The top two leaders of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board said Friday that they’re stepping down from their leadership posts after weeks of criticism from black activists of the board as a whole and of them as individuals.
President Liz Wielinski and Vice President Scott Vreeland said they’ll relinquish those posts at the board meeting Wednesday, but they plan to keep their board seats. It’s the first time in 43 years that a sitting Park Board president has stepped down.
The other sitting commissioners who have served as board president are John Erwin, who preceded Wielinski, and Jon Olson.
In her letter resigning her post, Wielinski cited “a heavy toll on my health” from the pressures of serving as president.
She had previously cited a health issue as one factor in her blowup with Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds in May at an all-board committee meeting on budget issues. Wielinski and the board later apologized for that.
Wielinski said Friday that a recent doctor’s visit convinced her that she needs to make serious changes to improve a health condition, which she didn’t want to disclose. She said her decision on running again when her term expires will hinge on whether her health improves.
Wielinski has spent much of the past year working out a landmark deal with City Hall that raises $11 million annually for neighborhood park repairs and improvements over the next 20 years. Just as that wrapped up, “we stepped into another quagmire,” she said, citing racially charged issues raised by the activists.
Black activists have spoken up at board meetings to criticize alleged racial inequity in hiring, promotion, discipline and park facilities.
Vreeland said he would decline to succeed Wielinski as president and wants to help with the choice of new leaders.
He drew fire from the activists critical of the board after he questioned one of them, former Park Board employee Hashim Yonis, about his conviction for theft by swindle for stealing Park Board funds. That occurred during a webcast board meeting after Yonis unleashed a diatribe against the board.
Vreeland said Friday that he’s not planning to run for another term in 2017 but said that could change if a project inspires him.
He said he thinks his district could elect a commissioner who would diversify the all-white board, once the most diverse elected city body.
“I think their resignations are a step in the right direction,” Levy-Pounds said Friday, adding that she hoped they will lead to more effective communication with people of color.
She also has called for the resignation of Superintendent Jayne Miller.
Asked if Miller plans to resign, park spokeswoman Dawn Sommers said, “It is my understanding that she does not.”