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Monday, August 17, 2009

Candidate Questionnaire: Mary Merrill Anderson

1. Why are you running to be a Commissioner on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board?
Parks & Recreation are my passion, my life’s work. I believe in the many benefits that Parks and Recreation provide the city that I love and live in and I believe that I have the necessary background (over 32 years as a Professional in the field of Parks and Recreation - from Park Director to Superintendent) and experience as a Park Commissioner At Large to make a significant contribution to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. I want serve as an at-large, or city-wide commissioner, so I represent every resident and park user. I am also a strong advocate for children, People with Disabilities, communities of color, the environment and safe parks. I’m running for my second term to continue this essential advocacy.

2. How would you describe the “job” of a park commissioner? What are the most important roles and responsibilities?
The role of the Board is to represent the residents of Minneapolis as they set the overall vision, mission and goals and develop the policies that implement that mission, vision and goals for the entire park and recreation system. The board hires a Superintendent to implement the mission, vision and goals of the Board and to manage the Park and Recreation System. The commissioners provide strong advocacy for the Park & Recreation system, working with citizens, community groups, businesses, foundations and other units of government in the provision of Park & Recreation Services and shared areas of responsibility. The Park Commissioner is accountable to the voters of Minneapolis for its stewardship of the Park & Recreation System.

3. Are you running on a “reform” platform, or not? Please explain, be specific.
I sincerely believe in robust citizen participation, and I know from experience that every organization can, in fact, must strive for constant progress and improvement. The Minneapolis park system is one of best in the world, our board is strong, and our organization is outstanding. In order to maintain a strong Park & Recreation System we must always be looking to respond to new and changing needs, which means the system must adapt and change to continue meeting the needs of Minneapolis Residents. The Board's Comprehensive Plan is a dynamic strategy based on citizen participation and direction, leading to better meeting the needs of residents.

4. Do you support or oppose the proposed referendum for Park Board independence? Please explain.
I strongly support it. A strong independent and elected Park Board ensures that a strong park system is and has been at the root of Minneapolis as a strong and healthy city. Maintaining and reaffirming the independence of the 126 year old Park Board created by the State Legislature and the Voters of Minneapolis will allow us to better protect, preserve and enhance the Park and Recreation system. Maintaining the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board as a national model for land stewardship, environmental leadership and vital recreational programs will make Minneapolis more successful, and one of the best cities in the country to live in.

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?
Since 1972, when I graduated from the University of Minnesota, I have spent every day of my life working in and for the Minneapolis Parks. I have been a Recreation Center Director, Training Coordinator, Citywide Manager of Recreation programs, Assistant Superintendent for Recreation & Administration, Park Board Secretary and Superintendent of the MPRB. I have also pursued continuing education and executive development, including NRPA Certified Park and Recreation Professional. I have served as the President of Minnesota Recreation & Park Association and the NRPEMS and other National Park & Recreation organizations. Locally I have also served the community through numerous community organizations and boards including: Hope Community, Pacer Center, Minneapolis Youth Trust, NAACP, Urban League, City’s Children 2007, and Parent Advisory Council on Latch Key Minneapolis.

6. What is your view on how the MPRB should approach public/private partnerships, “enterprise” or income-generating projects?
I believe in today’s economic environment we must be open to looking at new ways to generate revenue to help support the important mission of the Park & Recreation system. When looking at what should be our approach we should consider the following:
-What is the public purpose and need or desire?
-Can the service or program be provided by Park & Recreation staff in a manner that is cost effective and generate income?
-Is the service or program within the mission of the Park & Recreation Board?
-What are the public benefits to be derived?
I believe it is important to listen to citizens and residents of Minneapolis in a proactive way, sharing with them as we explore how we can ensure the future sustainability of the Park and Recreation System. We also need to proceed cautiously and continue to learn from our experiences. My main criteria for a successful project would be that it advances our mission to preserve our natural resources or add to our recreational opportunities. We need to both evaluate projects that are proposed to us, and proactively seek out projects, on our own terms, that are consistent with our Comprehensive Plan.

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 believe there has been significant improvement in relationships on the Board. I believe that Board members treat each other and staff in a respectful and civil manner. There are differences of opinion, which is healthy, but by and large, we have cordial and productive relationships. I believe that the current Board members love the Park & Recreation system and put their responsibility as Board members first.

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?
My perception is that we have had very effective working relationships with other organizations. We have worked well with our State Legislature, and collaborated with the Metropolitan Council, the University of Minnesota, the city, the county and other organizations on some complicated projects, and were able to proceed successfully despite very divergent opinions and objectives. Even with the current situation regarding the Charter Amendment to reaffirm the independent and elected status of the Park Board, we are still working with the City on many issues of mutual concern, such as the Mississippi River. I believe that we can always work harder on having more joint meeting with other jurisdictions either annually or more often as needed as well as on joint commissions and boards.

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