Category Archives: Commissioner Misbehavior

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE DECEMBER 19, 2007, PARK BOARD MEETING

CROWN HYDRO

The highlight of the meeting was the vote on Crown Hydro. The motion to be voted on was, in a convoluted way, an approval of the controversial project. It authorized Park Board staff to proceed with an Environmental Assessment Review, a citizen advisory committee, lease negotiations, state finance commission review and state, federal and local approvals for the Crown Hydro power plant on park land in the St. Anthony Falls Historic District. Crown Hydro would finance the 500 hours of staff time and all the required consultants’ expenses estimated to be $250,000.

Moments before the regular 5 P.M. meeting, an eloquent letter from former Vice President Walter Mondale was delivered to all of the commissioners. It was a zero hour surprise communication. In it, he urged the commissioners to resist “the urging of developers wanting to buy off such important Park lands as those in this historic district.” To view the letter, click on https://parkwatch.files.wordpress.com/mondaleletter.pdf

During the discussion prior to the vote, Commissioner Walt Dziedzic stated “This is a project that is driven by money” and commented that the 500 hours required by the project would drain the staff. Both he and Commissioner Annie Young referred to Mondale’s letter and Mondale’s position against the project.

Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom’s comments revealed that she was paralyzed by a surprising lack of understanding of the project and of the motion itself. She seemed not to understand that she was voting to authorize the staff to negotiate a lease.

Commissioner Carol Kummer, who has been the most vocal advocate for the project, had the audacity to attempt to discredit Mondale and impugn his motives by calling him a “nimby” because he lives near the river. Mondale co-authored the Scenic Rivers legislation; he’s no nimby. The old “not in my backyard” spin is so cliche, it’s without merit. It’s just a lazy, cheap shot.

Then, not to be outdone, Park Board President Jon Olson seized the moment to display an astonishing lack of political sophistication by calling Mondale “self-serving.” Both of these ignominious moments have been posted as video clips on YouTube; they are also available on Park Watch.

The vote was called for Agenda Item 4.5:

“THE BOARD DIRECT STAFF TO NEGOTIATE A REIMBURSEMENT AGREEMENT WITH CROWN HYDRO TO FINANCE THE STAFF TIME AND CONSULTANT SERVICES EXPENSES ASSOCIATED WITH THE PROJECT EAW, CITIZEN ADVISORY COMMITTEE PROCESS AND ASSOCIATED LEGAL COSTS FOR LEASE NEGOTIATIONS, STATE FINANCE COMMISSION REVIEW AND STATE, FEDERAL AND LOCAL APPROVALS.”

Approval for the Crown Hydro project failed on a 5 to 4 vote.
Voting against it were Commissioners Mary Merrill Anderson, Walt Dziedzic, Tom Nordyke, Scott Vreeland and Annie Young. Those supporting the lease/sale of park land to a private for-profit utility company on park land in the St. Anthony Falls Historic District were Commissioners Carol Kummer, Bob Fine, Tracy Nordstrom and Jon Olson.

For more information about Crown Hydro and the Park Board, check out previous posts on Park Watch.

EAST PHILLIPS

After the Crown Hydro vote, President Jon Olson tried to withdraw previously approved bond funding for the East Phillips project and redirect it to parkway lighting instead. Commissioner Vreeland came to the defense of East Phillips and Olson’s efforts withered.

Commissioners Kummer and Olson Call Mondale NIMBY, Self-serving

Former Vice-president Walter Mondale wrote a letter in opposition to the proposed Crown Hydro project at St. Anthony Falls. Commissioner Carol Kummer, a project defender, dismissed Mondale as “a NIMBY” and “less than … open-minded.” Not to be outdone, Park Board President Jon Olson characterized Mondale’s opinion as “so self-serving it’s not even funny.”


Attached is a copy of Mondale’s letter. Watch the video and see if Kummer and Olson are any better than school yard kids hurling insults.

mondaleletter.pdf

Dick Shanahan on public input to Park Board and Powerhorn Park

On the Minneapolis Issues forum, Dick Shanahan points out some problems with recent Park Board behavior with respect to its own ordinances involving communication with the public in their project at Power Horn Park.

