A guide to the 2021 Minneapolis Park Board and Board of Estimate & Taxation candidates
All nine Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) commissioner seats are up for election after the board first permitted then prohibited large homeless encampments in parks across the city amid last summer's civil unrest. Activists clashed with the board over what they described as inadequate services, and neighbors complained of numerous safety problems, including discarded needles and sexual assault. Four incumbents are stepping down, while 23 candidates are vying for office. Early voting began Sept. 17 and Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 2.
The Star Tribune asked each candidate running in a contested race for the Park Board questions on top issues:
- Should homeless encampments be permitted in Minneapolis parks? If so, how should the Park Board serve them?
- How should the Park Board expand access to high-quality neighborhood parks in historically marginalized areas?
- What is one specific way the Park Board should enhance youth programming?
- What is the greatest park-related need in your district and systemwide?
Voters will also select two new members for the Board of Estimate & Taxation (BET) this fall. The two will work with other elected officials on a six-member board to set the maximum tax rates for most city funds and play a key role in managing the city's debt. Four candidates filed to run for the board this year.
The Star Tribune asked each BET candidate the following questions:
- What are your guiding principles for setting maximum tax levies?
- How would you factor in the impacts of the pandemic on the city's tax base?
- Part of the role of the Board of Estimate and Taxation is to help craft debt management policy. How do you think the city's debt management policy needs to change?
The responses below are the candidates' own words, lightly edited for clarity.
Check out our guides to the Minneapolis mayor and city council candidates and the proposed charter amendments on the ballot.
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Park Board Commissioner - At Large
At-large commissioners do not represent a specific district.
Lives in: West Bde Maka Ska
Occupation: Current at-large MPRB commissioner; realtor
During the 2020 summer pandemic, via the Governor's Executive Orders of no evictions, homeless encampments were allowed through a permitting process. Parks are not a safe or appropriate place to reside, but during last year's crisis, MPRB managed the situation using available resources. The impacts of homelessness are a growing challenge in the park system and Minneapolis, and I will work collaboratively with those resourced to address homelessness. It will take a collective effort at all levels of government—MPRB, city, county, state—to solve this problem so that individuals experiencing homelessness are able to find the shelter they deserve.
I am proud of our outreach staff who are doing an amazing job in connecting with Hennepin County staff whose wheelhouse it is and tapping their resources. And, therefore, this year, no encampments have been established in our parks. Staff is swift to respond with appropriate resources. We found out all too well that we are not in the housing business.
In 2020, I was personally involved on the advisory board of Project Back to Home with the permitted encampment at Lake Harriet. We were successful in placing each person in resource specific housing. The needs and resources are varied and complex. I am grateful for tireless advocates like Michelle Smith, who was the permit holder. Partnering with those who are professionals in the field is essential.
My goal is to enhance our park assets by breaking the barriers that exclude some from the use and enjoyment of our park system. Equity in our city is critical for it to grow and all to prosper. In my short two terms, we have added over 20 acres of strategic parkland to our system and targeted access gaps in underserved areas—particularly along the banks of our Mississippi River in North and Northeast Minneapolis. We have increased from 94% to 98% that every resident is within a 10-minute walk of a park. Now that the entire city has been park master-planned, policies and practices can be enacted for long-term development and improvements.
Connections to these new park spaces is critical for underserved areas of our city. Universal park access promotes social, racial, gender, and economic equity. My past and future work is to increase accessibility above the falls of the Mississippi (adding more park acreage), along the Midtown Greenway (adding several parcels adjacent to the corridor), Bassett Creek Redevelopment (promise for more parkland developed in the Harrison neighborhood), securing of the rail bridge across the Mississippi (creating connections from the north side) and completing the Ox Cart Trail/protected bikeway along Marshall Street as well as the Grand Rounds Missing Link (providing more connections to parks in Northeast). Continued cooperation with the City to implement the use of Park Dedication Funds to grow parks in newly developed areas ensures access as our city continues to develop.
The recent uptick in violence, especially youth violence, poses a major challenge to our entire city, but I believe that our park system can be a catalyst for change. Our number one priority in our 2022 budget will be to invest in programming for youth by fostering youth employment that creates life-skills to acquire sustainable jobs, to develop expertise toward stewardship of our environment and to prevent youth violence through building relationships.
Our park superintendent is addressing the gap in funding for our youth with the support of our board as well as our mayor. The programming options for youth activities are a priority. An additional $2.6 million dollars over the next five years is being requested in the 2022 budget to address the issue. Our proposed budget includes bringing on 22 full-time youth-staff.
The funding will be used for youth-violence-prevention targeted at ages 17-22 who have low-level offenses on their records; innovation grant funding for youth ages 13-18 in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood; seven full-time dedicated professionals to program Creation Spaces; expanding hiring for our Teen Teamworks program and green jobs to develop a diverse group of community leaders through deliberate offerings that provide career exploration and pathways to full-time employment as well as actually increasing youth employment via Teen Teamworks (43 teens); increase StreetReach staffing; free RecPlus at Webber Park; and three full-time dedicated professionals to enhance intergenerational and nature-based community programs.
I am a lead commissioner in creating our Climate Resiliency Initiative. Parks are natural sequesters of carbon. Parkland and waters provide the opportunity to mitigate stormwater runoff, air pollution and heat islands via best practices, to continue investments in trees, which are still our best weapon against global warming with carbon sequestration and to accelerate implementation of resiliency projects for parkland being impacted by climate change.
