We were surprised last week to learn that Council Members Ostrow, Samuels and Remington are proposing to eliminate the 126-year-old Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. We fear that this proposal risks seriously diminishing the nationally-renowned Minneapolis park system. Our 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. 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.
Residents are right to be concerned about an apparent ‘power grab’ on the part of City Hall. We believe that 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 the City to talk about consolidating still more power in the hands of fewer people. We 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.
We are also worried about 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, we are wary of allowing ‘efficiency’ to mean loss of services to the least well-off and the loss of good paying union jobs.
We must maintain our focus on the future. Over our years of service on the Park Board and Council, we have both consistently fought against selling off park assets for development. We fear that the City Council may, 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.
There are significant governance issues that must be resolved between the Park Board and the City. However, 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.
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.
Cam Gordon is the Minneapolis City Council Member for the Second Ward and Annie Young is an At-Large Park and Recreation Board Commissioner