The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board oversees 197 properties within Minneapolis city limits totaling nearly 7,000 acres of land and water. There are nine Park Board commissioners that set policy and make decisions on an innumerable amount of park issues, from youth sports to park hours to tree planting, and much, much more.
All nine of the Park Board commissioners are elected by Minneapolis residents every four years. Six commissioners come from geographic districts, and three serve all of Minneapolis as at-large members. This year there are 10 at-large candidates vying for those three at-large seats. Three major issues emerged after speaking with the at-large candidates:
Reaching out to underserved populations
Currently there aren’t any minorities serving on the Park Board, which some see as a problem in a city with steadily increasing minority populations. It’s also widely accepted that parks in the south and southwest areas of the city are more well-maintained and offer higher quality amenities than those in the north and northeast side of town. Many of the candidates are advocating increased outreach and asset allocation in underserved communities, both geographic and socio-economic.
Tweaking parks programming to increase parks participation
One of the most direct ways to get underserved populations involved in the parks system is to increase participation in parks programming, whether that be sports leagues, outdoor activities, educational classes or other programs. Candidates had a variety of different ideas on how, and who, to reach out to increase participation in parks programming.
Infrastructure and Development
Some candidates emphasized the need to maintain the park infrastructure Minneapolis has already built with many big park projects planned over the next decade. The Park Board is heavily involved in Minneapolis’ $175 million RiverFirst project, which will develop parks and trails along a long stretch of the Mississippi River from Downtown through North Minneapolis. There’s also a large park slated to be built in Downtown as part of a new Vikings stadium development, and concerns about maintaining green space as big new developments continue to sprout up across the city.
— Ben Johnson
AT-LARGE PARK BOARD CANDIDATES
>> Steve Barland
Barland started coaching youth sports at Minneapolis parks when he was 17 and is still going 40 years later. He says he would be the only “recreation-focused” board member, advocating for the upkeep of sports facilities, paths and trails. After losing out on a bid for the 5th District Park Board seat in 2009, he decided to run for an at-large seat at the behest of departing at-large Park Board member Bob Fine, who is running for mayor.
Current Job: Facilities and Store Operations at Target
Park Experience: Volunteer coach at Minneapolis Parks for 40 years, Basketball Coordinator and Pearl Improvement Recreation Council board member for 10 years, Volunteer of the Year at Pearl Park
Top Priorities: Taking better care of athletic surfaces, trails and paths. Encouraging more kids to participate in recreational programming through closer partnerships with schools and retooling sports leagues into three tiers: Traveling, MPRB in-house, and Beginner.
His Pitch: Over the years recreation has taken a back seat to other Park Board priorities. Barland would make sure that there is at least one strong pro-recreation voice on the Park Board and work toward implementing a better, more inclusive overall plan for youth programming in the parks.
>> John Erwin
Erwin has the most impressive list of endorsements out of all of the at-large candidates – DFL, AFL-CIO, Sierra Club, Mayor R.T. Rybak, the entire City Council, four state senators and five state representatives – which he says comes from being easy to work with and results-driven. He has served on the Park Board for eight years, the last four as president.
Current Job: Horticulture professor at the University of Minnesota, Park Board president
Park Experience: Served on Park Board for eight years, the last four years as president.
Top Priorities: Increasing tree planting, especially edible plants and fruit trees, fixing up neighborhood parks and focusing on the RiverFirst development plan along the Mississippi River.
His Pitch: The Minneapolis parks system is the best in the country and as president of the Park Board over the last four years the parks have flourished while limiting tax increases. Under his leadership he will make sure to continue to fix up neighborhood parks while promoting forward-thinking plans like RiverFirst.
>> Meg Forney
Forney has been involved in numerous grassroots and neighborhood organizations for more than 35 years. The 4th-generation Minneapolitan says she has always campaigned on egalitarian access to parks and championed policies that remove social, cultural and economic barriers that prevent everyone from enjoying Minneapolis parks.
Neighborhood: West Calhoun
Current Job: Realtor with Coldwell Banker Burnett
Park Experience: Served on Park Board’s Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) for the Above the Falls plan and Southwest Light Rail Transit, Midtown Greenway Coalition Board, West Calhoun Neighborhood Council
Top Priorities: Broadly engaging with communities around Minneapolis to ensure equal access to parks, partnering with schools to develop effective parks programming and prevent bullying, working with private companies and donors to raise money for parks and partnering with other park agencies to spend it efficiently.
Her Pitch: Decades of experience as a grassroots neighborhood and park activist have given Forney a long track record of getting results. Her consistent dedication to promoting egalitarian access to parks make her a solid choice to represent all Minneapolis residents.