An emergency Minneapolis tree levy is expiring at the end of 2021. The first part of this Initiative is to begin the creation of the first ever in Minnesota certified carbon-offset-credit program that will create necessary revenue to grow Minneapolis green space, to support climate and environmental resiliency. With new funding, increased tree planting can be initiated in 2022 with minimal project start-up. Our project scope is 7,000 trees planted over a one-year period including street trees and park trees, focusing on heat islands in North Minneapolis where the largest are located and other environmentally disadvantaged areas. The Tree Levy that is expiring removed over 40,000 Ash trees and replaced them over eight years. Yet, the canopy hasn't expanded in numbers. To do so, our existing trees must be preserved and also new trees need to be planted at a greater rate. This is a 20 year campaign to plant and maintain 200,000 additional trees on City streets and parkland, leveraging and expanding MPRB Urban Forestry capabilities. This is just one of many actions being researched and developed.
Lives in: Bancroft
Occupation: HR expert; mother
Growing up I was taught by my family and my community in Fargo, ND, to help people in need. Now as an adult living in Minneapolis one of my first memories of homelessness was while I was at work eating a meal and the family of four at the table next to me was very overwhelmed with sadness. One child was crying, one child asking his mom why can't we go to grandma's house, the man's face was lost in deep thought, and the lady was crying while trying to talk on the phone to a family member. This family was going to experience homelessness that evening because the shelters were full and their family could not assist them with money for a hotel room. I started to cry because I did not have the money, resources, or experience to assist them with housing. After my own personal experience of watching this family struggle, and now most recently watching MPRB struggle to house homeless people on their property. I believe that MPRB is not set up to house people with disabilities and\or special needs. This is best left to the professional nonprofits and the city. My final thought is that instead of housing the homeless encampments, my suggestion is that the MPRB could partner with the city and local nonprofits to assist with things such as food, showers, and work.
MPRB should find ways to provide access for all without having the price tag to participate stand in the way. We look at our revenue and our expenses. Additionally, we should look at the health and wellbeing of our community, and in doing so we could offer more items for free and/or reduced prices. My thought is we need the MPRB to look at expenses, revenue, and add another category such as free and reduced passes (etc.) to see how our organization is performing in times of plenty and times of need. I am proud to say that the MPRB offers assistance for youth sports. Along with amazing free music and movies. Yet, I do think we could do more for our community as a whole by offering other items for free or at discounted prices. These items could come in the form of a bus pass to and from our parks, free or reduced bike rental pass, and free or reduced prices on rentals of items such as canoe, kayak and standing boards (etc.).
What a great question from a human resource (HR) perspective. This question places the candidate on the spot by asking for just one specific way. So, for me this answer starts with me asking the Minneapolis community, you the voters, to please vote in a new candidate(s) for Park Board Commissioners At- Large because the pandemic is changing how humans live, work and play which means we need to be adaptable with our thinking for Minneapolis Parks and Rec youth programing . We need new perspectives using creative thinking and critical thinking. Next, I want you to know that my son is currently playing Park and Rec Sports. He just started the fall soccer season. In the winter he participates in basketball. And spring is baseball through MPRB. I am a soccer and basketball mother. And this past season for baseball I was an assistant coach. When my son is playing sports I check out the parks where we practice and play games. While at these events I see how other families and children use youth programming in the form of child care, computer labs, indoor and outdoor play. I see how the MPRB staff interact and assist children, community members, coaches, families, and volunteers. After seeing the whole picture as an MPRB parent I would be honored to recommend that we enhance parent and volunteer involvement in our youth programs. As examples this could be creating more training videos, everyone reads the MPRB ethics, and we seek volunteers from local high schools and colleges.
My simple answer is shelter for both questions. If we improved on this one theme we could provide: Shelter from the sun, shelter from the storm, shelter from the pandemic, and shelter from food insecurity to name a few. I ask myself these questions and so should you. Questions to ask yourself: Do we need more trees? Yes. Do we need buildings that do not leak every time it rains? Yes. Did we all know someone who worked from home during the pandemic, and could we not offer them a special spot to work outdoors moving forward? Yes. Did we all see children in the MPLS school system and around the country struggle with distance learning? Yes. Could we create a shelter for teachers to teach their students outside? Yes. Do we need shelter for history? Yes. Do we need shelter for the game of golf at Hiawatha Golf Course? Yes. Did you not ask yourself what could we do in the park system to help, to assist all of these needs? Yes. Could we supply shelter in the form of community gardens for people that need access to healthy food? Yes. All of these questions and answers are exactly why I have such a big passion for MPRB! This is why I am running for Minneapolis Park board commissioner At-Large because I am being called to take a great system already in place and make that system work in a way that will delight all park visitors and staff, and cause everyone to walk away with new found joys for our park system in this generation and for future generations.
Lives in: Fulton
Occupation: Licensed teacher; reserve teacher for Minneapolis Public Schools; certified coach, nordic skiing and mountain biking PSIA, CXC, IMBA
The MPRB should serve all people who come into our parks, including those experiencing homelessness. However, they should not serve or make policy to allow encampments on MPRB property. We learned last year that tents in parks aren't safe for anyone - not the daytime patrons nor the unhoused. In addition, access to what people need to live- water, electricity, heat, security- is limited on parkland, and it's beyond the parks' mission to provide that on a large scale. We all need parks to be parks, not housing.
