City Council Members Paul Ostrow, Don Samuels, and Ralph Remington are proposing that the city take over management of all parks currently owned and managed by the independent Park and Recreation Board. None of these three council members ran on promises to kill the Park Board and thereby improve and take excellent care of the parks. They are instead representatives of city wards in the northeast, north, and southwest sectors whose terms end this year. If there are parks in their wards, they have an interest, but they do not have an exclusive interest. Perhaps there is something to be said about the shortcomings of the elected Park Board Commissioners. Anyone driving by Lake of the Isles over the last several years has agonized over the blight, overgrown weeds, and snail's pace of repairs that characterized the project. More recently, southeast residents were treated to a brusque slide show and opinion by a beer-bellied consultant who recommended a local parkway phase plow through residential blocks, ripping out homes along the way. That proposal heard from southeast residents loud and clear that the Park Board was way off base and the idea was killed.
But on balance, the parks are very well run. They don't have enough money and the tatters show here and there, but children have places to go after school and they can plan on four seasons worth of amateur sports teams. The lakes are beautiful in the summer and glistening in the winter. The bicycle paths make Minneapolis one of the top three cities in bike use. People who move to Minneapolis cite the parks and lakes as part of their decision to pick a certain neighborhood. They likely know nothing of city government.
But there is much to be said about putting the parks under the operation of the city as it is presently configured. True, the Ostrow plan calls for a city Administrator to manage the parks along with other departments. The committees of the city council would retire from such management. This would be the good part because the council members are ill-fitted to come anywhere near the city's trees and lakes.
The very reasoning that the Park Board should cease being a separate management group applies to the city council as a separate management group. If the logic regarding the city library system was that the council could not manage libraries and thus wisely passed them along to the county, why wouldn't the city pass the parks along as well?
If the idea of county control of Minneapolis parks is not already in the cards, then consider this: the city has a long way to go before it will be ready to take over park management. Provided the referendum is in favor of ending the long and venerable tenure of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, then make the turnover a slow one - preferably a decade. Let the city prove it can take this one on and not immediately reach for the long knives.
Laura Waterman Wittstock is president and CEO of Wittstock & Associates. The firm provides consultation in new projects, creative, development, assessment/evaluation, and governance. Read more about Laura Waterman Wittstock
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