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What to know about the park board for the November election

All nine park board positions are up for election this year — make sure to be an informed voter.
A lone goose wanders Van Cleve Park on Tuesday, April 28 2020.
Image by Kamaan Richards
A lone goose wanders Van Cleve Park on Tuesday, April 28 2020.

For the upcoming municipal elections in November, residents of Minneapolis will be voting on a number of candidates, including mayoral, city council and the park board. But what is the park board and why do we vote on it?

Minneapolis is unique in that it has a park board and not a parks department. The park board is a semi-separated body of government in charge of maintaining the parks system.

District 1 park commissioner Chris Meyer said it’s like a school board, but for the parks. Citizens elect park commissioners and the board has more decision-making control over the parks than a city department would have.

What does the park board do?

The park board handles everything that has to do with parks. From maintenance to reserving a baseball field to organizing youth sports, if it happens on park property, it’s their business.

There are nine park commissioners total, with six district representatives and three at-large commissioners. The Minneapolis parks are split into six districts. District commissioners are who the public goes to alert officials about a problem or give feedback on an area park. At-large commissioners focus on Minneapolis as a whole.

Park commissioners elect a superintendent who is in charge of most departments within the system, including the independently-run park police department. There is also a deputy superintendent in charge of a handful of departments.

District one is in charge of parks around the East Bank campus and District three oversees the West Bank. Recently, District one commissioner Meyer created plans to redo Marcy Park, taking out the playground to make it more student-oriented.

What makes a good park commissioner?

Someone who is easy to get in contact with, according to Robin Smothers, the park media relations and social media manager.

“[A good park commissioner is] someone who listens to their constituents, is open to phone calls and emails and is involved with their communities,” said Smothers. “The other thing would be, in my opinion, a candidate who can give you a straightforward answer about what they support and why.”

Park commissioners are obligated to attend park board meetings twice a month. Meyer said it’s important to look for a commissioner that attends those meetings regularly.

“A first filter would be looking at basic competence and interest in the job,” Meyer said.

He said to look for candidates that want to finish “missing parts” of the park system, such as the unfinished Grand Rounds walking path and bringing more riverfront parks to North Minneapolis.

Why is it important to vote for parks commissioners?

There’s over $120 million in the budget, District one candidate Billy Menz said. “A lot of our taxpayer money goes to the park,” he said.

The parks department is the greatest landowner in the city of Minneapolis. It owns nearly 7,000 acres of land, 102 miles of walking and biking paths and 22 lakes.

The Trust for Public Land named them the third best city park system in the country. Meyer said he attributes the park board to the fact that Minneapolis has amazing public parks.

“A major part of the reason Minneapolis has a great parks system is because it has an independently-elected park board,” Meyer said.

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