Archive for the ‘Minneapolis Park Board Election’ Tag

Park Commissioner Qualifications: Not an Afterthought

This year’s Minneapolis Park Board elections could be the most closely contested in some time. In that light, I have proposed below a few questions you might ask.

I have avoided park board politics and elections in the past, but I cannot refrain from expressing an opinion this year. With only a few exceptions, I have voted for DFL-endorsed candidates for nearly forty years. I interned for a DFL legislator in college, I have assisted numerous DFL campaigns with time and money, and I have been a delegate to DFL conventions, but…

This year I will not vote for the DFL-endorsed candidate in my district, Brad Bourn, or for any of the three DFL-endorsed at-large candidates for the Park Board. Instead I will vote for Bob Fine in District 6 and for Mike Derus, Meg Forney and LaTrisha Vetaw as at-large candidates. Two trusted and experienced hands who know the ropes and two exciting new voices. I encourage you to give those candidates careful consideration.

Do you want commissioners who respect others? Listen carefully to candidates when they talk to or about park board staff, commissioners and other political entities. It has become too common to demand respect while showing none, an affliction attributed to more than one DFL-endorsed park commission candidate this year. If, for instance, candidates show no respect for staff people who have committed years to the park system and, in my experience, are dedicated, knowledgeable and fair, will they show any respect for you?  It may be exciting to talk about “cleaning house” at Park Board HQ, as I have heard some candidates do, but that sounds surprisingly like Scott Pruitt at EPA and Rex Tillerson at State. “Let’s get rid of people who know things.” That’s very Trumpian and we have enough of that in Washington, we don’t need more of it, in different clothes, in Minneapolis. We don’t need to “blow up” the Park Board any more than we needed to blow up EPA, or Education, Interior and State on a national level. In fact, we can’t afford to.

Do candidates sound like they are running for City Council, Congress or President, instead of Park Commissioner? This year’s Park Board elections are not a referendum on Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. You are voting for who can best run Minneapolis’s parks. If candidates speak primarily of national political issues instead of local park issues, be very wary. Parks are an essential element of the quality of life in this city, but the Park Board is not magically going to solve national, international or galactic problems. The Park Board is not the City Council, let alone Congress. Each of those bodies has its own focus. I hope we won’t diminish the importance of the Park Board by treating it as some insignificant appendage to national politics as many Our Revolution DFL candidates seem to do. You cannot get back at Donald Trump — or Hillary Clinton — by treating our park system as an afterthought. Four years of mismanagement could take decades to fix.

Do you want commissioners who can manage complex relationships? Anyone who speaks as if the Minneapolis Park Board is free to do whatever it pleases, unconstrained, has no grasp of the challenges faced by our park system. The Governor and Met Council, Legislators and County Commissioners, and Mayor and City Council play large roles in park issues. I hope you will vote for candidates who stand a reasonable chance by inclination and experience to manage those relationships advantageously. (And, please, elect people to the other offices who can do the same.) The Minneapolis Park Board has always been fiercely independent, and it should be, but it has also depended on astute and constructive relationships with other government entities, whether municipal, regional, state or federal. Minneapolis parks have benefitted from strong intergovernmental relationships in many ways — from the Park Board’s creation in 1883 to the neighborhood park funding agreement with the City Council last year. There often has been tension in those dynamic relationships, but if you doubt the claim that Minneapolis parks cannot stand alone, try operating Minneapolis parks without money from the state through the regional park system, other county and state grants, and federal programs.

One of the silliest things I’ve ever heard from a park commission candidate is that he wants a “Neo-Liberal Free Park Board.” Other than never having heard any park commissioners or candidates define themselves by that term — or concept — it is an extreme example of trying to cram Minneapolis parks into a blindly partisan national political box. So please don’t vote for Devin Hogan as an at-large candidate. So much for his claim to want to work with others! If he’s insulting what I presume are other Democrats, do you wonder how he might work with a potential Republican legislature or Met Council? So Bannon-esque!

Do you want commissioners who understand the Minneapolis park system? Minneapolis parks are the envy of much of the urban world because they were developed as a “system.” It is a work of preservation and creation. Thanks forever to H.W.S. Cleveland who proposed such a system from the beginning of the park board’s existence in 1883 and to shrewd commissioners of all political persuasions who accepted that wisdom.  Because of the value perceived in a system of parks, we have a network of parkways, the Grand Rounds, that link anchor parks throughout the city and provide multidimensional connections to every part of the city and beyond. Minneapolis wouldn’t be one of the premier biking cities without the parkways and bikeways created by the park board. Add parks that take advantage of natural resources intended to serve the entire city, as well as parks that serve larger or smaller neighborhood needs. From the first park board, which placed a neighborhood park in each quadrant of the city, Minneapolis has benefitted from sincere and successful efforts to distribute parks throughout the city, which along with the connecting parkways has created the system envisioned by Cleveland and other park advocates.

Do candidates have plans for achieving concrete goals? Make America Great Again. A Chicken in Every Pot. Parks for Everyone. Stop Pesticides. All empty slogans. How specifically will candidates achieve those goals? Not only what must be done, but what must be done differently than in the past. So much of the empty rhetoric I hear has little factual basis. Do candidates know what progress has been made — or not — toward achieving the goals they espouse? If they can’t answer how they would do things differently to achieve explicit goals — with concrete action — think long and hard before you vote for them, because it means they aren’t serious about running our parks. Slogans are easy — Drain the Swamp! — but action is hard. Ask this time. Demand details. And make sure the answers focus on parks and not politics on some other stage.

Do candidates believe the TV show Parks and Recreation was a documentary or a sitcom? If candidates act like Ron Swanson, Leslie Knope and crew were real-life characters whose hilarious incompetence or disinterest represents real park administrators and issues, please don’t vote for them. Running an immense and excellent park system is serious business. More serious than the DFL convention seemed to think this year.

I have not investigated and do not know all the park commissioner candidates from all park districts, but I would hope that District Five voters would re-elect Steffanie Musich, who does have the DFL endorsement and has proven herself a thoughtful and effective commissioner.

David C. Smith

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