OPINION | The Future Of Our City Parks And Lakes: In Whose Hands?

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These times call for elimination of luxuries that our city can no longer afford…

Such is the sentiment of City Council Members Paul Ostrow, Don Samuels and Ralph Remington who have recently proposed the elimination of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board as an independent agency. The times call for reducing the burden on city tax-payers by streamlining local government.

But stalwart defenders of maintaining the independence of the Park Board do not see the preservation of city lakes and trees as a luxury. Neither do they buy into the idea that city residents will choose lower taxes over quality of life.

“It’s been amazing, the outpouring of concern,” said Dawn Sommers, Public Information and Marketing Manager for the Minneapolis Park Board. “People really do understand the difference it would make if the Park services were pulled out from under Park Board management. It’s what makes people move to the city and what keeps people in the city.”

Council members Ostrow, Samuels, and Remington contend that by doing away with duplicitous departments and programs of the Park Board, the City Council will have public dollars at its disposal to invest in maintaining and improving our parks. Opponents point out that the Park Board’s programs are not redundant, but specifically geared to meet the public’s needs in ways that conventional city government cannot.

In a recent letter to Park Board supporters, Park and Recreation Board President, Tom Nordyke, confronted Council Member Ostrow specifically: “Park Board members vigorously reject his claim that eliminating the Park Board will result in cost savings, better parks and more streamlined government. We believe he’s merely trying to do what other council members have attempted and failed to do for more than 126 years — eliminate the Park Board’s independence and take over its land and financial resources.”

Strenuous objection to the proposal were voiced at the Minneapolis Charter Commission meeting on March 4, not only from Park Board administration but also from neighbors and other Minneapolis government officials.

Jim Burnstein, Charter Commission Chair, remarked: “I don’t recall such a large public turn-out at any Charter Commission meeting,” he said. “And about 80% of those in attendance were against the proposal to eliminate the Park Board.”

If public sentiment is any indication, the three City Council Members will have their hands full in convincing the Charter Commission to place the future of the Park Board as an independent agency in the hands of voters next November.

For one thing, the remaining ten of the thirteen Council members are either in partial disagreement with the proposal, or totally against it. City Council Chair, Barbara Johnson, falls into the latter camp. “I believe this is a terrible idea,” said she.

But, stay tuned. In spite of Bernstein’s strong opinion against formal public hearings where Council Members Ostrow, Samuels and Remington will have further opportunity to state their case, the Charter Commission vote was 9 to 1 to allow them.

“Too bad,” said Bernstein. “The people of Minneapolis are getting tired of this.”

The dates and locations of four public hearings were not available at press time.

John Darlington is pastor of Joyce and Simpson United Methodist Churches and serves on the CARAG Board.