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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Candidate Questionnaire: Jon Olson

1. Why are you running to be a Commissioner on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board?
I am running for my third term because I want to continue my strong advocacy for parks on the NorthSide. I was born on the NorthSide, I grew up and spent my entire life here, we raised our son here, and I’ve owned the north Lyndale Dairy Queen for 14 years. I understand the challenges we are facing, and I also know how terrific our people, our parks and our neighborhoods are. Right now we are working hard on improvements for Victory Memorial Parkway, planning for the re-design of the Webber Park swimming area, continuing implementation of the Above the Falls Master Plan, improvements to Wirth Beach with winter recreational opportunities, and several other local neighborhood initiatives. The first Tot Lot in the North Loop downtown is coming in 2010, and we are working to complete baseball improvements at Shingle Creek in with the support of the Camden Lions, of which I am a charter member.

2. How would you describe the “job” of a park commissioner? What are the most important roles and responsibilities?

I represent my constituents by advocating for our parks and working closely with residents and neighborhood groups to understand their needs and plan for the future. I work hard with my colleagues on a long term vision for the park system, and I support our talented and committed staff in carrying it out.

3. Are you running on a “reform” platform, or not? Please explain, be specific.
I think we have the best park system in the country, and certainly Minneapolis residents agree with me. I think this “reform” movement was politically motivated, and was advanced by people who are willing to attack good commissioners and run down our very capable staff at a time when they should be praised for the great work they do, despite budget cuts, and huge unforeseen challenges, such as Emerald Ash Borer.

4. Do you support or oppose the proposed referendum for Park Board independence? Please explain.
I strongly support it. We need to preserve and maintain our parks, and this is the best way to do it.

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?

I have served on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board for nearly 8 years, 4 as president of the board. I currently serve as vice chair of the legislative committee, and work with the state legislature to secure the resources we need to sustain our parks, and am very involved in budgeting. I am the former chair of the NRP policy board. As a lifetime resident, parent, homeowner, and small business owner, I care deeply about the preserving our parks, protecting our environment and having excellent rec programs, while keeping our property taxes as affordable as possible.

6. What is your view on how the MPRB should approach public/private partnerships, “enterprise” or income-generating projects?
I think vision and creativity, projects that meet current and projected needs, and projects that are suited to neighborhood are three most critical elements of success in these undertakings. We have some terrific successes, and we have also made some mistakes that we had to fix as well as learn from. I do know that about 90% of residents support public/private partnerships as a way to enhance revenue, and I am committed to pursuing these when they are feasible and add to the parks.

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?
I have worked hard to have respectful and productive working relationships with my colleagues, as well as staff. I follow the Golden Rule. But I also believe in holding people accountable for honesty and civility in their communication. We have an important job to do, and we can only get it done by showing respect for one another.

8. There is a general perception that the MPRB has sometimes had strained relationships with other organizations (City, County). What is your perception and how will you approach these relationships?
The MPRB, and I personally have strong working relationships at the state legislature, the county, and the city as well. I think some of this perception comes from some city council members seeking to revise the City Charter to eliminate the park board. It is natural in tough economic times to fight over scarce resources, and to seek to consolidate power. It is a misguided impulse, and I hope our proposed Charter Amendment for an Independent Board will solve that problem.


  1. Your first two candidates sure are cute! Seriously though, this is great to get to know the candidates without the rhetoric and propaganda!

  2. I love this!! Park Watch is a bunch of loonies!! Thanks you for exposing them, they are a drain on the Park Board and their staff. Can common sense prevail?