City officials to discuss eliminating park board

Independent park board should remain, according to some.

Southeast Como resident Frederick Bethke tosses a pitch to his son Stefan, 8, at Van Cleave Park on Saturday. Minneapolis parks are currently controlled by an independent, elected park board, but there has been a recent move by some local Council Members to disband the board and cede control of the parks to the city.

Marija Majerle

Southeast Como resident Frederick Bethke tosses a pitch to his son Stefan, 8, at Van Cleave Park on Saturday. Minneapolis parks are currently controlled by an independent, elected park board, but there has been a recent move by some local Council Members to disband the board and cede control of the parks to the city.

The first of several open meetings over the next two weeks will be held Thursday to discuss, among other things, the elimination of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board . The cityâÄôs parks are currently controlled by an independent, elected park board, but this would change under 1st Ward councilman Paul OstrowâÄôs proposal to disband the board. Supporters of the move say with the board intact thereâÄôs too much bureaucracy, but opponents say without an independent park board, parks could get lost in the shuffle of city government. Ostrow said a park board or commission would still exist under his proposal, but the members would be appointed and they would report to the mayor and City Council. Ostrow acknowledges that people are afraid of change âÄî there has been an independent park board since Minneapolis was founded in 1867 âÄî but he said people should be afraid of maintaining the status quo. Ostrow said his proposal would allow the city to be more efficient and effective. âÄúI have just seen far too many examples of duplication of services, of unnecessary conflict between employees and department heads for the city and park board, inconsistent policies between two governing bodies, and in my view, a lack of transparency and accountability that we need,âÄù Ostrow said. Ostrow said the city needs to have one vision and cited the recent Wi-Fi issue, where concerns between the city and the board delayed completion of the project, saying the city and park board were on a different page for almost a year. Second Ward councilman Cam Gordon said he thinks having more elected representatives encourages accountability and transparency. Gordon also said that issues relating to the parks would be buried among other issues that the council deals with, and without an independent park board, the parks could be hurt in the long run. âÄúWe actually have what I think is one of the best park systems in the country and I think partly thatâÄôs due to the independent park board,âÄù Gordon said. âÄúWe have had an entity and elected body whose focus has been on improving and maintaining the park system.âÄù Southeast Como Neighborhood Coordinator, James De Sota said the biggest concern he has heard is that if the city controlled the parks directly, the land might not be safe in another tight budget crunch. He said a developer could offer to purchase a parcel of land and the city might take a look at it, but with an independent park board this would not happen. Ostrow said if citizens were unhappy with a decision, they could still petition the City Council and the mayor, who are elected officials. De Sota said he didnâÄôt think it would be an immediate problem, but something that might surface 10 or 15 years down the line. âÄúWhen you have that independent decision making, some other impacts can be mitigated, but if everything is under one roof and suddenly the bottom falls out, a lot of those decisions can be made that might benefit the city in the short term but not in the long run,âÄù De Sota said. Park Board Vice President Mary Merrill Anderson said the cityâÄôs top priorities are roads, fire and police, whereas the park boardâÄôs only duty is to worry about parks and recreation. Anderson said it is the boardâÄôs job to preserve the land for future generations. âÄúThereâÄôs something special about what we have here and we have to be very vigilant in protecting what we have in this city,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúMinneapolis is defined by its park system and I think sometimes when weâÄôre in the midst of it, we donâÄôt appreciate that.âÄù Gordon echoed AndersonâÄôs concerns, saying there would be more competition for funds and it would be easier for the council to cut funding for parks if it wanted to fix streets or add police. âÄúThere may be ways that we can work better together and more efficiently and still maintain the independence of an elected park board,âÄù Gordon said. Anderson said she thinks that the city should prove the park board is being run inefficiently before it is eliminated. Ostrow said the citizens should have a chance to vote on how they want their city governed. After the series of open meetings, the cityâÄôs Charter Commission will decide whether to put the issue to a vote in an election.