The following article by CIDNA (Cedar, Isles, Dean Neighborhood Association) resident MIchael Wilson was written for the July 2016 issue of the Hill and Lake Press.
Tabb Takes Park Board Reins Following Wielinski Resignation
Anita Tabb, Fourth District Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board commissioner and Lowry Hill resident, was elected on Wednesday, July 20, to serve for the remainder of 2016 as board president following the resignation of Liz Wielinski from the post. Wielinski was in the middle of her third one-year term as board president.
Wielinski and board vice-president Scott Vreeland both both submitted letters on July 15 indicating their intention to resign their positions. Vreeland indicated in his letter that he did not wish to move into the board president position at this time.
Tabb’s name was the only one placed in nomination for the board’s top leadership position during a stormy start to the board’s regular third-Wednesday meeting. John Erwin, who served four terms as president from 2010 to 2013, was nominated to become vice-president for the balance of 2016. Brad Bourn nominated himself. Erwin was elected on a 7-1 vote, with Bourn voting for himself. Tabb was likewise elected on a 7-1 vote, with Bourn in opposition. Commissioner Annie Young was absent.
Wielinski’s tenure remarkably productive
“It is with an extraordinarily heavy heart that I must inform you of my intention to step down as president of the board due to health concerns,” Wielinski wrote her colleagues and MPRB staff. “Unfortunately, my position and the pressures involved have taken a heavy toll on my health. This is most certainly not the way I hoped to end my tenure as president of the board, but after consultation with my doctor and family members, and with consideration for the importance of the board for the parks in this city, I have decided this move is best at this juncture in my life.”
During Wielinski’s tenure several large projects have been initiated or nurtured along, including the massive River First project and, in partnership with the city, the Upper Harbor Terminal project. Major improvements and enhancements are underway for the newly designated St. Anthony Falls Regional Park. Wielinski has also focused MPRB attention on acquiring parcels of property along the upper Mississippi as they’ve become available, giving relatively underserved north and northeast Minneapolis residents greater access to green space and the river.
Earlier this year Wielinski earned her place as one of the most influential leaders in the Park Board’s 133-year history when she, along with Anita Tabb and Superintendent Jayne Miller, collaborated with City Council President Barbara Johnson and our Ward 7 Council Member Lisa Goodman to hammer out an ambitious and momentous 20-year plan to significantly increase funding for neighborhood parks and roads.
In late 2015 Wielinski, Tabb, at-large commissioner Meg Forney, and others launched a citizen group chaired by former Hennepin County commissioner and mayoral candidate Mark Andrew to put a referendum on the November 2016 ballot to secure funding for the 20-year renovation plan. Neighborhood parks were in a “shocking” state of disrepair, Andrew said, looking at the list prepared by MPRB staff of the work needed on all 150-odd neighborhood parks.
Instead of going head-to-head with the city on the issue of a ballot measure, Wielinski, Tabb, Goodman, Miller, and Johnson worked hand-in-hand on a concurrent funding ordinance, approved unanimously in March and April by both the City Council and Park Board. The truly historic nature of this cooperative accomplishment stands in sharp contrast to the uneasy and sometimes rancorous relationship between the two bodies throughout the Park Board’s history. As recently as 2009 a City Council member, Paul Ostrow, tried to put a measure on the November ballot that would have eliminated the Park Board as an independent body. We can be proud that our two Hill and Lake electeds have steered the Park Board and City Council to a new era of comity.
Tabb tells Hill & Lake Press that a major challenge for the Park Board for the remainder of 2016 will be to intensify the planning process and ramp up staffing to begin work on revitalizing our neighborhood parks. A second major challenge, she says, will be to work with communities of color with energy and sensitivity so that all citizens feel listened to, involved, and included.
Board thanked for ‘selfless dedication’
Tabb takes over a board that for several years has worked together collegially and effectively, save for the frequent divisiveness of Commissioner Brad Bourn who, as the StarTribune’s Steve Brandt puts it, “is often on the outs on issues with other commissioners.” Tabb first ran for the Park Board in 2009, along with Wielinski, after participating in Park Watch, a citizen advocacy and watchdog group formed in 2004 by Wielinski, Arlene Fried, and others in response to the dysfunction resulting from the administration of former Superintendent Jon Gurban.
Wielding the president’s gavel effectively will be another challenge for Tabb as an obstreperous group of protesters claiming to speak for the 40 percent of Minneapolitans who are nonwhite continues to disrupt Park Board meetings with charges of “corruption” (according to signs brandished at Wednesday’s meeting) and blatant, systemic and intentional racial discrimination toward Park Board employees of color. They have demanded that Wielinski not only resign the presidency but also quit the board and that Superintendent Miller be fired. Their angry insistence that Bourn be named board president to succeed Wielinski at times drowned out proceedings during the meeting.
Fried and former at-large commissioner (and Lowry Hill resident) George Puzak thanked commissioners during Open Time for their selfless dedication to their jobs. This writer told commissioners that “all citizens of Minneapolis, whether they know it or not, whether they choose to acknowledge it or not, owe Park Board commissioners a great debt of gratitude.”