That said, the MPRB did gain valuable experience in the only year in its history officially permitting encampments. Park Street Reach Teams had already been established, and I support their continued funding, staffing and training. Street Reach staff have been working to approach unhoused people this summer with dignity to ask what they need, and to offer choices besides camping in a Minneapolis park. MPRB staff and volunteers also learned new ways to connect unhoused people with organizations and resources they need during the day, and they collaborated more with organizations that have a history of work with homelessness - Hennepin County, the City and numerous nonprofits - to find shelter and affordable housing overnight and long-term.
The MRPB and city collaborated in 2016 to fund NPP20 - a steady investment for 20 years in capital expenditures in all of our neighborhood parks. The Equity Matrix was established at the same time as a necessary part of that collaboration, which provided data to prioritize historically and racially marginalized areas for first investments. This is a unique advancement, which I support fully. High quality parks are now built or being planned in most marginalized areas. The next step is to provide high quality programming and sufficient staff in these new parks. The MRPB staff has identified a $2 million dollar gap in youth program funding to simply maintain what it already offers. I am heartened that filling this gap seems to be a priority in 2022 budget discussions, and I will push for that in December and beyond if elected. I will look for additional ways to fund high quality programs and to lift up program leaders. Another important step is to work with communities to solve how kids, families and seniors will feel safe going to and coming from their local park, as well as during activities. I will seek park police historical knowledge and collaborate with neighborhoods and community members to create safe, welcoming park environments.
Youth programming is dear to my heart and a big reason why I decided to run for the Park Board. A specific way the MPRB could enhance it is by clearly defining, with the Minneapolis School Board and with park-using clubs and sports organizations, who is responsible for each program that currently serves teens, especially middle school-aged kids, aged 11-15. After assessing and defining the gaps, the next step would be to create, staff and publicize more individualized teen programs where needed that are fun, active, outdoors and challenging.
There are 180 parks in our system, 102 miles of walking and biking trails, and 49 recreation centers. Everyone notices more about the park closest to them than other parks, so I posed this question to someone who had the perspective of seeing all of them in a short time. Glen Varns is an active volunteer and park user who challenged himself to bike to all 180 parks in 2 days last spring. He told me that he was surprised to find that the trails and amenities around our lakes were in the worst condition of all the parks and trails he encountered, especially around Nokomis and Bde Maka Ska. If Minneapolis is the City Of Lakes, and host to a Regional Park System gem that is visited by more tourists than any other State Park, that is not acceptable, so I name that our greatest need.
Lives in: South Uptown
Occupation: Communications specialist, House DFL Caucus
Our entire nation is in a housing crisis, and every governing body and community must do what they can to break the cycle of homelessness. I see it as the Park Board's role to help provide a stable place for our unhoused neighbors while we work with the city and county to provide more permanent housing solutions and other needed resources. We have seen a marked improvement over last summer thanks in part to the federal aid from the American Rescue Plan. We will have to maintain the pressure on the city, county, and state governments to continue providing the needed housing and resources into the future. This past legislative session I watched several hours of testimony from experts and people who are experiencing homelessness. The number one thing that perpetuates homelessness and costs our society an incredible amount financially is continued displacement and instability. Encampments aren't pretty, but kicking people around continues the cycle that contributes to our homeless crisis while costing our society more money. So while I may not be 'pro' encampment, I am absolutely anti-displacement and anti-perpetuation of a failed system. If we experience an influx of homeless encampments like we saw in 2020 under my term I will base my decisions off of a philosophy of valuing the humanity and individuality of each neighbor, and will work to provide land for encampments on city, county, and potentially MPRB land with the city and county taking the lead on administrative duties.
There are a few strategies that MPRB should take to improve access to our high quality of parks throughout the city. The first step we should take is to analyze and adjust our current outreach methods and communication accessibility to ensure we are reaching as many residents as possible regarding MPRB services and events. Far too many voters have told me that there is a communication disconnect that results in reduced participation. We have to fund efforts to actively increase engagement and community buy-in across the city so we can maximize the service we already provide. I will also push to complete the unfinished vision of Theodore Wirth by completing connections to the Mississippi for North and Northeast, and finish the missing link of the Grand Rounds. Lastly, I would like to work with the city government to convert certain underused side streets to create mid-block playgrounds and parks. This will accomplish several important things, including the creation of easily accessible and safe parks, reduction of the devastating heat island effect, and the ability to create high quality parks in every neighborhood.
I have a few different ideas to improve youth programming but they all fall under increasing funding. That's the quick and easy answer, but here is how we can accomplish this and a couple thoughts I have about how we should spend these increased funds. First, we have to push for stronger levy increases so we can keep up with the rising costs of running programming across the city. Youth programming is a great way to spend our collective funds as it pays dividends and is always sound fiscal investment. In a similar vein I will utilize my legislative experience to push for higher investments from the state. Second, I believe that the MPRB should take a hard look at certain new capital projects and consider if the funds to create these projects (and the subsequent maintenance costs) would not be better spent on our youth. While new capital projects can be a great boon for our city (like connecting North/Northeast to the river), building up our community through youth development can be just as, if not more, important. This is the type of consideration I will make as your commissioner to ensure we are getting the most out of every penny in our budget. With these additional funds I will invest in a revitalized work pathway program that will create a direct pipeline between our youth and well paying middle class jobs, and I will create new innovative programs that the next generation truly want.
