The local branch of the NAACP says it has received more than 160 complaints from Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board employees and park users alleging racial discrimination by the agency.

Minneapolis NAACP President Booker Hodges sent a letter last month to the Park Board about the complaints, which range from "wrongful termination" to "outright racial humiliation of employees and customers" by Park Board managers and staff.

On Thursday, in a letter to Park Board commissioners, Superintendent Jayne Miller and Park Board President John Erwin wrote, "We want to assure you that we along with the rest of the staff at the MPRB take all complaints of discrimination very seriously."

Hodges and Park Board leaders are scheduled to meet next week to discuss the complaints. So far, none of those complaining to the NAACP have come forward publicly.

Last year, the Park Board says, it received only two complaints of racial discrimination.

Miller acknowledged that the Park Board needed to diversify its workforce and improve its service to different demographic groups. "I do think we have issues around our employee base in terms of representing the city of Minneapolis," she said. "It's something that I have been trying to get my arms around since I've been here."

A federal report on the Park Board's workforce said that of the 439 full-time employees in mid-2011, 346 identified themselves as white, 45 as black and 48 as other people of color. Out of the 16 people in an administrator's/official position, only one was a person of color.

Of the 1,139 part-time and temporary employees, 605 are white, 429 are black and 105 are other.

The numbers are "abysmal for a city the size of Minneapolis," Hodges said.

In a letter to Erwin dated Dec. 23, Hodges wrote that during the previous six months the NAACP received more than 60 complaints from Park Board employees and more than 100 customer complaints.

"We have taken the time to investigate each of these complaints and what we have found is that there are some systemic areas which the Minneapolis Park Board must address," he wrote.

The NAACP's investigation started in June, after a "high-level Park Board employee" contacted the group to say he or she was asked by Park Board management to take adverse actions against minority employees without knowing about the cases, Hodges said. After refusing to do so, the employee was demoted, he said.

Another high-level employee also came forward after being terminated and then going through arbitration before being rehired, Hodges said.

After the initial contacts, calls began to pour in, Hodges said.

Several survivors of the May 22 tornado in north Minneapolis reported overhearing Park Board staffers talk about "these people" and alluding that they were unemployed and should clean up their own neighborhood, Hodges said.


Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495