…I am disturbed by how the MPRB has morphed itself into an unrestrained oligarchy by ignoring the Code of Ordinances in place that dictate its conduct, with requirements for citizen notification, consultation and approval. Even more disturbing is the fact that the board is working very hard to revise their Code of Ordinances in a way that will eliminate public participation in every way, shape or form.

Entire article can be read at the E-democracy web site.

Southwest Journal: Parks notebook

From the Southwest Journal Parks Notebook by Mary O’Regan and Dylan Thomas

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Park Board superintendent reelected

On May 16, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board voted to reelect Superintendent Jon Gurban, extending his term another three years. Park Board Commissioner Annie Young, who did not support Gurban’s initial election in 2003, proposed that his new contract include an annual performance review and work plan.

The board compromised and will include her suggestions in the negotiations with Park Board President Jon Olson, but not in Gurban’s contract. Young also asked that the board review his contract before its presentation to the superintendent, but her request was denied.

Gurban’s reelection took place in the wake of a civil liberties controversy. Arlene Fried, co-founder of the citizen group Minneapolis Park Watch, was cut off during the open forum section of the May 2 board meeting. She attempted to recite a list of 10 “poor management practices” under Gurban’s authority, but midway through the fifth item, Olson interrupted and moved on to the next issue without allowing Fried to continue. An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the Park Board – on Fried’s behalf – accusing them of violating her First Amendment rights.

During the open session at the May 16 meeting, Fried was allowed to speak, but by then the board had already reelected Gurban.

“Allowing me to speak after you have voted is an insult to me and to freedom of speech,” she told the board. “What you are conveying to your constituents is that what we have to say is not important.”

In this instance, Olson interrupted Fried’s speech multiple times and attempted to end early her allotted three minutes.

Don’t rain on my Parade Stadium

The city of Minneapolis has issued a stop-work order on the reconstruction of Parade Stadium, claiming that a conditional-use permit is needed for the project to continue. The Park and Recreation Board, which is overseeing the plan, insists that it has applied for all of the necessary permits and that the stop-work order was a mistake.

“I think that was a very regrettable piece of action by some uninformed bureaucrats,” said Superintendent Jon Gurban. “We have done much more work elsewhere in this city and never had a conditional-use permit.”

Construction on the stadium is continuing despite the city’s order. The $1.2 million project – which sits just west of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden – includes stadium seating, grandstands, and a $48,000 electronic scoreboard. The Park Board and Public Works are in the process of designing a new road that will stretch from Dunwoody Boulevard to Kenwood Parkway, cutting through the stadium parking lot.

Though the board had received a proposal from the Minnesota Thunder about using the stadium for soccer games, Gurban insists that the site will exist primarily for youth sporting events.

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Also included in the Parks notebook were reports on the transfomation of Hidden Beach on Cedar Lake, and the buckthorn removal and follow-up work at Brownie Lake. To see these reports and the entire original notebook, visit the Southwest Journal website.

Superintendent Jon Gurban Loses His Composure at Lowry Hill Annual Meeting

The following letter was submitted by Joyce Murphy of Lowry Hill who witnessed MPRB Superintendent Jon Gurban yelling at another Lowry Hill resident who was questioning him about the construction at Parade.

To all who represent me on the Minneapolis Park Board:

On Monday evening May 14th I went to the Lowry Hill Homeowners annual meeting at the Walker Art Center. The program for the meeting included reports about the progress that the city and state were making for the citizens of our state and city.

The next to the last speaker was Jon Gurban, superintendent of the Minneapolis Park system. Mr. Gurban spoke about a new, or as he called it a replacement Parade Stadium. He also gave a presentation on the past stadium, the present Stadium space and future plans for this space. His presentation was a computer-generated presentation about this project which he had planned and put together.

As the presentation went on one lady in the audience raised some questions about this project in relation to its impact on the neighborhood near the proposed stadium where she lived. She was told that she could ask questions after the meeting of Mr. Gurban and so the questioning stopped.

After the meeting our vice-president told us that we could question Mr. Gurban in the lobby outside of the auditorium at Walker Art Center. I decided that I would go out and listen to what he had to say and also to ask about the cost and who would pay for a project of this size. When I arrived in the lobby one lady was asking Mr. Gurban when and where there would be a Minneapolis resident’s input, and citizen’s advisory committee on a project of this size, composed of residents of the neighborhood upon whom this project will impact and also residents of the city at large. There were also two other ladies present besides me and the lady asking the questions.