It is difficult to pick one systemwide issue that should take precedence over all others. However, to put it broadly, I think our greatest park need is to ensure that the land and facilities we currently control are used and maintained optimally. While our park system is not perfect, it does lead the world in quality and the services it provides. But, this will not continue to be the case if we fail to do a couple things. First, we must increase and catch up on maintenance across our park system. Every neighbor I've spoken to has a broken down basketball court, crumbling path, or dilapidated rec center they can point to as a barrier between them and full use and enjoyment of our parks. We have to focus on maintaining what we have at a higher level so everyone can get the full use out of every park. Second, we have to continue to adapt to changing tastes, demographics, and generational desires. This means building more skateparks, basketball courts, pickleball courts, soccer fields, and non-athletic amenities like spaces, for gardening, art, pollinator friendly habitat, and intentional community building. For example if you look at a Google Earth image of Minneapolis you will see clearly that far too much of our park land is given to underused spaces that have lost popularity decades ago. It is time to reappropriate underused land to meet modern demand or else we will see a decline in use of our wonderful parks.
Lives in: Willard-Hay
Occupation: Firefighter and EMT, Minneapolis Fire Department
As a 21-year veteran of the Minneapolis Fire Department both as a firefighter and E.M.T., I've seen firsthand the conditions our residents dwell in at the parks. The conditions are unacceptable and dangerous for them and for our park users. We need a real solution for our unsheltered brothers and sisters, right now. However, using the Parks for housing should not be the solution.
I believe the encampments have been a deterrent for many who would like to participate in our parks. This is unacceptable and unsafe for not only our temporary guests but for any users of those affected parks. We must do better as a city.
I support greater expansion of affordable housing funding by our developers both for profit and non-profit and even strategies such as tiny housing developments for the current unsheltered populations. MPRB must stay with its responsibility of providing a place for all users including our unsheltered brothers and sisters to stay healthy through recreation and community bonding. We must stay true to our mission – "…permanently preserve, protect, maintain, improve, and enhance its natural resources, parkland, and recreational opportunities for current and future generations."
First, it starts with a belief that our parks in our communities deserve to be the best for all users. Too many times, red tape and even simple personal spats get in the way of progress and partnerships. We must collectively invest our time, talent and treasure into all of our parks. It is a blessing to have this resource and we must all support it.
I support and will continue to promote the current policy that prioritizes parks and communities that have been traditionally left behind. However, I believe we must do more. I will work with my partners to expand new sources of resource, human and fiscal and work to develop stronger partnerships with community agencies and programs to expand the communities programming.
As we come out of the challenges for the past two years, we must reimagine how we program our parks for all youth and families. As a 25+ year coach with the Police Activities (Athletic) League and Hospitality House, I have a great appreciation for the struggles to develop and maintain these programs. In fact, I developed a program with teachers, mentors and parents to support the development of the whole child during my time coaching to ensure our their success as well-rounded young people and had the best shot to succeed as an adult.
WE (Parks, Agencies, Community) MUST WORK TOGETHER! Within my first few months, we convene a PAC conference to begin the process of developing stronger collective efforts.
There are so many great agencies and programs across Minneapolis. The solution is right before us. Note - our suburban communities coordinate their community education, schools and other agencies into one system ensuring all kids regardless of skill level can participate at the level they so choose and builds their abilities and confidence. This one concept would improve programming opportunities for parents while enhancing efficiency and effectiveness for our community agencies.
I will personally work to promote and develop that system with the park leadership and staff, community users, agencies and business owners in effort to create the most impactful programming for us all.
Safety and relevant programming. What good is a beautiful park if people don't feel safe to get there or feel safe once they get there?
As we are blessed with a remarkable system, unfortunately many potential users will not experience it because they do not feel safe or see activities that speak and empower them. Our city has grown and changed over the past decade. However, the programming is still rooted in our past. I believe the 20 year master planning process led but MPRB across the city will provide better clarity for the system, many young people, families and communities still believe the facilities and programs are irrelevant and unsafe.
We must find unique ways to rethink and expand how to keep our users and guests safe. As we feel safe, we can do great things if we work together for our children and families at the parks.
Through the PAC process I will set the table and engage as many who feel left out of the process. We WILL commit to engaging ALL users in real time and work to see our collective success within each other. Once we do that, our kids will feel safe and increase their activities, in turn creating a safer, more just community.
Alicia D. Smith
Lives in: Bancroft
Occupation: Executive director, Corcoran Neighborhood Organization
Homeless encampments being permitted on to the MPRB property is not truly a permission that a person experiencing homelessness typically asks for. Usually, space is taken as people seek safety and solace during difficult times in their lives. Now, if this question is asking me should we provide permitting in the way of written approval my answer is no. It is my personal belief that people should not be unhoused, especially if they desire housing in the traditional terms. Certainly our parks are not the place for encampments as it encroaches on all of our ability to truly enjoy the parks and it encroaches on the people who are unhoused as well. The parks certainly may serve as a conveying partner/resource for supporting the unhoused by partnering with other governmental and social service agencies. We may bring the resources into our parks and provide them directly to and for the people, especially given the proximity and ability to do so in real time. We may offer laundry support, personal hygiene resources or even access to technology to search for jobs, housing etc… We certainly have a role to play in supporting the unhoused and we must be creative and humane in the process because if our parks are truly for all we must not exclude anyone based on their housing status.
