Disingenuous is perhaps the most charitable term to describe several longtime Minneapolis Park Board commissioners' objections to a search for a new superintendent.
On Wednesday, the Park and Recreation Board voted 6-3 against extending the contract of current superintendent Jon Gurban. A block of four new commissioners who want new leadership drove the vote. Community relations, never a strong suit for Gurban, will be a priority in years to come when private funding must replace ever-shrinking taxpayer funds. It's time for a leader with innovative ideas.
Two holdover commissioners who opposed the decision deserve to be called out for their outrageous comments. Bob Fine warned that a search would be costly. Jon Olson accused the board of acting hastily. Carol Kummer also voted no.
If anything set the Park Board's high-water mark for hastiness, it was board's controversial 2003 vote to hire Gurban. He wasn't even a finalist for the job and hadn't been interviewed. Yet he was whisked before the board and essentially hired on the spot for a job that now pays about $140,000 a year. Olson, Fine and Kummer served on the board at the time and voted to hire Gurban.
Another milestone in hastiness was set in November -- 24 hours after city voters elected four new board members -- when some on the old board tried to extend Gurban's contract through June 2011. It was a blatant attempt to usurp the new board's authority. But at that point, hastiness was a plus from Olson and Fine's perspective. They urged the old commissioners to act quickly to avoid a lapse in leadership, even though Gurban's contract didn't end for eight months.
Fine's concerns about money are interesting, too. If Gurban's contract had been extended, it would have cost the new board about $100,000 for a buyout -- if it didn't want to be saddled for over a third of its four-year tenure with a superintendent not of its choosing.
The November vote dramatically changed the board. The new commissioners -- Liz Wielinski, Brad Bourn, John Erwin and Anita Tabb -- are thoughtful and in touch with voters; their vote to look for new leadership reflected this. They were joined by respected veteran commissioners Scott Vreeland and Annie Young. Park Board members deriding this decision as premature should consider their own track records.