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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Gurban's First Year and the Birth of Park Watch

It was 2004, and the hiring of Jon Gurban spawned Park Watch, or so the story goes. Minneapolis politics was known for being a contact sport, but this small and dedicated group was going to take this game to an all-time low.


Below is a sample of the Destructo-spin that this group uses to spread its message:

“Last year (2003), the MPRB hired a search firm to find prospects to fill the position of superintendent. We recently obtained a copy of the text in the document the search firm sent to prospective applicants. The criteria all seem reasonable. Jon Gurban (current interim superintendent and appointed at the last moment by the Gang of Five in what clearly was a backroom deal) did not apply for the job, or follow any of the application requirements outlined here. Thus we have no way of knowing if he is at all qualified. The commissioners never received any further information beyond a brief, inaccurate resume handed out just minutes prior to the vote. What are they trying to hide? That Gurban is completely unqualified?”

Out of Options

Of course this leaves a few critical elements out of the story, like why the Grown-up 5 had to hire an “interim” superintendent in the first place. It was because some of the Defiant 4 had treated the final candidates so shabbily, so offensively, that they dropped out of the search. Mr. Gurban was well-known to the Commissioners as Executive Director of the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association. He was recommended to the board by the outgoing superintendent after she flat-out refused an offer to stay until another search process was completed. So on December 17, 2003, at the last meeting of the year, with no superintendent at the helm, a majority of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Commissioners voted to offer Mr. Gurban a one-year temporary position to help them through this transition.

Reinventing Reality

But rather than see things as they were, a few individuals decided to form an alliance with the most disruptive members of the board and commence an inquisition.

They cried corruption. They howled about a back room deal. They questioned Gurban’s resume. They said he was inexperienced and “completely unqualified.” They said he would sell off park land to greedy developers. They even disparaged his grammar. Of course all of these serious allegations turned out to be false. To Park Watch’s great shame they never printed a retraction.

As a condition of his employment, the Board required that Gurban meet the same requirements and take the same tests the other applicants had taken. It turned out that Gurban exceeded the requirements, and his test results surpassed the other applicants. Park Watch has this information, but again to their shame, it has never been posted on their website.

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Here are some other things you won’t find on the ParkWatch blog. In 2004 (Gurban’s first/interim year) the MPRB did accomplish a thing or two:

1. Rehabilitated the athletic fields at Armatage Park and Marshall Terrace.
2. Rehabilitated 8 miles of pathways around Cedar Lake and Lake Nokomis.
3. Restored the Lake Harriet Bandshell.
4. Introduced skate parks.
5. Acquired the Edward C. Solomon Park, adding 40 acres of new parkland.
6. Implemented a cutting edge engineering strategy called “surcharging” which restores park land prone to flooding.
7. Developed a new geographically-based organizational structure to adapt more quickly to changing metro demographics.
8. Implemented an online park reservation system.

So under Gurban’s leadership the MPRB rehabilitated a few parks and trails, so they added a little park land, so they reorganized staff to be more efficient, so they automated a reservation system, so they introduced skate parks. Park Watch still says he’s not qualified. What else did he do as Interim Superintendent?

9. Removed 5300 trees due to Dutch elm disease (the 3rd highest number since the 1970’s).
10. Increased awareness of cultural diversity, particularly within the Latino community.
11. Established the Minneapolis Parks Foundation.
12. Installed the system’s first solar array computer and electrical converter.
13. Started broadcasting all board meetings live on cable access television.

That’s in addition to running the day-to-day operations that require 600 full time and 1000 part time employees. The system includes 7 golf courses, 183 tennis courts, 8 historic sites, 3 pools and a heck of a lot more, like coordinating some 5000 volunteers.

Now, that’s a pretty full plate for a guy with at least 4 board members and Park Watch dedicated to opposing his every move. And indeed 2004 seemed to be Gurban’s least productive year compared to what he has accomplished since then.

Park Watch Brooks No Dissent

The next year, to Park Watch’s great consternation, Mr. Gurban was offered a contract and the label of “interim” was removed from his title. Up from 5:4, the vote was now 6:3 in favor. Commissioner John Erwin joined the Grown-up 5 in deciding Jon Gurban was the best candidate for the times and challenges ahead. Park Watch had this to say, “Commissioner John Erwin is now persona non grata after abandoning and alienating the constituents who both elected and supported him, as well as abandoning the now minority three commissioners. Erwin instead voted with the steam-rolling, dirty-dealing majority five. Erwin will never be part of the inner circle formed by majority five commissioners: "jocks" Walt Dziedzic, Bob Fine and Jon Olson, and empty-headed "cheerleaders" Marie Hauser and Carol Kummer.”

Perhaps there is just no pleasing Annie Young, Vivian Mason or Rochelle Berry Graves.

Psycho-activists or Rovian-politicos?

This leaves Park Watch Watch wondering about the motives of Park Watch. In a recent post, we observed that Park Watch members exhibited symptoms of “psycho-activism.” This means they started out as well-intentioned, and sadly lost their way. Not guilty by reason of mental defect. But perhaps they do know right from wrong, and are acting with malice aforethought. In this case, it smells more and more like “Rovian-politics.” Did these Park Watch players have a hand in thwarting the superintendent search or did they just observe it? Who is behind the curtain? What is their end game?

Next up:
If it ain’t broke, don’t break it.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice article. Is it really true that the other candidates for superintendent dropped out? What did Park Watch think should have been done if there were no candidates? Have Annie Young step in as interim? Maybe Dean Zimmermann! No, wait, Dick Franson! No, no, wait, Arlene Fried! She could fly from park to park on her broom and harangue, scold and otherwise berate the park employees to death. If she and Vivian Mason worked together, they could cast a spell of misery and despair over the whole park system.