Charter Amendment Proposals
This week Council Members Ostrow, Remington and Samuels announced that they intend to move forward with three significant charter amendments that they hope will be put before the voters in November. One would eliminate the Board of Estimate and Taxation, one would create a more centralized City Administrator and one would eliminate the independent Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
Of these three I am most concerned about eliminating the Park Board and especially concerned that we are taking this drastic step without first having had a complete and inclusive community conversation about other alternatives to address the concerns Council Member Ostrow, and others, have raised about the current governance.
In response the Park Board idea and in preparation for a first vote to forward this to the Charter Commission set to come up February 6, Park Commissioner Annie Young and I released the following statement on Friday:
Green Party Elected Officeholders Cam Gordon and Annie Young Oppose Plan to Eliminate Independent Park Board
Second Ward Council Member Cam Gordon and At-Large Park and Recreation Board Commissioner Annie Young were surprised this week to learn that Council Members Ostrow, Samuels and Remington are proposing to eliminate the 126-year-old Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
Both officials agree that this proposal risks seriously diminishing the nationally-renowned Minneapolis park system. Their concerns are rooted in the Key Values of the Green Party, including Ecological Wisdom, Grassroots Democracy, Decentralization, Social and Economic Justice and Future Focus.
“Ecologically, the Minneapolis park system is a jewel,” said Young. “From green space to water quality, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has protected the natural environment in this city. Our parks, lakes, river and urban forest serves the natural, leisure and recreation needs of adults, children and families alike. This is the legacy of an independent Park Board, and there is no certainty that the City Council will manage the park system with such diligence and success.”
Council Member Gordon noted that residents are right to be concerned about an apparent ‘power grab’ on the part of City Hall. “Grassroots democracy can only be effective when the public has direct access to decision makers. Multiple points of contact offer residents more opportunities to make their opinions known and have their voices heard. Now, just over a year after the elimination of the independent Library Board, is not the time for us to talk about consolidating still more power in the hands of fewer people.” Both Gordon and Young agree that decentralization of power is important in order to have checks and balances, increase residents’ access to decision makers, foster innovation, and preserve services.
Young and Gordon also warn of the potential impacts this proposal could have on poor communities and working families. “One of the reasons being given for eliminating the Park Board is to ‘create efficiencies.’ In this era in which schools have been closed in low-income neighborhoods, the City has instituted a hiring freeze and all levels of government may be poised to lay off staff, I am wary of allowing ‘efficiency’ to mean loss of services to the least well-off and the loss of good paying union jobs,” adds Gordon.
“We also need to maintain our focus on the future,” said Young. “Over my 20 years of service on the Park Board, I have consistently fought against selling off park assets for development. I fear that the City Council will, in the name of ‘streamlining’ the system and reducing costs, sell off some of our incredibly valuable parkland. This will become much more likely if parks must compete with other City priorities, like police and firefighters.”
Young and Gordon agree that there are significant governance issues that must be resolved between the Park Board and the City. However, they both feel that there are other, as yet unexplored options to preserve parkland, manage public dollars responsibly, and clarify accountability. “One option is to rethink the old 1994 agreement between the City and the Park Board which in effect makes this supposedly independent board dependent on the City for its funding,” said Young. Gordon agreed, saying that “there are concerns about the future of our parks and the relationship between the Park Board and City Council, and it is time for the Council, Park Board and people throughout the city to have a serious, open and inclusive conversation about how to address those concerns and figure out all of the options. It is not time to put the question of the Park Board's elimination before the voters in November.”