Minneapolis Park and Recreation At-Large candidates answer your questions here!


The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will elect three at-large commissioners, and Twin Cities Daily Planet is offering you an opportunity to interact with the candidates in a direct and unique way. We sent out email invitations asking the candidates to supply a brief bio, and answer the following question: “What would be your top three priorities as member of the Minneapolis Park Board?”

At-large candidates for Park Board are:

Steve Barland
John Erwin

Meg Forney

Casper Hill

Ishmael Israel

Mary Lynn McPherson

Tom Nordyke

Jason Stone

Hashim Yonis

Annie Young 

Read the bios that they provided, and their answers to the question, posted below in alphabetical order, and then it’s your turn to ask a question. Post your questions as comments, either using Facebook or our in-house commenting system, and the candidates will give you their replies.

We will continue to update the site with the candidates’ information as it’s received. See the bios and replies of those who responded first below, and check back for updates as other candidates respond.

(Please note that while all candidates registered as Park Board candidates are welcome to participate, we were only able to send invitations to candidates who had valid email addresses listed. If you are a candidate running in this race and you did not receive an email invite, please contact paigeelliott@tcdailyplanet.net or editor@tcdailyplanet.net so that we can include you in the forum. The more the merrier!) For district-by-district candidates for Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board candidates, click here.

John Erwin:  I am a dad, horticulture professor at the University of Minnesota, Seward neighborhood resident, and have served on the Park Board as an At-Large Commissioner for 8 years.  The last 4 years I served as the President of the Board and helped lead our Park System to the #1 national ranking.  I am the only candidate that is DFL, Labor and Sierra Club endorsed, and the only person on the Park Board with a background in horticulture.

I ran for the Park Board because of my love for Minneapolis parks, to green our city further, and make our parks more fun!  With respect to greening, I helped a) dramatically increase street tree planting (40% increase over the past Board), b) planted native plants to increase wildlife habitat, c) promote fruit tree and shrub planting in parks and d) helped establish a new community garden policy, and eliminated pesticide use in parks.  

With respect to recreation, I started the “Movies in the Park”, “Free Kids Swim Lessons”, and “Night Owls” programs (evening teen Rec Program), and helped start the “Loppet”, and the “Open Lake Swimming” programs.  I helped bring restaurants to parks, increased childcare, and increased lifeguarding 250%, and beach number.  Under my leadership, the Board increased property taxes less than any Park Board in 40 years.

I ask for your vote because I have represented you well, I get things done, and I successfully helped change the Park Board into a reinvigorated, transparent, respected, and innovative organization.

John Erwin’s Top Three Priorities:

1) Green Our City:  In recent years I worked to increase street tree planting from 2,750 to 5,000-6,000 trees per year.  We need to increase that to 10,000 trees per year to stay ahead of the tree lose from Emerald Ash Borer.  Aside from street trees, I would like to establish a network of citywide compost drop off sites for residents to drop off yard waste and pick up compost, plant fruit trees and bushes in parks for residents to pick, add native plant habitat to the lakes, creeks and the river to attract wildlife, and green our downtown.  

There is more the Park Board can do to a) make bike commuting easier, b) provide recharging stations in parks for electric vehicles, c) bring farmers markets to selected parks, and d) increase the sustainability of our existing facilities to save money and reduce waste.

2) Increase Recreation in Parks:  It is our social responsibility to increase the health of our children.  I would like to dramatically increase outreach to kids to increase partition in sports, art and music.  We should also extend Rec Center hours and reduce fees kids pay to play sports to increase access.

 I would like to increase adult recreational opportunities by adding exercise stations to parks, improving trails maintenance, adding new yoga areas, and soccer and lacrosse fields, and volleyball and basketball courts.  We also should add shaded seated areas for seniors to enjoy the parks that could include game boards.  

I also believe we should look at different ways to bring people to parks including barge restaurants on the river, new music and theater venues in parks, new downtown neighborhood parks, and better engage new Minneapolis communities to meet their needs.

3) Look Back to the River!:  I helped start Riverfirst; the large greening project to provide public access to the Mississippi River.  Riverfirst will a) provide water access for everyone – especially North and Northeast Minneapolis residents, b) green this valuable part of our National Park System, and c) broaden the tax base by encouraging development adjacent to parks to provide tax relief for the entire city.

