Jayne Miller is entering the final month as the Minneapolis parks superintendent — a tumultuous time that often found her in the hot seat.
As she looks forward to her new job as president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, she reflected with pride on what she has accomplished and frustration at what she called unjust criticism.
Q: Why are you leaving?
A: I have been approached multiple times for career opportunities. The opportunity in Pittsburgh will allow me to take my experience and talents to an organization recognized as one of the top park conservancies in the country.
Q: Some of your colleagues said you didn't see yourself being able to work with the incoming commissioners?
A: It is not about new faces. It is about the rhetoric of the election and the people who were elected. I think they have a lot to learn, and I'm also concerned about the direction they want to take the organization.
Q: What are you most proud of?
A: Establishing good working relationships with the board, establishing good relationships with our partners in the community, strengthening our finances, improving staffing levels. Doing cutting-edge work around racial equity, environmental stewardship, planning and development, youth development and youth programs. The whole riverfront initiative is cutting-edge work, the Webber Natural Swimming Pool.
So many of us worked so tirelessly on closing the gap and are now committed to the 20-year Neighborhood Park Plan, a legacy initiative and plan for the Park Board. NPP20 is a neighborhood park plan, it's a 20-year agreement with the city of Minneapolis, which again is historic.
Q: What advances were made under your tenure?
A: The single greatest advances made during my tenure have been restoring our legacy and standing as a park system — being innovative in our work practices, leading the country in so many areas.
Q: What is some unfinished business?
A: Continuing our equity work, continuing the work to stabilize the Park Board's enterprise fund, implementing NPP20 and stabilizing our golf courses from a financial and operational perspective. The other thing is implementing the Riverfirst — that was going to be one of my major next initiatives, working much more closely with the foundation on raising the money we need to make Riverfirst happen.
Q: What is your wish list for Minneapolis?
A: That it continues to diversify and acknowledges and recognizes the great work being done in this city. This is a city that doesn't often recognize people who are doing really ground breaking and hard work.
Q: What are obstacles to making the workforce more diverse [in a city that's 40 percent people of color]?
A: The first two of the six years I was here, we had a hiring freeze. If you look at four years, we went up over a percent every year. So, we increased by 5 percent. Our full-time workforce is 26.1 percent [people of color]. I think one of the challenges [is] Minneapolis has a very large immigrant population. Immigrants by nature are more skeptical of government. We also have a lot of undocumented residents. So, are they going be confident of working in government, especially with what is happening at the federal level?
Q: What are some of the challenges you faced?
A: The first and most significant challenge I faced was not being from Minneapolis or Minnesota. There is a strong sense, in this city and state, that unless you are from here, you can't work here because you don't know enough about this place, you don't have the skills and you don't really belong here. This made my first 4-5 years here very difficult. I believe I have finally been accepted, but I worked really hard and I took a lot of crap. It was incredibly difficult.
Q: What motivated you to keep going?
A: A lot of it is my upbringing. I came from a family with a really hard work ethic. But also a family that really valued recreation and being outdoors, and I care passionately about what we do for our profession.
Q: How have you addressed park users' concerns?
A: Listening, being out in the community, fostering new ways of thinking among Park Board staff, encouraging new ways of doing work so that we can be more responsive.
Q: Do you feel like activists have treated you fairly?
A: There are so many park activists in this city because people are passionate about our parks and because of the vital role parks play in everyone's lives. Recent examples of activist work have been the work to help make NPP20 a reality and to ensure our forestry practices are the best.
During 2016 and 2017, there were many mistruths spoken loudly about the Park Board and me personally based on the actions of a disgruntled employee and former employees. We worked hard to address the truths and educate the public about the mistruths. For some reason that never got out there, [in] the Star Tribune coverage, that their allegations have not been upheld at all in any legal form.
Q: Is there anything you would have done differently?
A: I'm not someone who looks back and regrets decisions that I make. I don't think there is anything I would do differently.
Q: What challenges remain?
A: In addition to addressing the unfinished business I mentioned, I think the new superintendent will need to do heavy lifting to help bring together a new board coming in office after a very contentious and nasty election. The superintendent will need to help them understand the work of the organization, their role as elected officials, and bring them up to speed on very complex issues that will require their decision making.
Q: What advice do you have for the next person?
A: A lot of patience, focused persistence, and heavy reliance on an incredibly strong and professional executive and leadership team in the organization.