For New Park Board Members Change Starts With Big Pay Raise

The election of six outsiders to the Minneapolis Park Board last fall was supposed to change everything. MinnPost summed it up this way when the new commissioners took office this year.

Change had been in the air since September 2016, when activists accused commissioners of discriminatory policies during a heated board meeting. Ten people were ejected, four were arrested, and retribution was promised.

In November, with the election of six new commissioners — many of whom were endorsed by Our Revolution, an organization affiliated with the Bernie Sanders for president campaign — that comeuppance was seemingly delivered. The next month, Park Superintendent Jayne Miller, who for seven years had been hailed as a national star, resigned.

But Miller, who took the top job in Pittsburgh after the 2017 election, cautioned that the newcomers had a lot of homework to do in a Southwest Journal interview.

In addition to some of the concerns that I had about the platform that many of them ran on, I think there are six of nine commissioners who really know very little about the Park Board. The things they ran on weren’t about taking care of the system. They have a steep learning curve. It’s one thing if it’s one, two or three commissioners, but when it is the majority of commissioners, I think they have a lot of work to do.

It’s hard. It was hard when I came in. But to not want to understand those things and understand a $112 million budget and the complexity of the system? I think there’s all of that that needs to happen in order for them to make good decisions about who they’re going to hire, what directions they’re going to go and the tradeoffs if they do this versus that.

Nevertheless, upheaval continues at what’s still considered–at least for now–the nation’s top city park system. The latest? The Star Tribune reports some board members want to more than double their $12,400 pay in the name of diversity, despite this being the most diverse Minneapolis Park Board on record.

“I do believe we would get a diverse group of applicants if we increase pay,” said Commissioner LaTrisha Vetaw, who suggested a salary of about $30,000. “I’m looking toward the future.”

…At the Park Board, some commissioners have argued that the evolving makeup of the board is reason for change. The old one was largely white and well off, and the current one is younger and more racially diverse.

“The Park Board we have now is the most diverse and progressive Park Board that Minneapolis has ever elected,” Commissioner Chris Meyer said in an e-mail Wednesday. “The main reason it remained conservative for so long is that with a $12,000 salary, it would tend to be only wealthy or retired people who would run for it, and both of those demographics skew conservative.”

Meantime, the board pushed back the deadline to August 31 for candidates to apply for the top job. Recruits would do well to consider the previous superintendent’s candid response when asked about her biggest challenges here.

I would say when I got here that not being from here was my biggest hurdle. There’s a unique culture here in Minneapolis and Minnesota that if you’re not from here that you can’t understand it. There’s parochialism here that I’ve never seen anywhere else I’ve worked, and I’ve worked in a lot of different communities.

The organization had been stagnant for quite a while. Staff had been here a long time. One of the challenges with a system this size is that if you don’t get exposed to other systems and parks professionals around the country, you compare yourselves to each other.

Politically there are challenges here. There are so many entities involved with the Park Board. I’m someone who believes very strongly in collaboration, so I think our partners were excited that that was my approach, because I think people felt like that Park Board had been pretty difficult to deal with.

Parochial, insular, difficult to deal with. Not exactly a walk in the park.