I have long thought we could make a ‘River of the Arts’ in Minneapolis as a local and national attraction.  Some years ago I looked into whether a drop down movie screen could be mounted on the Washington Ave Bridge to be viewed from Bohemian Flats on the riverfront.  It can. . . . . we could have our own Minneapolis Film Festival.  Can we bring theater, ballet, and music to the riverfront?  We can . . . .  Boom and Nicollet Island and Gold Medal Park have possibilities.  Can we engage our restaurant community to bring restaurants to the Riverfront at Boom Island, or on floating barges?  We can.  Could we select plants to plant on the Riverfront to create our own festivals such as a Lilac or Crabapple Festival?  We can.

See more of the things I would like to do at www.erwinforparks.org.


Meg Forney: I am a fourth generation Minneapolitan.  My grandmother was instrumental in establishing our Linden Hills Park. I have been advocating for parks for 35 years, first, when I was catapulted into action when 13 diseased elms were taken down from my boulevard back in the ’70’s.  I’ve been a WESAC soccer coach, buckthorn buster, rower on the Mississippi River with the Minneapolis Rowing Club all summer, walker of our lakes three times a week with different walking friends all year and have had a bed of naturalized daffodils planted in honor of my volunteer park service. Our parks define the quality of life in our city.  I look forward to expanding that amazing quality of life for all Minneapolitans as your Commissioner-At-Large.

 I have been appointed to over a dozen Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Citizen Advisory Committees and appointed to chair two (no other candidate has been appointed to as much service for our parks).  I am a proven leader.  I am endorsed by Minnesota Senator Scott Dibble, Representative Frank Hornstein and Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman and many civic leaders like Tim Springer, former director of the Midtown Greenway Coalition; Mary McGuire, chair of the Above the Falls CAC; Vicky Moore, leader of the Van White Bridge creation; John Erickson, MPRB appointee to the Metropolitan Council’s SouthWest Light Rail Transit CAC; Catherine Shreves, former School Board Chair; Joe Selvaggio, founder of MicroGrants and PPL. 

I ask for your support with your #1 ranked vote November 5th (BTW: my birthday!).

Meg Forney’s Three Top Priorities:

I believe in the egalitarian access to our parks, void of barriers: physical as well as social, economic, cultural and political. As a Metropolitan Council Appointee to the SouthWest Light Rail Transit (SW LRT), I have advocated for stronger access to and from our Park amenities that are safe, welcoming, and seamless.  My representative work on the Above the Falls Committee translated into more open space for the riverfront, thereby, enhancing our north and northeast communities. Likewise, the Midtown Greenway, on whose original Board I served, has delivered to underserved mid-city users of the system an extensive alternative venue.  
I will combine my passion for parks with what I have learned about efficiency and effectiveness from working with city, county, state and business groups. I will be fervent in seeking additional, alternative funding to maintain our #1 status, ensuring financial sustainability to continue to provide access to all. I will continue to build bridges through collegial relationships with multi-jurisdictions to solve problems together.
I will continue to advocate for the quality of life in Minneapolis that our Park System provides. My passion and leadership during 35 years of civic service has been to continue the tradition of providing green and open space for our urban livability.  Each resident of Minneapolis is within six blocks of a park – my goal is to enhance these assets by breaking the barriers that exclude some from the use and enjoyment of our park system.  Equity in our city is critical for it to grow and all to prosper.


Casper Hill:  Casper Hill is part of the City of Minneapolis communications team and has worked with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board on a number of projects, including the response to the North Side tornado.  He is also president of Club Run Minneapolis, one of Minneapolis’ largest independent long-distance run clubs.

 Casper Hill’s Top Three Priorities:

Supporting what we have: The Park Board is the steward for our city’s parkways, parks, park centers and trails. If the parks don’t maintain these assets, no one will. We need a regular, predictable, fully-funded paving plan so our driving, walking and biking surfaces are smooth and safe. We also need ensure our rec centers are adequately serving their communities.