Facebook: Meg Forney for Parks
>> Casper Hill
Hill is campaigning on a “back to the basics” platform. He wants to put an increased focus on keeping up regular maintenance at parks and limit the Park Board’s frivolous spending. Hill has worked in communications for the city of Minneapolis for eight years and is president of ClubRun Minneapolis.
Current Job: City of Minneapolis communications
Park Experience: President of ClubRun, a running club based in Minneapolis, specializes in Minneapolis public works communications, which often include park projects.
Top Priorities: Use Park Board budget more efficiently, do a better job of maintaining paths and trails in parks, invest in better recycling programs and water bottle fillers at rec centers.
His Pitch: The Park Board continues to try to expand while struggling to keep up what it already has. He would make sure parks’ basic maintenance needs are met while continuing to invest in exciting new plans like RiverFirst by spending efficiently and reducing waste.
>> Ishmael Israel
Israel says his experience engaging residents as a neighborhood activist would help the Park Board become more responsive and better allocate resources to underserved communities. He has been involved in community engagement efforts for the Near-North and Willard-Hay neighborhoods since 2000, serving as Executive Director of the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council (NRRC) and was recently appointed by the mayor to the Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission.
Current Job: Executive Director of NRRC, lead designer for Icon Builders & Development
Park Experience: Worked indirectly with Park Board as part of his community engagement efforts
Top Priorities: Adjust resource allocation so that there is equal access to park programming across all socio-economic backgrounds, make sure new bike trail routes make sense and connect to regional parks, ensure resident voice drives Park Board policy.
His Pitch: Park Board programming should be more reflective of the communities that surround each park. He will champion resident input in deciding programming for each park to increase participation among underserved populations, and work to make sure park resources are allocated fairly.
>> Mary Lynn McPherson
McPherson gets a good look at Minneapolis parks every day operating her dog walking and training business. She wants to push for more senior citizen programming to utilize park buildings that are typically dormant during school hours, and explore alternate funding methods to ensure all parks are kept up to a high standard.
Current Job: Runs a dog walking and training business
Park Experience: Experiences them daily as resident and business owner
Top Priorities: More parks programming for seniors, offering park programming that is tailored to each community, maintain parks using a balance of public and private funding
Her Pitch: The parks are one of Minneapolis’ greatest resources. She will work to make sure that they are used more efficiently to offer something for all communities, including seniors and other underserved populations.
>> Tom Nordyke
Nordyke says he will use his extensive development background to help address the park system’s underfunded infrastructure. The DFL-endorsed candidate lives on Cedar Lake and has worked in arts-related real estate development for more than 25 years. He served as an at-large Park Board member from 2006-10, the last two of those years as president.
Current Job: Independent Development Consultant
Park Experience: Served on the Minneapolis Park Board from 2006-10, the last two years as president. Also involved in building the 6th Park District dog park.
Top Priorities: Upgrade underfunded park infrastructure and address inequality within the parks system.
His Pitch: Minneapolis park infrastructure has been underfunded for more than a decade, and now with a renewed effort to bring more population density to Minneapolis the need for infrastructure upgrades is more pressing than ever. His experience in development and commitment to infrastructure improvement will ensure that the parks system will be able to accommodate a growing population.
>> Jason Stone
Stone is running again after narrowly losing Park Board bids in 2005 and 2009. He boasts an impressive list of endorsements for a non-incumbent, including the Sierra Club, Stonewall DFL, Minneapolis Professional Employees Association, Mayor Rybak, State Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-61), State Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-60B), School Board Chair Alberto Monserrate, and Ward 11 City Council Member John Quincy.
Current Job: Client Engagement Project Lead at Magnet 360
Park Experience: Volunteer hockey and baseball coach for Minneapolis parks, serves on Minneapolis Citizen Environmental Advisory Committee, various other citizen-run neighborhood advocacy groups.
Top Priorities: Promoting sustainability in Park Board policy and addressing racial inequality within the parks system. To promote sustainability Stone would step up preventative efforts against invasive species and work to develop a comprehensive waste reduction and recycling plan. To address racial inequality he would form a racial equity working group and a youth advisory board that would report directly to the Park Board.
His Pitch: The city of Minneapolis – including the Park Board – needs to start getting serious about climate change and racial inequality. He has realistic, tangible ideas that would help address both of those issues, and a broad range of working experience in corporate, non-profit, and volunteer settings to make it happen.
