The three finalists to run the massive Minneapolis parks system come from California, Kentucky and North Carolina, but two have roots in the organization they hope to lead.
The three, all men, have park leadership experience and reflect the diversity that Park Board commissioners sought in a candidate from the beginning of the superintendent search.
The finalists made public Wednesday night are: Nick Williams, Oakland’s Parks and Recreation director; Seve Ghose, the Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation Department director; and Alfred Bangoura, the recreation superintendent for Mecklenburg County (which includes Charlotte, N.C.) Park and Recreation.
“We believe our parks are for everyone,” Park Board President Brad Bourn said as he announced the names. “This means our next superintendent needs to be an advocate for the youth and families in our city who have so often been left on the margins.”
Bourn said the three finalists stood out as being able to advance the board’s mission and its mandate of investing in youth, and building an even better park system. A fourth candidate withdrew her name, he said.
More than 80 applicants from across the country applied. A selection committee made up of seven residents prioritized qualified candidates. Board Vice President AK Hassan, Commissioner Latrisha Vetaw and Bourn narrowed the list.
One will be chosen to succeed former Superintendent Jayne Miller, who resigned in February amid strong criticism by community members and some incoming Park Board members. She accepted a job as president and CEO of the nonprofit Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy in Pennsylvania. In Minneapolis, she made $165,000 a year, and her contract was to run through mid-2018.
Community members who went to listening sessions said they wanted their next park leader to be a local person of color and someone who has experience working with people from different backgrounds. Park users voiced concerns about the need for more senior and youth programming, and they urged the Park Board to hire a leader who will interact with all members of the public.
Williams, an Oakland native, served as Minneapolis’ assistant superintendent of recreation for three years before heading back to lead his hometown parks system in 2016. Before he worked in Minneapolis, he managed park and recs in Atlanta for more than five years. The Park Board said Williams has been recognized by Oakland city officials for his work refocusing youth in one of the nation’s most ethnically diverse cities. A graduate of Morehouse College, Williams said he is skilled in budgeting, youth development and volunteer management.
Bangoura, who has spent the most time in Minnesota, graduated from Anoka-Ramsey Community College and the University of St. Thomas. He worked at the Park Board for nearly 19 years, including as a recreation supervisor and most recently as director for recreation centers and programs. He left in 2014 for North Carolina, where he now overseas 17 rec centers and three senior and active adult centers. He led an Open Streets initiative there and is overseeing the construction of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina’s first 100,000-square-foot recreation center.
Ghose, who went to Iowa State University, manages 13 rec centers, nine golf courses and a recreation center designed for people with disabilities. Before Kentucky, he spent time working in Oregon and Iowa’s park systems. As the director of parks and rec in Davenport, Iowa, Ghose created a mobile playground fashioned out of a decommissioned fire truck. The truck, filled with art supplies and musical instruments, drove through the city’s most unrepresented areas during the summer months.
The search began in May when the board picked kpCompanies to find its new leader. The board budgeted $80,000-$100,000, but got a $50,000 boost from the Minneapolis Foundation to help offset the costs.
Covering 6,800 acres of parkland, the park system has 49 rec centers, 118 playgrounds, 62 wading pools and 18 gardens. The board is expected to select its new leader by mid-December.
Also on Wednesday, a panel looking at Park Board commissioners’ pay recommended no increase. Last month, Bourn asked a panel to recommend whether the board deserves a pay increase.
After meeting twice, the panel came back and said the board is not overpaid or underpaid. Commissioners make $12,438 a year plus benefits for what’s considered a part-time job.