It was December of 2003 and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board was about to have a big problem.
After an extensive search to replace the outgoing Parks Superintendent their focus had narrowed down to two candidates; each had excellent credentials.
At that point some of the Ineffectual Four Commissioners decided that the final interview was a unique opportunity to do some political grandstanding and show the potential new superintendent who was boss. The last thing some of these board members wanted was a superintendent that was independent and didn’t kowtow to their whims. The grilling these candidates received was brutal. It involved questions that had little to do with their professional qualifications. They ventured into personal and political; one candidate was asked about his “living arrangements.”
It came as no surprise that both the final candidates withdrew their names from consideration. The allure of running the largest and oldest park system in the state and the pay that went with the job couldn’t compensate for the aggravation that was sure to come from working with these harpies.
So the board had a problem. The holidays were approaching; the current superintendent was leaving at the end of the year. After spending a year and more than $40,000 on the search for a replacement, they had no candidates.
Five of the brighter members of the board (dubbed the “Gang of 5” by park plague ParkWatch) came to the conclusion that the Park Board needed an interim superintendent. One name came up again and again - Jon Gurban. At that time Mr. Gurban was Executive Director of the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association. He had an excellent reputation for dealing with the public, members, staff and the board of directors. He was a “hometown boy” with a pretty good understanding of the challenges the new Park Superintendent would be facing.
The Grown-up 5 approached Mr. Gurban to discuss a temporary 1-year appointment while they conducted yet another national search.
Mr. Gurban would have to make some sacrifices to take this temporary position. MNPRA would not allow a one-year leave of absence or sabbatical. The MPRB could not guarantee employment for more than a year. It was quite a career risk knowing he would find himself searching for a job in a year, and that dealing with the dysfunctional board could at some point tarnish his reputation.
But the lure of an exciting new opportunity and a chance to right a ship that had veered off course proved to be too much for Mr. Gurban. Minneapolis was his home and the city he grew up in and he had always had a love for its parks. Some of his fondest childhood memories were linked to those parks and now he had the chance to repay the city he loved. He took the job, deciding that the opportunity to make a positive difference as Park Superintendent was more important than his own job security. .
Next up: Gurban’s tenure.