We must consider programs and resources that promote partnership with other agencies that may support families in these marginalized communities. What I mean by this is that we must include the folks who are dealing with housing, education and economic development, we should not act as separated and isolated experts, but should be fully integrated as much as possible to fully address the entirety of the communities issues. It has been proven that belonging to a community is one of the effective factors in creating the sense of community and the way that you do that is convening a space where people may socialize, access resources and feel invested in with dignity and care. We must also provide space for these simple yet important actions to happen, while creating space for communities to have some ownership in what is happening from a programming perspective to amenities creating a long term investment in the upkeep and success of the parks. There has to be an installation of those nice tennis courts, basketball courts or water parks in areas that have been completely overlooked and we must invest in the upkeep of those parks at a rate that may be different than others areas. We must not forget that these communities have been disregarded by every aspect of our system so we have to build trust in order to be truly effective. It takes time and effort to get to this level of trust/investment with the people for the greatest change.
One way that MPRB is able to expand youth programming is to solicit youth voice, youth choice in the type of programs they would like to see happening inside the parks in which they frequent. The very basic concept of youth voice and youth choice isn't revolutionary but it can feel that way when you have not practice this type of youth work before; I believe that we haven't flexed this muscle in a while, we should be able to implement this easily across all of our parks and give each community the diversity in programming that they would like to have offered based on who anyone specific park primary users maybe. We also need to adapt and offer programs that promote building skills and competencies that allow young people to function and contribute in their daily lives, ensuring skills that lead to productive adults. Every program offering must include at the base operations and functionality for the youth to develop self-confidence, optimism, and initiative. This is how we expand our youth programming. We must also ensure that our staff are properly trained and supported to facilitate high quality and effective programming and ensure that we hire a staff that is reflective of the community it is serving!
The greatest park-related need system-wide is for our parks to actually live up to and fulfill our promise and truly be a park for all no matter what your economic and racial background may be. Parks are a powerful community tool that play a huge role in the socio-economic and physical wellbeing of our city. We need to truly serve our communities by providing greater access to recreational opportunities for all. By offering intergenerational programming and cutting edge creative programs uniquely crafted to a community. We must modernize our park infrastructure and increase public safety in our parks so that families in all neighborhoods feel safe in our parks again. Parks must truly become the center of our neighborhoods! During this global pandemic we have seen the dramatic rise for safe social connections and the restorative effects of nature in our parks so it's critical that we provide to everyone fulfilling our promise to have parks within a half-mile or six blocks of city residents.
Did not participate: Londel French
Park Board Commissioner - District 1
District 1 includes northeast Minneapolis east of the Mississippi River, including the Nicollet Island and Boom Island regional parks.
Billy Menz is running unopposed in District 1. He was not asked to participate.
Park Board Commissioner - District 2
District 2, located in north Minneapolis west of the Mississippi River, is the home of Theodore Wirth Park and North Commons.
Lives in: Victory
Occupation: IT administrator
While individuals are seeking shelter in our parks we should continue to work with them to help them locate more permanent shelter, and provide resources to them such as water and food. Affordable housing is a major crisis that the MPRB cannot solve alone, and any of our neighbors that are seeking assistance should be helped.
The MPRB has a number of programs and activities that only exist in select spaces and these can easily be replicated in other areas of the city. Additionally partnering with Metro Transit we can make sure that our parks have sufficient transportation options. No park space should be more than a few minutes walk from a bus or train line.
Right now most of the rec centers are park facilities are closed and don't carry or have rec programming for youth. By establishing staffed rec programs at these facilities we can provide both good paying careers to teenagers and activities for youth of all ages all days of the week, including meals during summers and weekends.
Youth related programming and activities is the biggest need in North Minneapolis right now, as well as teenage employment. City-wide the MPRB needs to improve its communications, both in making residents aware of programming and activities but also in its website and digital communication.
Lives in: Lind-Bohanon
Occupation: Employment recruiter, Twin Cities Rise; executive director, Heritage Youth Sports Foundation
As an agency and community leader and a coach, the sight of our fellow residents in challenging conditions is difficult to witness especially for our kids they play within feet of some encampments should be a challenge for us all. This is unacceptable in the 21st century for a community that prides itself of caring for all of us. However, we must not use the Parks for housing.
These encampments have been a deterrent for many who would like to join a program or just even walk around our parks. This too is unacceptable. We must do better as a city solve this issue as one community.
As my citywide partner in the race, Charles Rucker, pointed out we must support greater expansion of affordable housing funding, encourage more developers to build more affordable units and create unique housing solutions to ensure everyone has a place to call home. With that said, MPRB must stay with its responsibility and use its resources provided by our taxpayer a place for all users, including our unsheltered brothers and sisters, to stay healthy through recreation and create opportunities community bonding. If we use our limited and focused resources to shoulder the housing load, our abilities to serve our residents and staff will suffer even more.
I will work with efforts like Heading Home Hennepin and other elected officials from our federal, state, and local governmental partners and our community non-profit partners to find real short and long-team solutions to improve the lives of our fellow residents.
I have been working on this issue for most of my professional career and we are building huge momentum on the Northside and we must continue to build upon our latest successes.
