Minneapolis Park Board commissioners’ infighting about a controversial contract for a recently hired consultant dominated its meeting Wednesday night, overshadowing the announcement of its new parks superintendent.
Before the board voted on its next leader, interim Superintendent Mary Merrill and Commissioner Meg Forney clashed about how Kendal Killian, a well-known DFL political operative, was hired.
Forney and others have criticized the process, which was done without a board vote, raising questions about whether Killian was given preferential treatment.
The contract was from June until Dec. 31 for $66,000. Under the 2019 proposed budget, the contract would be eliminated and a there would be a new full-time intergovernmental relations position with an annual salary of $107,500.
At the meeting Wednesday night, Forney wanted to know how many people on the interview panel ranked Killian their first or second pick. Merrill said she didn’t have the information in front of her. Forney said no one did.
“I’m not Jayne Miller ... this is disrespectful,” Merrill said, referring to the former superintendent and adding that she didn’t come to the meeting to be put on trial.
“I’m sorry,” but people are asking these questions, Forney said.
In the end, Forney suggested immediately terminating Killian’s position but it never came to a vote.
During the public comment portion of the meeting and after the heated discussion, Carol Becker, president of the Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation, said the board needs to investigate Killian’s hiring and whether the contract should be terminated.
“Because your reputation is at stake,” Becker told the board.
The board gave an “impassioned plea for kids,” but now “it’s ‘we need money for a lobbyist,’ ” she said.
Also during the open meeting time, Council member Linea Palmisano spoke in favor of Killian’s hiring and applauded Merrill’s “foresight” to add his position. Killian is a former senior policy aide for Palmisano.
Later, at least one commissioner yelled her support for Merrill and Forney apologized for her “disparaging” remarks.
“I believe the process was flawed,” Forney said. “And the execution was also flawed. The community deserves better.”
Through tears, Merrill called the discourse sad. “The last election is still being fought tonight. ... We had a conversation with the board more than once with what its needs were. I did the very best I could,” she said.
New parks leader
After the raucous first part of the meeting, the board announced that a longtime former Park Board employee is expected to return to lead the city’s park system.
Al Bangoura, the recreation superintendent for Mecklenburg County (which includes Charlotte, N.C.) Parks and Recreation, was nominated Wednesday night as the next Park Board superintendent.
“We’re excited to welcome Mr. Bangoura back home to Minneapolis,” Park Board President Brad Bourn said in a statement. “ ... His knowledge of Minneapolis and our parks coupled with his unique professional skills will provide cohesiveness and inspire collaboration.”
The longtime Minnesotan spent 19 years working for the Park Board. His first job was as a recreation coordinator at Webber Park; he then worked in various positions throughout the system.
Recently, while in North Carolina, he partnered with a local arts school to teach various youth programs and secured additional funding from Blue Cross Blue Shield to sustain its Open Streets initiative.
Bangoura’s appointment capped a seven-month search to find a replacement for Miller, who was hired by the board after a national search in 2010. Miller, who resigned in February amid strong criticism from some Park Board members and protesters, accepted a new job in Pennsylvania.
Miller made $165,000 a year and her contract was to run through mid-2018.
In January, the board appointed Merrill as interim superintendent with a salary of $14,278 per month. At that time, the board also approved a severance package for Miller that includes six months of salary — totaling more than $85,000 — and some other benefits.
Wednesday’s unanimous vote allows Bourn to negotiate a contract with Bangoura. If all goes as planned, the board will approve Bangoura’s contract on Dec. 19. He is expected to begin as soon as possible.
Bangoura was one of two finalists. Seve Ghose, the Metro Parks and Recreation Department director in Louisville, Ky., had also been in the running for the job.