While the independence of the Park Board has been one of the hottest city government topics this year, there are other issues facing the parks system. Just ask the candidates for the three at-large Park Board seats.
Each of the incumbents is calling sustainability a top priority. The board recently adopted a sustainability report, and it plans to move ahead with goals such as becoming the city’s hub for all things green.
Current board President Tom Nordyke also wants to continue along the same lines he’s followed since being first elected four years ago: focus on stabilizing the fiscal health of the Park Board and improve the relationship between the parks and the city — although he admits the independence initiative might have severely damaged some relationships.
Current Vice President Mary Merrill Anderson has the oldest direct connection to the Park Board of any candidate, starting as a parks employee in 1972 and eventually working all the way up to superintendent. Children are a top priority, she said, as well as accessibility for people of all backgrounds.
Commissioner Annie Young, meanwhile, holds the longest on-going streak of Park Board membership. She’s seeking her sixth straight term, during which she said her priorities would include protecting open space, equal access and expanding recreational opportunities.
Those three face an interesting group of opponents, including a fellow incumbent commissioner (District 6’s Bob Fine), a former commissioner only four years removed from his last term (John Erwin) and three newcomers (David Wahlstedt, Nancy Bernard and John Butler).
Fine decided to jump to the citywide race, he said, because his No. 1 priority is the financial independence of the Park Board — less a district issue than one for the whole city. He also wants to mitigate the influence of groups such as watchdogs Park Watch. If he wins, it would be his second term as an at-large commissioner. He previously served citywide from 1998-2001.
Erwin, also a former at-large commissioner, decided to forego a reelection bid four years ago to focus on family. He’s back now, and his priorities include expanding parks’ options to seniors, increasing recreation centers’ community service offerings and planting more trees. He also wants to improve the relationship between the Park Board and the city, something he worked on during his previous stint on the board. He is endorsed by many of the city’s politicians, including Mayor R.T. Rybak and much of the City Council.
Wahlstedt, meanwhile, has been trying to break into the Park Board dialogue. He said he has an entrepreneurial spirit that the board can use to deal with its ever-worsening finances. He comes with just a few specific ideas himself, but he said it’s most important that the board open up to suggestions. That would lead to plenty of bad proposals, he said, perhaps lots of them — but from hundreds of bad proposals could come three, four or a dozen good ones that could alleviate the financial pains.
Bernard’s goals are simpler: She just wants to find ways to draw people back to the parks. People near her Northeast home don’t seem to use the city’s green space anywhere near as much as people did when she was younger, Bernard said.
Butler said he mostly likes what he sees in the current parks system, but he would like improvements in services for seniors. He also said the parks could cut costs by relying more on volunteers — although, being a frequent volunteer himself, he knows that’s not always the easiest route.
A forum featuring seven of the above candidates was held Oct. 20. Click here for an overview of candidate responses.
Mary Merrill Anderson