Too often, the news is always bad from our side of town. However, the latest run of activities led by a 60+ community coalition of youth serving, civic engagement, health enrichment, artistic social and service development organizations that I am proud to be a major partner through Heritage Youth Sports Foundation has begun to turn the tide over North.
I believe we can duplicate this energy and structure across the city. For a little background, we came together in response to the pandemic and stayed together after George Floyd's murder. Through our collective work, we have provided high-quality meaningful programming with our park partners and distributed 28,000+ PPE, meals to community members and first responders, hosted the community summer games for our youth and provided some their first jobs in effort to build a better community.
Our effort demonstrates what can happen when organizations and individuals can put away egos and stay commit to building high-quality programs even in the face of social unrest.
This was possible because MPRB join the community table and built the process with our community coalition. If elected, I will help our communities create their own coalition in partnership with the park board.
Our coalition beings with one question, "So how are the children?" As we come out of the challenges for the past two years, we must reimagine how we program our parks for all youth and families. As an agency leader with Heritage and 20+ year coach with North, Henry and Park Center High Schools, I understand the challenges to develop and maintain programs.
There is nothing new under the sun. In my 20+ years of service to our community, I have seen amazing solutions to enhance programming across the region. The question is 'are we ready for that change?'
If elected I will provide leadership for the communities to implement a system that coordinates our youth servicing organizations and work with public and private partners to streamline our collective activities starting with North Minneapolis and building a comprehensive process throughout the system and ensure all kids regardless of skill level and interest can participate in our parks. This will encourage greater collaboration support the best our communities and our youth's dreams regardless of their abilities.
Safety and relevant programming. As encampments are a challenge across the system, getting to the park safely at times is equally difficult in North Minneapolis. That coupled with irrelevant programing reduces the energy for our people to visit our parks. Further, our community has changed greatly even in the past decade.
As I believe the just-completed master planning process will provide better clarity for the system, many of our people and families still believe the facilities and the programs are irrelevant and worse, unsafe.
I will spend the first 100 days to work with our users across the system to understand our needs and create a process for our park recreation and public safety leadership to engage and improve the ideas that will guide our parks for the next generation.
Lives in: Victory
Occupation: Mathematics professor
It is not showing kindness, compassion or mercy to allow people to be at risk and die in our parks. Last year, at least 5 people died in our parks in such camps. Additionally, by definition, parks are separate from dwelling places - they are for recreation and connection to nature. Given those two facts I do not support camping of any form in city parks. We would do well to serve our neighbors in a different capacity. Is it not a blight on our society that we can allow people dying in the streets to be normalized? We must not allow the problem to persist as if parks are a solution. Parks are not a solution. Multi-pronged approaches to addiction, trauma and housing costs are necessary to help our neighbors in crisis. City parks should not be a part of that calculus other than having access to information on shelters and other resources.
The greatest land mass of wealth in north Minneapolis is currently all paved- it is called Interstate 94. To expand access to the wealth of our city and our natural resources we must reconnect the northside to the Mississippi River. That is a multi- year, multi-agency endeavor. In the meantime we must clean up and resource the parks we already have. This means safety for children at football practice or while swimming. We also desperately need to consider the tree canopy. We lost hundreds of old growth trees to the tornado in 2011 on the northside and very little has been replaced. We lost trees in Wirth Park which have not yet been replaced. There are also nuts and bolts issues of SIGNAGE. People need to know WHERE PARKS ARE, what is there, how to access and that all are welcome! Connecting and working with MPS could go a long way toward connecting marginalized communities to their parks resources.
The city should also consider land along the river sold to parks before developers at all times. The northside has needed connection to the grand rounds for over a century. Connecting the city north to south via the parkways is a huge step toward equity.
LEARN TO SWIM PROGRAM. We need to bring our pools back. North Commons water park was once the jewel of the northside- an olympic distance pool and a diving well. Children from far and wide learned to swim for free. The "lupient water park" must also be returned to a pool. When children learn to swim, and can connect to other parts of the city through a swim team (I think another southside pool should be considered- perhaps near Peavy Park), they are given a skill to last a lifetime. It is an equity issue that connects across cultures in our great city of lakes. Anytime we talk about pools we are also bringing up old wounds of historic inequity. We need to finally take time to mend them.
We need to connect our programming north to south. Specific example: kids in south sign up for baseball, only play other MPRB teams from south, kids in north only play MPRB teams in north. The 'CITY CHAMPIONSHIP' is usually played somewhere north vs south. I'm sure that made sense long ago but given the economic and opportunistic disparities which have evolved between north and south parts of the city, we need kids to play each other, together. Folwell plays Kenwood and HIAC goes to North Commons. It's not just the games, it's the families and communities those games bring together.
In District 2 we need safety. We have had shootings in far too many parks. Neighbors are afraid to take their dogs for a morning walk in Folwell, having been mugged too many times since the snow melted. In North Commons, there have been shootings where children have had to flee. We had the beloved Lincoln statue defaced. Until those things are addressed, talking about water fountains and kiddy pools feels pointless, though we need those also. Many fountains are broken and dismantled, having been 'earmarked' to be fixed and then forgotten. Pools were promised to be rebuilt but still sit in a sand pit. That is unacceptable. At the same time, it can never be forgotten that we have an amazing parks system in an amazing city. It just needs a little polish once in a while. Now is one of those times.
