Government News

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December 8, 2003 // UPDATED 11:09 am - April 30, 2007
By: Skyway News editorial staff
Skyway News editorial staff

Government related news going on in, and about the Downtown Minneapolis Area.

Leaders to co-mingle anniversary fluids In the Grand Excursion of 1854, President Millard Fillmore and 1,200 dignitaries traveled to St. Anthony Falls via train, steamboat and horseback to celebrate Independence Day.

Local officials are laying plans for the 150-year anniversary -- the Grand Excursion of 2004. The event will build on Nicollet Island's traditional July 4th celebration.

A "Co-mingling of the Waters" event highlighted the original Grand Excursion, wherein organizers mixed water from the Atlantic Ocean with the Mighty Mississippi.

Next year's event will mirror the original, sort of.

A parade will leave Nicollet Island at 2 p.m. and march across the Stone Arch Bridge to the newly completed Plank Road in front of the Mill City Museum.

Then, according to a Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board memo:

"With the Falls of St. Anthony in full view, people from various watersheds around the world will co-mingle water in a single vessel, uniting the past and the present, symbolizing the universal concern for the quality of water worldwide."

However, organizers don't plan to pour the water into the river. They fear the foreign fluid could introduce unwanted elements -- an exotic bacteria or other life form that could create a zebra-mussel-type catastrophe.

Instead, the co-mingled water "will be put into vials and distributed among participants," the plan said.

Parade preparations start at noon on Nicollet Island. It will end with the Central Riverfront Fireworks at 10 p.m. "potentially coordinated with all other cities along the river for a satellite photo opportunity," Park Board materials read.

Artistic Director Phillip Brunell will incorporate music and dance into the area's historical and natural environments.

The day's other events include: simulated archeological digs, historical walking tours, Native American trading and cultural encampment at Father Hennepin Bluffs Park, Pillsbury "A" Mill demonstrations, kids' games, ethnic foods, a day-long Reggae Concert for Unity on Boom Island, Bread and Butter Jam at the Mill City Museum, and more.

During a recent Park Board meeting discussing Grand Excursion events, Commissioner Walt Dziedzic joked: "Millard Fillmore is coming. We'll have to order some extra whiskey."

Event planners can likely save on that budget item, however.

According to the "Medical History of the United States Presidents Web site, www. doctorzebra.com/prez/by_sys.htm, "Fillmore was the first president who was a health nut. He did not smoke or drink, and was fastidious about measures he believed could affect his physical well-being," it said.

Despite his best efforts, Fillmore died of a stroke at age 74 in 1874. -- Scott Russell

Park Board names two superintendent finalists Plans to bless new leader Wednesday The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has narrowed its superintendent search to two candidates: Robert Robertson, president and CEO for Denver-based National Sports Center for the Disabled, and John Von DeLinde, Anoka County's director of parks and recreation.

The Park Board interviewed seven finalists Dec. 1-3 and decided Robertson and Von DeLinde would get second interviews. The Park Board's consultant identified the finalists from a pool of 25 applications.

The Board is expected to make its selection Wednesday, Dec. 10. The new superintendent will start Jan. 12.

Robertson has worked for the National Sports Center for the Disabled since 2002. He was executive director of North Jeffco Parks and Recreation District in Arvada, Colo., from 1995-2002. He has a masters in recreation and parks administration from the University of Missouri.

Von DeLinde has worked for Anoka County since 1994. He was Eagan's parks superintendent from 1986 to 1994. He has a masters in public administration from Hamline University.

The other five finalists included two internal candidates: Don Siggelkow, assistant superintendent of administration and finance, and Norman Merrifield, assistant superintendent of recreation.

The other three finalists were: Douglas Gaynor, director of forestry and recreation for Evanston, Ill.; Todd Graff, director of parks and recreation for Coconino County, Ariz.; and Dianne Hoover, director of parks and recreation for Fort Wayne, Ind.

Commissioner Vivian Mason said she was disappointed with the process, the small applicant pool and the finalists' traditional park and recreation backgrounds. She advocated non-traditional candidates, mirroring the Minneapolis Library Board's hiring of Executive Kit Hadley, who and an administrative and financial background, as opposed to a library background.

Commissioner John Erwin said he thought 25 applicants "was quite a few" and thought they had broad backgrounds.

Ted Flickinger, the Park Board's hiring consultant and president and CEO of the Illinois Association of Park Districts, said the superintendent's salary cap hurt recruiting.