Mr. Gurban stated that this was a project for the whole city and that when the plan was complete there would be a meeting at the end of the planning as the project was ready to go. She said that there should be a meeting before the project was so far along. The lady also said that this project would impact on the nearby neighbors vis a vis traffic, parking, noise, and crowding and this was a concern. Again Mr. Gurban’s answer was that this was something that was being done for the city as a whole. They both made more comments to each other concerning this project. As the conversation went on Mr. Gurban became
more agitated and he began to move up close to the lady, putting his face in into her face and moving into her space in a very threatening and overbearing manner.

He also began raising his voice and shouting at her. I was standing a little behind the lady and observing all of this and it seemed to me that he was being very aggressive and intimidating towards her so much so that I spoke up a said that he “SHOULD STOP TRYING TO INTIMIDATE HER!” (he was speaking so loud that I had to raise my voice too to be heard). He said that he was not intimidating her and that he was leaving. The lady said that she had moved to Minneapolis from out of town and was not intimidated by him.

It was a bad scene and I felt that I had to speak up and stop him because he was behaving so aggressively towards this lady. It was very unpleasant way to end my evening to say the least. His behavior was not becoming of a public servant not to mention the superintendent of the Minneapolis Park system a position of some honor and respect.

After this I forgot my question about cost and went back into the auditorium. This is what I observed and experienced and have written here to the best of my recollection. I think that this needs some kind of a looking into by you, my representatives on the park board at this time.

It was not a good experience at all and made me question what has happened here in Minneapolis that such a person could occupy a position of leadership and be responsible for the stewardship of the parks and yet treat one of the citizens of our city in such a bad manner. I am old enough to remember a time when officials and citizens were treated with respect and officials were honorable people and not bullies and tyrants.

Joyce Murphy
Lowry Hill

PARK WATCH POSTSCRIPT

It is interesting to note that two nights after this unpleasant incident, Superintendent Jon Gurban was rehired with a three-year contract and an anticipated salary of $140,000 which is greater than that of the Governor.

Some concerned individuals are of the opinion that Superintendent Gurban should have been fired-not rehired-because of his refusal to comply with Park Board Ordinance 99-101 which mandated citizen input with a Citizens Advisory Committee for the $1,808,500 Parade field/stadium project BEFORE CONSTRUCTION; and because of the Park Board’s violation of Minneapolis Zoning Codes by commencing construction at the Parade site without first applying for a Conditional Use Permit; and because of Superintendent Gurban’s promoting the Parade event center project without following the Park Board’s established procedures.

And now, when a citizen questions Superintendent Gurban about complying with Park Board procedures, he shouts her down. Does Superintendent Gurban, who refuses to comply with Park Board procedures and city ordinances, who denies citizen participation and who shouts down citizen’s questions, deserve to be rehired as leader of our parks? Does he deserve to be paid a salary greater than the Governor of Minnesota?

Transcript of May 16 Open Time

Full transcript of the previously posted video clip, titled The Sequel: Minneapolis Park Board President vs. Free Speech, where Arlene Friend again attempts to speak during Open Time at the Park Board meeting — after the ACLU sent a letter to the Park Board’s attorney:

ARLENE FRIED AGAIN ATTEMPTS TO SPEAK DURING OPEN TIME
MINNEAPOLIS PARK AND RECREATION BOARD MEETING
MAY 16, 2007

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT JON OLSON: We’re going to go to Open Time. We have three speakers signed up for open time. Start with Arlene Fried, “Management Practices.” State your name and address for the record. You’ll have three minutes.