Systemwide we need to consider the totality of our city and not just certain pockets. We need the whole thing to function well for any one thing to really work. People see the huge lake Harriet Bandshell and all its wonder, but if the Farwell Community center is in disrepair, what does that tell us? Minnehaha Creek, Shingle Creek and Basset Creek all need to be given greater birth and yet bike trials tear up ecosystems for creatures who are also a part of this city. We allow a huge ski park on the northside with promises for the community, but that hasn't materialized. We need a vision for the parks beyond slogans. We need nuts and bolts answers.
Park Board Commissioner - District 3
District 3 is located in south-central Minneapolis, where Powderhorn Park is the largest swath of green space.
Lives in: Seward
Occupation: Transportation planner
The Minneapolis Park Board can play a role in serving unsheltered people but it is certainly not incumbent upon the Board to take on Minnesota's housing crisis alone.
Our unsheltered neighbors deserve a dignified place to lay their heads, but last summer's encampments were certainly not the answer to our long-term and growing housing problem. As the steward of 15% of the land in the city, it made sense in the early stages of the pandemic to offer safe spaces to unsheltered people. However, it became abundantly clear that the effort was set up to fail without the support of other jurisdictions.
I met this summer with the head of the Park Board's homelessness outreach team and appreciated his insight on their current approach. After the crisis situation last summer, Park Board staff put together an Unsheltered People Policy which takes a proactive management approach to unsheltered people living in our parks. They don't force people to leave, nor do they issue permits to camp. Instead they connect people with Hennepin County resources, making phone calls and treating people with dignity.
As commissioner, I would place higher priority on advocating at a multi-jurisdictional level for support. Hennepin County has significant amounts of federal funding and human services expertise. I'd like to see the Park Board advocate for shelter resources to meet the needs of our unsheltered neighbors, such as providing housing options within the city or with fewer rules and focus Park Board attention on harm reduction techniques, such as safe needle disposal boxes.
Most Minneapolis residents are blessed with wonderful neighborhood park amenities within easy walking distance. It's much more difficult to access our high quality regional parks across the city on foot, by bike, or on transit. Our transportation network primarily serves people who drive and it shows. Sidewalk curb ramps are not always in the locations we need; busy roads cut off neighborhoods from parks, and the duration of transit trips is often double that of driving. As commissioner, I plan to seek out better collaborations with Metro Transit, allowing and encouraging transit buses to go on certain park-owned roads to key destinations within the system, such as Wirth Park's ski chalet. Beyond transit infrastructure, we can offer transit passes at MPRB programs or enrollment in key programs like TAP (Transit Assistance Program) to help improve access for Minneapolis residents not just to parks but also for grocery shopping and jobs. We need to look closely at how we manage parking in the system and prioritize parking for seniors, people with disabilities, and other groups of people who must drive in parks where there is high parking demand in comparison with parking supply. We need to make sure that sidewalks and paths where people walk, run, or roll are prioritized for plowing so that people who use wheelchairs or strollers are able to use our parks even during the winter. We need to support better, safer infrastructure so that people of all ages can move around our city in sustainable ways.
By 2040 we can anticipate a city that is on pace to become majority Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), a trend that is almost entirely driven by growth in racial and ethnic diversity in youth. With 49 rec centers across Minneapolis, MPRB has a big role to play in our community by providing our youngest residents with access to caring adults in the community and options for safe and affordable recreation at night and on weekends. To meet these changing demographics, we will need to increase the variety and depth of youth programming and make strategic investments in youth offerings for all ages—from our youngest residents onward. Current MPRB youth programs are great: Teen Teamworks hires young adults and offers them career exploration and pathways to full-time employment. Creation Spaces at rec centers allow young adults to explore creative careers like journalism and music. Night Owlz gives youth a fun place to go on weekend evenings. All these programs merit additional investments by fully funding dedicated professionals to engage young adults.
Even before kids become teenagers, the MPRB Rec Plus program provides valuable after and before school childcare at rec centers across the city. My own child has benefited from Rec Plus programming, giving me a unique perspective on how we can make improvements to benefit our whole community. For example, offering high five Rec Plus care would allow families with older students to stay together, something not currently offered by MPRB but allowable through Minneapolis Public Schools' Minneapolis Kids program.
District 3 deserves a responsive commissioner - one who answers constituent emails and phone calls and engages with neighbors on key park issues. We need Park Board members who will move past divisiveness and, instead, tackle these challenges as a team. We also need a commissioner who will tackle environmental issues, like the realities of climate change, to ensure our parks infrastructure and system is ready to handle a more extreme climate, including hotter summers and more intense rainfalls.
Systemwide, significant discrepancies in our urban tree cover exist. This is a climate issue and an equity issue. The MPRB is in charge of all the boulevard trees in Minneapolis, trees which differ in terms of maturity between neighborhoods. Because of the lack of tree cover, the average outdoor temperature in poorer neighborhoods is often 10 degrees higher than it is in wealthier neighborhoods. As a result of those decisions, we now experience urban heat bubbles, where lower-income and more racially diverse neighborhoods are warmer because of lack of adequate green space and tree cover. The MPRB should enter into strong partnerships with the City of Minneapolis and non-profit partners to improve our urban tree cover, both by planting more trees and caring for the trees that already exist. As a Sierra Club-endorsed candidate, I will work to ensure that we are prioritizing this important issue.