Better recycling: While Minneapolis homes have one-sort recycling, residents don’t get the same kind of service in our parks. It’s time for the parks to catch up on recycling and help reduce the amount of garbage that heads to the incinerator.

Kick the water bottle: Drinking fountains are not enough. To help reduce waste, water bottle fillers should be brought into our park centers. Tap water should be easier to get than bottled water in vending machines. Visit www.casperhillforparks.com or www.facebook.com/votecasperhill for more information.

Ishmael Israel: Ishmael has been involved in resident leadership since being elected to his neighborhood council in 2000.   To the Park Board he brings this experience and the ability to work across agencies to create policies and programming that are cost effective and benefit the city residents, the tax payers who are the backbone of the work Ishmael does daily.  In 2010 with his leadership as chairman of the board his neighborhood council embarked on a strategic journey to reestablish the organization and establish best practices in resident engagement.  Over the past 3 years Ishmael’s efforts have been awarded by being appointed by Mayor RT Rybak to the city’s Neighborhood Community Engagement Commission which advises the city on resident engagement.  Elected as the NCEC chair in 2013 Ishmael is no stranger to city hall and policy work.  Ishmael owns a sustainable for profit community development construction firm dedicated to revitalizing neighborhoods one home at a time with local and minority contractors. 
Ishmael Israel Top Three Priorities: My main priority is to contribute methodologies to achieve the goals set forth in the MPRB 2020 Comprehensive Plan.  
  •   Environmental Justice: re-allocation of Park Board Resources to ensure equitable improvements to many of the city parks and recreation centers located in less affluent neighborhoods; for instance North Commons needs coordinated efforts with park police to ensure the safety of our youth program participants more than artificial turf. 
  • Health Disparities:  It is my intention to enhance park and recreation programming so that it becomes a catalyst to address obesity and teenage delinquency by providing both our youth and elders welcoming recreation centers with programming that is relevant to each respective group. 
  • Above The Falls River Initiative: utilize resources being invested to this great partnership to ensure that our trails, bike ways and paths are connected to regional planning by Hennepin County and the MET Council. 
Each of these strategies can be implemented without additional resource allocation by simply applying  a racial equity lens to budget discussions.


Mary Lynn McPhersonMary Lynn McPherson: I have lived in the Twin Cities for the past 26 years since graduating from the College of St. Benedict with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science.  I am a small business owner (dog walking and jogging service). I am not a politician.  

Mary Lynn McPherson Top Priorities:

First, it is important to know that I am NOT a politician and do not wish to seek higher political office.  I am a community member like everyone else in this city.  Over the years, I have been disappointed with our leaders who no longer listen to the people they serve.  I want to be YOUR VOICE in the Park System.

  • Work to preserve and enhance the park system for future generations’ enjoyment.

  • Help bring transparency of the Park Board’s planning to the residents of the city of Minneapolis

  • Work to ensure that all the parks in Minneapolis are equally and beautifully maintained

  • Serve underserved populations

  • Work to ensure there is diversity in the leadership of park programs

  • Programming that MAKES SENSE for the community the programs serve.

  • Assure that all parks are a safe environment for our children

Tom Nordyke: I moved to Minneapolis since 1981 to get my degree at the U of M. I was elected to the Park Board in 2005 and served until 2009. I was President of the Park Board for 2008 & 2009. By profession I am a consultant on arts facility development across the country.

Tom Nordyke‘s Top Three Priorities:

The main issue I have promoted while campaigning and while I was on the Board is the need to address the continued infrastructure crisis and deferred maintenance facing so many of our neighborhood parks. This includes restoring our Parkways and trails, replanting our three and upgrading our neighborhood Community Centers.

My second priority is a continued push toward equity in the funding and use of our parks across the City. Over the past dozen years the Park Board has been very good at promoting equitable funding for the parks across the City and in particular for areas that have been traditionally underserved. Unfortunately, it will take a long time to correct the many decades of inequity and underfunding.

Third is to focus on an effective budget for the Park Board without relying on higher property taxes. I think many of the issues associated with my two goals above are about setting priorities within the budget, not a reliance on an ever-increasing tax base and in creasing property taxes.