>> Hashim Yonis
Yonis says he will bring a higher level of understanding of different cultures and traditions to a Park Board that has traditionally lacked diversity. Yonis was born in Somalia and lived in refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia before moving to Minneapolis when he was 10. He worked for the Park Board doing youth and community outreach for three years until he was fired in August after being accused of pocketing money meant for soccer field rentals. He denies the allegations and is currently awaiting a mid-Oct. appeal hearing.
Current Job: Ph.D. candidate at the University of Minnesota
Park Experience: Worked for the Park Board for three years
Top Priorities: Distributing park resources more equally to bring disenfranchised communities together and making youth recreation opportunities more inclusive.
His Pitch: Minneapolis is not the same place it was 20, 10, or even five years ago. He will use his community engagement and youth outreach skills to make sure the parks system works for everyone in Minneapolis.
>> Annie Young
Young is finishing up her 24th year on the Park Board, making her its longest-serving member. The Green Party candidate has focused on environmental issues during her tenure, like reducing chemical use in parks and increasing recycling and composting programs.
Neighborhood: East Phillips
Current Job: Environmental Justice Organizer with the Harrison Neighborhood Association and at-large Park Board member
Park Experience: Served on the Park Board for the last 24 years.
Top Priorities: Addressing the multi-cultural needs of Minneapolis, which involves allocating more assets to parks in north and northeast Minneapolis and increasing programming for teens, making sure green space is included in the many major upcoming developments in Minneapolis.
Her Pitch: Decades of experience as a environmentalist and political activist give her the expertise needed to guide Minneapolis parks toward a greener future. She will continue to focus on the reduction of chemical use in parks, ensuring new developments have plenty of green space and making Minneapolis parks inclusive of all communities.
>> District 1 (Northeast)
Wielinski says she wants to get creative in funding development of the Upper Riverfront parks. She wants to explore federal grants in her second term as Commissioner for District 1. She also wants to engage immigrant communities in Minneapolis by offering “diverse recreational and athletic opportunities.” Wielinski is running for reelection unopposed.
Current Job: Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board Vice President
Past experience: Wielinski served on the MPRB since January 2010. She focused on land acquisition and developing new parks on the Upper Riverfront. Prior to her time in office, Wielinski co-founded Minneapolis Park Watch, a watchdog blog focused on the Park Board.
Top Priorities: Finding funding to create and maintain parks in the Upper Riverfront. She says she wants to get a park on the former Scherer Bros. Lumber Co. site “on its legs and built.”
>> District 4: Downtown, Chain of Lakes neighborhoods
Anita Tabb [incumbent]
At the time Anita Tabb first noticed, with a glance out the back window of her Lowry Hill home, the heavy equipment parked on the old Parade Stadium grounds, she didn’t even know there was a Park Board.
But it was that glance that sparked an interest in park operations for Tabb, then a relative newcomer to Minneapolis. She became affiliated with Park Watch, a citizen group pushing for more Park Board transparency — a group that harshly criticized former superintendent Jon Gurban for a lack of daylight on the Parade Stadium project — and was one of three new commissioners swept into office in 2009.
Tabb said she’s been an advocate for community projects, keeping the pressure on to complete a reconstruction of Parade Parkway and voting in favor of a major overhaul of Parade Ice Garden. She said she doesn’t back plans for a Chinese Friendship Garden in Washburn Fair Oaks Park because of “tepid” support among neighbors.
But Tabb said she’s most proud of the Park Board’s steps toward “true community outreach and involvement.”
“To me, that’s really important,” she said.
Neighborhood: Lowry Hill
Current Job: District 4 Park Board commissioner
Park experience: Four years on Park Board
Top priorities: Improved customer service, tree replacement and responsible spending
Her pitch: Tabb say she’s helping to develop the “new culture of the Park Board,” one that is more open and transparent
For Bobby Davis, the best kind of Park Board commissioner is one who is a daily user of Minneapolis’ parks and trails — which is exactly how he describes himself.
It bugs Davis to see maintenance issues go neglected for months or even years, like potholes in trail pavement that get marked with blaze orange paint but never repaired. If elected, he’d direct more funding to park and trail maintenance.
“We don’t have money to be spending on friendship gardens and things like that,” he said, referring to the proposed Chinese Friendship Garden some would like to see built in Washburn Fair Oaks Park in Whittier.
Davis said the Park Board is best served by commissioners who maintain connections with constituents and don’t turn their service into a long-term job. Reminded that his opponent in the District 4 race has only served one term, Davis said four years would be enough for him.
“I’d like to bring something fresh,” he said. “I think when people have been there so long, they’ve stopped listening to the people.”
Neighborhood: East Calhoun
Current job: Maker
Park experience: Regular park user
Top priorities: Targeting more funding to park and trail maintenance
His pitch: “Vote for somebody who’s fresh and new”