_list.asp?accession_num=20120214-0025

Design Concepts for Water Works Site to be Presented on Monday, February 27

NEW PARK DESIGN CONCEPTS FOR WATER WORKS SITE WILL BE PRESENTED TO THE PUBLIC

COMMUNITY MEETING SET FOR MONDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 5:30–7:30 p.m.

WHAT

Community members are invited to discover “what could be” when the Minneapolis Parks Foundation http://www.mplsparksfoundation.org , with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board http://www.minneapolisparks.org , hosts the second of two public meetings regarding a proposed Central Riverfront park where the original Minneapolis municipal Water Works, several historic mills and, more recently, the famed Fuji-Ya restaurant once stood. “Mill City”-based architects Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle (MS&R) http://www.msrltd.com are the lead designers on the project. Together with financing consultants HR&A Advisors http://www.hraadvisors.com , they will present design and program options and financial analysis, “that take into account social, economic and environmental factors, as well as truly the interesting geography and history of the site,” says Mary deLaittre, Executive Director of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation.

WHEN

Monday, February 27, 5:30–7:30 p.m.

WHERE

Mill City Museum, Mill Commons

704 South Second Street, Minneapolis

Directions and parking information: http://www.millcitymuseum.org

MORE

For updates on the Water Works project, community members can visit http://www.mplsparksfoundation.org or Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board – Water Works http://www.minneapolisparks.org/default.asp?PageID=1305 and sign up to receive email updates: http://www.minneapolisparks.org/default.asp?PageID=1086

ABOUT

The Minneapolis Parks Foundation http://www. mplsparksfoundation.org is focused on the Next Generation of Parks™, with an emphasis on parks design education, innovation and implementation. Beginning in 2010, MPF co-sponsored the globally renowned Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition http://minneapolisriverfrontdesigncompetition.com/ , the largest in the state’s history. In 2011, MPF projects included the Next Generation of Parks™ lecture series, the recently opened 4th Avenue North Playground along the Upper Riverfront, and more.

With 182 park properties totaling nearly 6,732 acres of land and water, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board http://www.minneapolisparks.org provides places and recreation opportunities for all people to gather, celebrate, contemplate, and engage in activities that promote health, well-being, community, and the environment. Each year, approximately 18 million visits are made to the nationally acclaimed Minneapolis park system.

Brownie Lake Area Plan: Open House Tuesday, February 14

The following reminder from the MPRB was issued Monday, February 13:

BROWNIE LAKE AREA PLAN: OPEN HOUSE TOMORROW NIGHT

Just a reminder that the second open house opportunity to review the Brownie Lake Area Plan is tomorrow, Tuesday, February 14th from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Kenwood Community Center, 2101 Franklin Avenue West.

MPRB staff, consultants, and Community Advisory Committee members will be available to discuss the preferred concept plan for Brownie Lake. We can’t think of a more romantic way to spend your Valentine’s Day evening; chocolates will be provided!

Heads-Up for the February 15, 2012 Park Board Meeting

HEADS-UP FOR THE FEBRUARY 15, 2012 PARK BOARD MEETING

5:00 P.M. REGULAR BOARD MEETING. The meeting will be held in the boardroom at Park Board headquarters, 2117 West River Road, just north of Broadway Pizza.

5:30 P.M. OPEN TIME. Speakers need to sign up before 3:00 p.m. the day of the meeting.

Some items of interest are:

–Lease Agreement with Minneapolis Swims

–An amendment to the Nicollet Island Inn Lease Agreement

–Resolution approving the final report of the Minneapolis Riverfront Development Initiative entitled RiverFIRST

–Joint Recreational Commission with the Minneapolis Public Schools

–Amending MPRB Rules regarding Open Time

–Review of Proposed Standards and Conduct Committee 2012 Schedule

The complete agenda, with staff reports, for the MPRB Board of Commissioners’ meeting on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 is at http://www.minneapolisparks.org/default.asp?PageID=37&calid=868

Also of interest and now available to the commissioners and the public are the monthly reports that Superintendent Miller has initiated for construction permits and for Planning Department projects. The availability of these reports is one of the important changes instituted by Superintendent Miller. Look for the links to these reports under Petitions and Communications in the agenda for the first Regular Meeting of the month.

MPRB meetings are telecast live from 5-9 p.m. on the City of Minneapolis Government Meeting Channel 79 on Comcast cable and online at http://www.minneapolismn.gov/webcasts.

The regular meetings are retelecast on Channel 79 at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 5 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month. Webcasts for the recent two months are posted two to five business days after the meeting and are available for viewing under “Webcast Archives” at http://www.minneapolisparks.org/default.asp?PageID=900

The Park Board’s website is http://www.minneapolisparks.org. The phone number is 612-230-6400.

Arlene Fried

Co-founder of Park Watch

What a Park Board Commissioner Earns

The following item by At-Large MPRB Commissioner Annie Young was posted on the Minneapolis Issues List in response to another post on February 10, 2012.

WHAT A PARK BOARD COMMISSIONER EARNS

The MPRB does pay its Commissioners a monthly stipend, paid every two weeks like everyone else working in the City of Minneapolis. It comes out to about $12,000 a year and since we get health benefits we are considered full time employees which means the stipend comes down to about $5.24+ an hour.

The other perk of this job is that it is the best job in the City. Being the steward of parks, lakes, 6500 acres, trees, and the Great Mississippi River and providing masses of services to a broad spectrum of people (and lots of kids) is a benefit of this job.

It is not true that most people don’t know who their Park Board folks are – many may not know but there are lots and lots of folks that do. After all, we are on TV and believe me as someone who can’t go shopping, to the Farmer’s Market or swimming in this City without running into people who say
they know me because of Park Board and seeing me on TV or at meetings is a myth.

I love this job.

Annie Young

Citywide Park Commissioner

First C A C Meeting for New Food Vendor at Lake Nokomis

The MPRB has issued the following release:

FIRST CAC MEETING FOR NEW FOOD VENDOR AT LAKE NOKOMIS

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board announces the start of a community advisory process to learn preferences for a new concession operation at Lake Nokomis. The first meeting of the appointed Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) will be held February 23, 7:00 p.m. at the Nokomis Community Center, 2401 E Minnehaha Parkway. The CAC will review the process and schedule, and develop a survey as well as the format for the open house planned for March 22.

All are welcome to attend; time will be set aside during the meeting for comments from the public.

For additional information, see the current news release: http://www.minneapolisparks.org/default.asp?PageID=52&prid=1708

Coming soon: information will also be available on the project page on the MPRB website.