February 5, 2009

Wielinski: Parks won’t be top priority under city


City Council Member Paul Ostrow has set off a fierce civic debate this week with the unveiling of a set of ballot initiatives that seek to radically reorganize city government.

Among the proposals Ostrow wants Minneapolis voters to consider: whether to eliminate the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board and roll its duties into a city department.

This evening I spoke with one of the Park Board’s most persistent critics, Liz Wielinski, who is also a candidate for Park Board this year, running to succeed Walt Dziedzic.

And here’s a headline: Wielinski agrees with the Park Board on this one, at least with the public comments made so far by board members, who unsurprisingly oppose the idea.

“In a city like Minneapolis, where the parks are such an important part of the city, it’s important to have an independent board,” Wielinski said.

She may disagree with their decisions, but it’s important to have elected officials whose top priority is looking after the park system, Wielinski said. She’s worried without an elected park board, parks might become lost as a priority among the city’s budget.

“[Under the city] the parks would become budget item No. 285,” Wielinski said. “We need extra money? Just quit mowing the grass. We need extra money? Let’s put off replacing this roof. We need extra money so we’re going to sell off this park land.”

She also criticized the city’s maintenance of parkways. The city is currently responsible for those roads and the lighting alongside them. Based on the number of potholes and burnt out lights, Wielinski said she doesn’t think the city has been a good steward.

“They can’t keep up what they’ve already agreed to keep up,” she said. “A parks department within the city is not going to be a No. 1 priority.”

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