1. Why are you running to be a Commissioner on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board?
I am running because my experience working effectively with other units of government, and my ability to build coalitions and create consensus is critically needed on our board at this time. We are facing enormous economic and environmental challenges. The referendum for park board independence will likely be approved by the voters and we will need to work with the State Legislature to hammer out the legal and practical details of a financially independent Park Board. My 22 years working at the MN State Legislature, 12 years serving as a member of the Metropolitan Council, 8 years as a Metropolitan Waste Control Commissioner, and 6 years on the MPRB have given me more experience, skills and relationships than any other commissioner or candidate to get things done in government.
2. How would you describe the “job” of a park commissioner? What are the most important roles and responsibilities?
The job of every district commissioner is to advocate for our constituents and parks, work together to create a long-term vision for the park system, and to support our staff. Beyond that, each Commissioner brings his or her own professional expertise, such as business, finance, recreation programming, legal, real estate, or organizational development. I apply my own experience and people skills to ensure our parks have adequate resources to best serve my constituents.
3. Are you running on a “reform” platform, or not? Please explain, be specific.
I ran on “meaningful reform” four years ago and I still believe in that concept.
The recent park “reform” movement has had two themes: transparency and accountability. I fully support both principles, as they are important to a successful democracy. The MPRB is open and accountable in all of its proceedings. To falsely disparage our park board with these accusations, and to create doubt and distrust in the minds of citizens is damaging to our park system, demoralizing to our staff, and fuels a kind of activism that simply causes more harm than good. I am running on a strong platform of openness, accountability and citizen participation, in order to continue our commitment to those principles.
4. Do you support or oppose the proposed referendum for Park Board independence? Please explain.
I actively support it as part of a broad strategy to sustain our parks, open spaces, trails and rec programming today and for future generations.
5. What experience do you have that qualifies you to serve on a board of an organization that has a $60 million budget, 600 full time employees, 1300 part time employees and controls 6400 acres of park land?
For more than 10 years at the Minnesota House of Representatives, I administered the Labor & Industry, Governmental Operations, Health & Human Services, Regulated Industries and the Appropriations committees, helping to create laws that affected every Minnesotan, with budgets in the tens of millions of dollars. For 8 years as a Metropolitan Waste Control Commissioner, I worked to develop programs to beneficially re-use byproducts from the wastewater treatment process. While serving 12 years on the Metropolitan Council, I served on the Transportation Committee, I chaired the Hiawatha LRT citizens advisory committee, and chaired the Environment Committee. I was the Metro Parks and Open Space liaison, co-chair of the Polluted Sites Working Group, and founder and member of the Core Cities Working Group. I currently chair the MPRB Legislative Committee, and serve as liaison to the legislature to help ensure we are working cooperatively with our regional park system.
6. What is your view on how the MPRB should approach public/private partnerships, “enterprise” or income-generating projects?
First of all, these types of projects are essential to our financial sustainability. Theodore Wirth was the first to declare that park services could not be maintained solely with tax revenue, and sadly this is even truer today. Our “Watchers” and my Park Watch opponent have been harshly critical of some of these projects, including Sea Salt at Minnehaha Falls, which is run by two local guys. I was roundly criticized for supporting it, but I am proud of that support, and it has been very successful. We need to keep in mind that our primary mission is to preserve and protect our parks, and to provide recreational opportunities. So while each project must be approached individually, they must meet the basic criteria of advancing the parks’ mission, being appropriate to the area, and generate a benefit to the system. For these endeavors to be successful, we have to support and encourage our staff to think outside the box, and to engage and encourage citizens to do the same.
7. While employee morale remains high, there has been an acrimonious relationship between some of the members of the board and the staff and even between board members themselves. Why do you think this is, and what if anything would you do to improve these relationships?
Disagreement and debate are natural as well as productive. Currently, there is a great deal of respect among Commissioners and staff, and the concept of a “divided” or “5:4” board is largely untrue, and something of an invention of Park Watch and the actions of a previous board. We frequently have unanimous votes, and when we don’t, they don’t split along “faction” lines. I personally believe we all are entitled to our opinions and working together can bring about compromise. I encourage anyone who is reading these questionnaires to attend park board meetings, watch them on television, and to volunteer in the parks. Follow this link to learn more about volunteer opportunities http://www.minneapolisparks.org/default.asp?PageID=78 or here for other ways to support the parks http://www.minneapolisparks.org/default.asp?PageID=179.
I would like to thank Park Watch Watch for including questions about respectful communication among commissioners, staff and other organizations. It has been a challenge for us, and volunteers and citizens, to turn the other cheek on Park Watch’s unrelenting criticism and suspicion. When I was appointed to the board, a Park Watch-endorsed candidate said she would “hold her nose” and vote for me. In the last election, they referred to me as an “empty-headed cheerleader.” I won anyway.
8. There is a general perception that the MPRB has sometimes has strained relationships with other organizations (City, County). What is your perception and how will you approach these relationships?
I think this perception has been around for some time. I have done my best to work across jurisdictions for mutual benefit. More recently, this perception most likely comes from efforts made by Councilmember Ostrow and Charter Commission to eliminate the independently-elected park board. In fact, the MPRB has cordial and productive relationships with other organizations, and of course, individuals within those organizations. And they will continue until and after the November election and referendum. Having positive and respectful relationships with others is a particularly high priority for me.