Civic beat :: New park board superintendent serach

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February 15, 2010
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
Park Board to start search for new superintendent

It’s time to move on.

That was the message sent by John Erwin, president of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and five of his colleagues as the board voted Feb. 3 to start a search for the system’s next superintendent.

The effect: a strong chance Superintendent Jon Gurban will be out once his contract ends, possibly later this year. He’s allowed to reapply for his job, but as Erwin said, “there are new needs.”

The six commissioners who voted to move on said they were following the will of Minneapolis’ residents. All four newly elected commissioners said comments from residents on the campaign trail sealed their decisions.

In the minority were long-time commissioners Bob Fine, Carol Kummer and Jon Olson, who respectively called the decision rushed, likely to prove costly and a sham.

They set a tone reminiscent of the night Gurban was first chosen to be put in charge of the Park Board, after a candidate search imploded in 2003. Gurban at the time had neither applied for nor been screened for the job, but he was hired with a 5­–4 vote to serve on a one-year contract. Erwin, then serving his first term, called the board’s decision “outrageous” and “unprofessional.”

Gurban’s hiring was contingent on him passing the screening process, which he did. And a year later, the board extended his contract on a 6–3 vote — Erwin was with the majority that time — after successfully completing another candidate search.

Gurban has since watched over a number of system accomplishments, including the development of the board’s Comprehensive Plan and the completion of long-stalled ideas to fill the last gap in the city’s Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System. A 2008 evaluation of his job performance showed a majority of the last Park Board found he met or exceeded expectations.

But Gurban also has taken knocks on issues such as transparency and communication concerns, and his interactions with both the public and the board, in particular, have been scrutinized over the years. Watchdogs have complained about the difficulty of accessing public documents during his tenure and about major action items sometimes appearing on agendas without following standard processes.

Moving on now, “it happens,” Erwin said. “It just happens as the natural growth of an organization.”

How long it’ll take to find a new superintendent will depend on what search firm is chosen. The entire process could last through the end of the year.

In the meantime, one issue remains unsolved: what happens in July. Gurban’s contract currently ends in June, and the board hasn’t decided what to do beyond that. Commissioners said they wanted to wait until after a search firm is chosen.


Tot lot passes committee level, heads to board

A Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board committee has recommended that the full board approve plans for what would be the North Loop’s first playground.

The two-part tot lot would offer recreation for two age groups and incorporate both the site’s current natural environment and its historical use as a sawmill. Funding isn’t set yet, but if approved, it will be featured as the community service project for a national parks conference to be held
here in October.

Prior to the Park Board committee’s vote, about two dozen of the growing neighborhood’s residents — including a handful of young children — attended a public hearing. Speakers presented a united front of support for the playground, noting that the current closest playground isn’t within walking distance and that “there’s only so much time you can spend at a coffee shop,” as one mother said.

Commissioner Scott Vreeland, the grandfather of two young children, said he looked forward to seeing the tot lot built.

“We’ve tried out a lot of playgrounds,” he said, “and this looks like it’ll be a great one.”

The full board will vote on the project at its Feb. 17 meeting.


Legislature’s bills retain allocation for planetarium

Backers of Downtown’s proposed Minneapolis Planetarium received some relief this month when the Senate and House of Representatives unveiled their versions of the state’s 2010 bonding bill. As presented, the Planetarium Society still would be eligible for $22 million to get the long-stalled project off the ground.

Without the allocation, the Planetarium Society’s fundraising goal would more than double, up from $19 million. The Legislature’s bills ignore Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposal in January, which deleted the funds — guaranteed since 2005 — because of what he said is a need to focus on projects that have clear statewide benefits in the wake of the bad economy.

Hurdles remain for planetarium backers. The Legislature’s versions still have to make their way through both chambers, as well as the governor’s office. And Pawlenty has said that he doesn’t want to see a bill much larger than his proposed $685 million version; the Legislature is pushing for $1 billion.