Park Board loses top superintendent candidates

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December 15, 2003 // UPDATED 11:09 am - April 30, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Tussle evidence of Board 'degeneration'

The top two candidates for superintendent of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board pulled out, leaving Park Board members expressing concern that Board infighting is hurting its national reputation and ability to recruit top-shelf leadership.

Earlier this month, the Board narrowed the field of seven finalists to two: John VonDeLinde, director of parks and recreation for Anoka County, and Robert Robertson, president and CEO for Denver-based National Sports Center for the Disabled.

Robertson pulled out over the Dec. 6-7 weekend after the StarTribune reported a Board straw poll showing VonDeLinde had stronger support.

VonDeLinde withdrew hours before the scheduled Board vote Dec. 10 -- citing family reasons and concerns about apparent Board divisions reflected in a follow-up StarTribune story.

In the article, Commissioner Vivian Mason criticized the selection process, adding that she still wanted to ask VonDeLinde more questions -- such as whether he would move to Minneapolis.

VonDeLinde told Skyway News: "I was hoping there would be a more unified front on the Board . . . That was certainly part of my decision."

It took over an hour for the wrangling Board to even decide whether to reinvite remaining finalists, passing 6-3 on Dec. 10 with Walt Dziedzic, Jon Olson and Board President Bob Fine voting no.

Finalists now include two internal candidates, Don Sigglekow, assistant superintendent of finance and administration, and Norman Merrifield, assistant superintendent of recreation. The other three are park or forestry directors from Fort Wayne, Ind., Evanston, Ill., and Coconino County, Ariz.

This is not the first time Board members have been at odds with each other in what one Commissioner characterizes as "personality conflicts."

Dziedzic tried to get the Board to approve a one-year contract extension for Superintendent Mary Merrill Anderson, which failed 3-5 with Dziedzic, Olson and Carol Kummer voting yes.

In the end, Commissioners approved to extend current Anderson's contract Jan 1-March 31.

However, Board division may jeopardize that plan.

After the meeting, Anderson would not say whether she would accept the extension. "I will evaluate with my family what is the best decision," she said.

Dziedzic said the Board's vote made it, "the laughing stock of the country right now."

Commissioner Annie Young said, "it is amazing how we have the most amazing park system in the world and we have degenerated to this point."

Asked how the Board would right itself, President Fine said: "I can't tell you. I don't know."

The Board will get a report Wednesday, Dec. 17 on which remaining candidates are still interested in the position.