Please call me: (612) 802-3046 or E-mail me: nordykeforminneapolisparks@gmail.com


Jason Stone: Minneapolis parks are the backbone of our city and I’m inspired to serve because I’m passionate about sustainability, recreation and helping families thrive in our amazing city. I am invested in our community—volunteer coaching Park Board youth, opening my home to youth experiencing homelessness, and serving on the city’s capital planning committee (CLIC) for 3 years. I am a business leader with over 20 years in information technology, while I left corporate management for nearly 4 years to lead a social justice nonprofit—Resource Center of the Americas. This is my third race for Park Board after losing narrowly in 2005 and 2009.

I’m a DFL candidate endorsed by Sierra Club, Stonewall DFL, Minneapolis Professional Employees Association, Mayor RT Rybak, Senator Scott Dibble, State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, School Board Chair Alberto Monserrate, BET Vice-President David Wheeler, and others.

Jason Stone’s Top Three Priorities:

Sustainability: Preserving and protecting our environment is fundamental for me. Our most pressing needs include creating a climate change action plan, developing new strategies to deal with invasive species, implementing a climate change action plan, diversifying and enhancing our tree canopy, and implementing a comprehensive waste reduction and recycling program.

Racial equity: It’s high time for persistent racial opportunity gaps in our city to be confronted and the Park Board plays an important role. I’ve proposed many specific measures including establishing a Racial Equity Working Group including Park Board commissioners and community leaders, forming a Youth Advisory Board of the Park Board—its composition reflecting the demographics of the city, and creating a Racial Justice Fund of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation. It’s also important to recognize that families working to break the cycle of poverty can’t wait for systemic change, and the Park Board is serving vital family development needs including healthy meals for youth, child care, education, and teen job programs.

Smart riverfront development that enhances the tax base: The greatest development opportunity of our generation lies in North and Northeast Minneapolis along the river. By investing in these areas we can attract new residents and businesses to lessen the property tax burden and help us continue to develop a vibrant city–funding everything from parks to schools to public safety. With thoughtful development we can embrace the rich history of the river, secure public access to the riverfront for future generations, incorporate natural spaces and recreation areas, and create wonderful new places for people to live, work, play and relax.

I’ve love to hear your ideas! Learn more at jasonforminneapolisparks.com or email me at jason@jasonforminneapolisparks.com.



Hashim Yonis: I am a product of Minneapolis. My passion is social justice, which guides my goal to serve all communities, especially those who are in need. I am fortunate to have been mentored by Minneapolis Mayor RT. Rybak. I speak seven languages, and was a Youth Ambassador to the White House.

Hashim Yonis’ Top Three Priorities:

1.  To maintain Minneapolis Parks’ rightful status as the best in the US. This can be accomplished by emphasize equity and social justice in our park system and connecting our youth with resources to enable their growth into healthy adults. 

2.  To create culturally-appropriate programs for our children, youth and seniors and to bring disfranchised communities together and be their champion.

3. To fund our communities and parks in an equitable and fair manner, assuring that all parks have access to the bounty of resources in the system.

 For more information, please check my website: http://www.yonisforparks.com/my-issues.html


Annie Young: I have lived in Minneapolis since the early 1970’s.My son played and used the parks during his youth.  I was elected to the Park Board in 1989.  I have chaired several committees and served as Vice-President in 2012. I am a neighborhood community organizer working with the Harrison Neighborhood Association.  Currently, my projects include serving as support staff for a new food co-op, Wirth Cooperative Grocery, being organized on the Northside and I oversee 4 community gardens. My job title is Environmental Justice organizer. I live in the East Phillips neighborhood. I am a public speaker, educator and consultant to projects involving the Environment and Environmental Justice issues.

I am also honored to be endorsed by: 5th District – Green Party

Sierra Club North Star Chapter

Minneapolis Building and Trades Council

Minneapolis Regional Federation, AFL-CIO

Minneapolis Professional Employees Association

Women Winning

Annie Young’s Top Priorities:

Maintaining and taking care of what we already have in our system.

Sustainability in economics, ecology and equity throughout the system

Meeting our changing multi-cultural needs

Maximizing energy efficiency and green efforts

Protecting open green space as public space

Involving our community in decision-making

Reporting for this article supported in part by Bush Foundation.