OPEN TIME SPEAKER ARLENE FRIED: My name is Arlene Fried [gives address]. My topic is Superintendent Jon Gurban’s three years of leadership. I am deeply disappointed in what has happened here today. I thought you were going to give me the courtesy to speak about my concerns the superintendent’s performance before you voted, not after you voted, on his contract. Allowing me to speak after you have voted is an insult to me and to freedom of speech. What you are conveying to your constituents is that what you have to say is not important. I am disappointed that you are failing to take into account the following reasons for recruiting a new superintendent. Here are the 10 examples I was starting to read last week [sic] when I was terminated. Here are 10 examples of the park board’s poor management practices during the past three years under Superintendent Gurban, and 10 reasons why the park board should have seriously considered recruiting a new superintendent. They are: 1) Failing to acknowledge and analyze unsuccessful entrepreneurial projects which have resulted in costly lawsuits and/or lost taxpayers dollars. 2)Failing to provide quarterly financial statements to the commissioners and the public. 3) Circumventing the Park Board’s legal framework by developing plans for costly projects without board direction or board approval, for example the megamillion dollar Parade Event Center, which Superintendent Gurban is promoting as if it’s a done deal. Money is being raised for that project already. 4) Failing to comply –-

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT JON OLSON: [Utterance over microphone]

OPEN TIME SPEAKER FRIED [she continues but raises her voice]: — with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act by not honoring all requests for public —

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON: Ms. Fried!

PARK COMMISSIONER TOM NORDYKE: Mr. President-

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON: [unintelligible, possibly: “It’s incorrect”]

PARK COMMISSIONER NORDYKE: It is not incorrect, and let her finish …

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT: Number five is again …

OPEN TIME SPEAKER FRIED: Excuse me. I didn’t think this was a forum for debate. I thought I was just —

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON: But I don’t want you to make accusations that we have not followed the law. You can make comments, and that’s fine, but if you have unfounded accusations — if you’re going to make an accusation, then bring something with it, that we have broken the law. I want something to –

OPEN TIME SPEAKER: What are you questioning me on now?

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT: The Data Practices Act?

OPEN TIME SPEAKER: Yes.

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT: Okay, do you have documentation on that? That we have not complied with the Data Practices Act?

OPEN TIME SPEAKER: I know people are complaining: it’s in the minutes. You go look at your minutes. Liz Wilienski has been asking for information, she’s come and spoken at Open Time, and so has Edna Brazaitis. It’s in the minutes. It’s in the record.

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT: Well, if you make accusations you should bring [unintelligible] —

OPEN TIME SPEAKER FRIED: I am not making accusations —

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT: Thank you.

OPEN TIME SPEAKER FRIED: — I am stating facts. But please let me finish. 6) Awarding of contracts to selected vendors without issuing requests for proposals as required, for example the study for Crown Hydro; 7) Suppressing criticism of Superintendent Gurban and his administration by excluding from the public record letters that are critical – and, I might add, by terminating my speech last week [sic]; 8) Circumventing Park Board laws and procedures by attempting to bypass mandated Citizen Advisory Committees, for example, Parade Stadium project; 9) There’s been some violation of open meeting laws; and 10) Failing to respond to citizen correspondence. I know about that —

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON: Again, Ma’am –

OPEN TIME SPEAKER FRIED: — Excuse me —

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON: — I don’t believe that we’ve violated the open meeting law.

OPEN TIME SPEAKER FRIED: — You know what –

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON: — when —

OPEN TIME SPEAKER FRIED: — I can tell you when you do that. I can tell you.

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON: Please, tell me.

OPEN TIME SPEAKER FRIED: All right. When you were voting on the study for Crown Hydro, you had the proposal that, for the proj– … You were doing a proposal, and that proposal was not available to the public. That should have been here. Anything you’re discussing, anything discussing … any information in your packets that’s under discussion is supposed to be available to the public. And that’s one example that was not available to the public. And I know one person who went over to Superintendent Gurban to ask for it and he would not give it to her. So I absolutely know that is true. And I’d just like to finish up here. The most important thing that you, our Park Board Commissioners, are elected to do is to provide for your constituents a superintendent whose tenure will clearly reflect the hallmarks of good government: transparency, openness and accountability.

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON: Yeah. Have a good night. Thank you.

OPEN TIME SPEAKER FRIED: Is my three minutes up?

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON [with a condescending tone of voice]: Uh, yes.

PARK COMMISSIONER NORDYKE: With all due respect, Mr. President, I don’t believe her three minutes are up, and I do not believe it is your purview to terminate it.