State law limits the parks chief's salary -- and that of other local leaders -- to 95 percent of the governor's salary, or roughly $116,000 a year. Some candidates Minneapolis might have recruited already made $150,000 to $160,000 a year, Flickinger said.

The new superintendent will replace Mary Merrill Anderson, who is retiring. The superintendent oversees 6,400 acres of parkland, 170 park properties, 49 recreational centers, 600 full-time and 1,500 part-time employees, six golf courses, and the Chain of Lakes, which draws 5.5 million visitors a year, according to the Board's Web site.

The next superintendent also joins an elite group. Park Board Counsel Brian Rice pointed out during a recent meeting that since the Park Board's creation in 1883, there have been more popes than Parks Superintendents.

Actually, it's a tie: nine popes, nine superintendents (counting Anderson, not counting interim superintendents.)

The popes are: Leo XIII (1878-1903); St. Pius X (1903-1914); Benedict XV (1914-1922); Pius XI (1922-1939); Pius XII (1939-1958); Blessed John XXIII (1958-1963); Paul VI (1963-1978); John Paul I (1978) and John Paul II (1978-present).

The superintendents are: William Berry (1884-1905); Theodore Wirth (1906-1935); C.A. Bossen (1935-1945); Charles E. Doell (1945-1959); Howard Moore (1959-1966); Robert Ruhe (1966-1978); Charles Spears (1978-1980); David Fisher (1981-1999) and Anderson (1999-present). -- Scott Russell

Over Rybak's objection, council group restores library funds The City Council's Ways and Means Committee voted to restore $4.8 million for community library building projects -- rejecting recommendations from Mayor R.T. Rybak and a citizen budget-review committee.

It means the Library Board would get $1.6 million a year from 2006 to 2008 in the five-year capital plan, if the full Council approves it. The vote would reduce money available for a Public Works maintenance yard project at East 26th Street and Hiawatha Avenue. It was one of several budget amendments Councilmembers considered during budget mark-up Nov. 19-20.

The Council will hold a truth-in-taxation public hearing Monday, Dec. 8. It will vote on the budget Monday, Dec. 15. The Ways and Means amendments did not significantly alter Rybak's proposed 2004 budget, which has $1.2 billion for the city and its independent boards, utilities, capital improvements and other costs.

The Capital Long-range Improvement Committee (CLIC), a group of citizen volunteers from each ward, recommended zeroing out the library's 2006-2008 building budget.

Voters approved a $140 million referendum in 2000 for a new Downtown Library and community library improvements. The Board based the referendum on the understanding it would continue to get $1.6 million a year in the city's annual borrowing package.

The Library Board's long-range planning has come under fire. While it has the money to build an expanded system, it does not have the money to run it at previous levels. It has opted for reduced hours.

CLIC and Rybak raised concerns the library system could invest in buildings it eventually will close.

The August CLIC report said it did not make its recommendation lightly. "We cannot, however, justify the additional funding of renovations if the Library [Board] continues to operate their remodeled libraries at such a reduced-service level, or worse yet, if they decide to close renovated libraries in the near future," it said.

Rybak echoed that concern at the Ways and Means Committee meeting. "You are signing a blank check that gives away all the leverage," he said. "Let's not do something arbitrary until the Library [Board] has a long-term plan that is sustainable."

Ways and Means Chair Barb Johnson (4th Ward) pushed for the library money. The Library Board would have a hard time planning if it had "such a moving target of dollars," she said. "They needed certainty. That is what we were trying to do."

Despite the libraries' reduced 2004 hours, the Library Board had made the decision to keep all buildings open at this point, and Johnson said she did not see a risk in providing it more building money.

"Down the road, if they have to close facilities, I imagine they will put the ones in jeopardy of closing close to the end of the [five-year] building program," she said.

In other votes, the Ways and

Means Committee:

  • Rejected a plan to reduce property taxes by $1 million by reducing the Affordable Housing Trust Fund from $11 million to $10 million;
  • Cut Rybak's proposal to borrow $500,000 for redevelopment planning for the Upper Harbor Terminal, South Lyndale Avenue near Crosstown highway and the Farmers' Market area;
  • Directed the fire chief to formalize an agreement with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board for firefighters to water new trees;
  • Allowed Councilmembers and the mayor to carry forward deficits in their office budgets for one year (but not two consecutive years nor in the last year of their term); and
  • Allowed councilmembers and the mayor to carry forward surpluses in their office budgets year to year. -- Scott Russell