OPEN TIME SPEAKER FRIED: May I continue? [She reads final part of statement quickly.] Currently, the administrative practices of our Park Board do not align with these good government guidelines. It is time that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board begin a search – should have been time to begin a search for a new superintendent, one who can establish compliance with Park Board ordinances and procedures, adhere to the guidelines of transparency, openness and accountability. Thank you.

Video clip

Transcript of May 2 Open Time

Full transcript of the previously posted video clip, titled Minneapolis Park Board president quashes free speech, where Arlene Friend attempts to speak during Open Time at the Park Board meeting:

ARLENE FRIED ATTEMPTS TO SPEAK DURING OPEN TIME
MINNEAPOLIS PARK AND RECREATION BOARD MEETING
MAY 2, 2007

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT JON OLSON: Next speaker would be Arlene on “Superintendent Evaluation Process.” And this is just going to be about the process and not about personnel issues.

OPEN TIME SPEAKER ARLENE FRIED: Government.

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON: I’m sorry?

OPEN TIME SPEAKER FRIED: It’s about governmental issues which tie in.

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON: Okay.

OPEN TIME SPEAKER FRIED: My name is Arlene Fried [gives address]. I am here tonight because of my concern for the park system. MPRB Superintendent Jon Gurban’s contract expires at the end of this year. It is expected that at the May 16 Park Board meeting the Park Board is going to rehire Gurban for another three years. I am therefore taking this opportunity to speak up, because there is no public hearing on this particular issue. It’s the only opportunity the public has. The following 10 examples of what I call the park board’s poor management practices during the past three years are 10 reasons why the park board needs to consider recruiting a new superintendent. These examples are: Failing to acknowledge and analyze unsuccessful entrepreneurial projects which have resulted in costly lawsuits and/or lost taxpayers dollars; 2) Failing to provide quarterly financial statements to the commissioners and the public; 3) Circumventing the Park Board’s legal framework by developing plans for costly projects without board direction or approval, for example, the megamillion dollar Parade event center; 4) Failing to comply with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act by not honoring all requests for public information; 5) Withholding of information from the commissioners and the public, for example —

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON: Um, Ma’am —

OPEN TIME SPEAKER FRIED: These are governmental issues. It’s how you —

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON: — Okay, do you have documentation that we have failed to comply with the open Data Practices Act?

OPEN TIME SPEAKER FRIED: I’m aware of it.

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON: You know, I — this is not — I’m going to cut you off right there.

OPEN TIME SPEAKER FRIED: Excuse me –

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON: I’m going to cut you off.

OPEN TIME SPEAKER FRIED: Excuse me. You can do that –-

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON: Thank you very much and you have a good night. Thank you. And we’ll move on to our next speaker –-

OPEN TIME SPEAKER FRIED: Freedom of speech.

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON: That’s —

OPEN TIME SPEAKER FRIED: You’re denying me freedom of speech.

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON: I don’t believe so. I’m not going to allow you to get up there and make accusations like that, that we violated the law.

PARK BOARD COMMISSIONER SCOTT VREELAND: I would also note as a point of order that our rules prohibit personnel issues as being a topic for Open Time.

PARK BOARD PRESIDENT OLSON: Yeah. And that’s why I asked if it was about the process. And you’ve decided to go up there and make personal attacks and make accusations. Thank you very much. Our next speaker is Mr. Kramer. Mr. Kramer, you have three minutes. If you could please state your name and address for the record …

Video clip

The Sequel: Minneapolis Park Board President vs. Free Speech

This is what happened after the ACLU petitioned the Minneapolis Park Board on behalf of a citizen whose “Open Time” statement urging the board not to renew the superintendent’s contract was cut off by the Park Board President.


At that May 2, 2007 meeting, the board president ordered the citizen to stop speaking when she said the current park administration failed to comply with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act by not honoring all requests for public information. When the ACLU of Minnesota intervened, the board allowed her to speak at its May 16 meeting, but only after they had already voted to renew the superintendent’s contract. And still she couldn’t speak freely for her allotted time because of the Park Board President’s propensity to interrupt and interrogate her. Again the Park Board President tried to cut her off within her three minute limit. Only when another commissioner insisted she be allowed to continue was she able to finish the three-minute statement she had started two weeks earlier.