Did not participate: AK Hassan, Mohamoud Hassan.
Park Board Commissioner - District 4
District 4, which includes downtown Minneapolis, boasts Loring Park and half of the Chain of Lakes, including the west side of Bde Maka Ska and Cedar Lake.
Lives in: Stevens Square
Occupation: Current MPRB president and District 4 commissioner
Certainly, people should not sleep outside, and MPRB is not suited to solve homelessness single handedly. It is also true that good park leaders must adapt to extraordinary situations, listen to community, and work collaboratively to find solutions. This was true in 1946 when unemployed soldiers returned to Minneapolis from the war, and MPRB provided public space for temporary encampments.
Such a response was necessary given the extraordinary circumstances. This was true again in 2020. Facing a global pandemic, a housing crisis, and the recent murder of George Floyd that caused an international reckoning, MPRB provided temporary space for the unhoused and set up a permitting system for a limited number of encampments. Given the extraordinary circumstances, this too was necessary. Last summer's encampments laid bare how woefully unprepared all of our systems are to solve the crisis of housing and inequity, and surely the park system is not equipped to confront homelessness single-handedly. Thus MPRB has re-oriented its staffing model to provide direct non-police interventions that get people out of parks and into the shelter and services they need. Our most vulnerable citizens can be treated with respect and dignity while we keep our parks safe for all.
Access can mean many things. One thing I often hear from constituents in the more economically underinvested areas of my district and across the city is "do I feel welcome here?" Communities that have been marginalized are not going to use a park, much less enjoy it, if they don't see themselves reflected in it. MPRB can continue to improve access by investing in programs and people to serve areas historically underresourced by our government and our economic system. Good examples of recent successes include new public art by local BIPOC artists at locations like Farview Park, Bde Maka Ska, and Currie Park, or the creation of the Owamni restaurant by the Sioux Chef which features exclusively native dishes and whos workforce is 90 percent native.
Another key part of accessibility is ensuring that people of all abilities can physically access parks safely. This is low hanging fruit. MPRB passed an Americans with Disabilities action plan. Using this plan as a guide, MPRB should continue to partner with other entities, including the city of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, and MnDOT in building safe routes to neighborhood parks. Too often neighborhood parks are made less physically accessible due to dangerous roads that surround them, lack of ADA accessible facilities, and a lack of safe crossing options for people walking, rolling, and biking.
MPRB should substantially expand the Language Villages program, wrap it into the Teen Teamworks Program, and pay youth well to build leadership skills and be community stewards. The Language Villages program supports the development of diverse groups of multilingual young leaders. This is a great program, spearheaded by one of my predecessors, former District 4 Commissioner Vivian Mason, and deserves renewed attention. MPRB is poised to be able to invest in programs like this soon if the Board of Estimate and Taxation approves the historic youth investment levy request that was unanimously approved by the current Park Board and enjoys broad support on the city council.
Safety is on everyone's mind right now and we know that safe parks are active parks. The greatest park need in my district is programming and resource investment in the highest need district parks: Franklin Steele Park and Stevens Square Park. Beyond that I am dedicated to addressing lake water quality issues through the completion and implementation of the Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake master plan. This planning process, chaired by experienced community leader Win Rockwell, is currently underway. The greatest systemwide need now and for years to come is major climate resilience investment, particularly in Minneapolis communities that have experienced major environmental injustices. This climate resilience investment includes tree planting, stormwater BMPs, expanded green spaces, reduced auto-oriented uses, reduced monoculture grass land, expanded urban agriculture uses, and aggressive expansion of MPRB's carbon reduction goals.
Lives in: Lowry Hill
Encampments should not be permitted on MPRB property. The parks system and staff do not have the resources, facilities, and core competencies to manage the unhoused. By permitting encampments in 2020, the park board inserted itself into a crisis that was not a part of its mission and created confusion for Hennepin County and others who do have the responsibility and resources for homeless services. MPRB's Street Reach team is currently doing a great job of educating and redirecting people to proper service providers. Let's support the safety of everyone… youth, families, seniors, the unhoused and MPRB staff… by keeping encampments out of city parks.
This year's Trust for Public Land Park Score report detailed that Minneapolis has room to grow in providing equitable access to parks across our city. Residents in neighborhoods of color have access to 18% less park space per person than the city median (Hispanic community having the least access at 49% below city median) and 58% less than those of primarily white neighborhoods. While MPRB has made great strides in prioritizing funding for underserved parks through their equity matrix, this is another aspect of equity…total acreage in our communities. Adding additional parkland in targeted areas (supporting the city's Green Zone initiatives) will take creativity and collaboration between community groups, businesses, the city and other stakeholders. I support utilizing the treasure we have in the Mississippi and converting industrial riverfront parcels to ecologically friendly public use, connecting neighborhoods to regional parks.
Yet expanding access to high quality parks is not just an urban planning exercise around the physical appearance or the amount of parkland in our system, as important as that is. Expanding access also means creating a park culture where people are known and feel safe. It is a basic equity issue for Minneapolis residents to wonder, is it safe to use my park today? Developing community around each local park, supporting park police and activating park use through strong rec center programs and volunteering will facilitate better connection to what we already have. Neighborhoods with reduced acreage have compounded access issues if park safety is a concern.
As a teacher and long-distance hiker, I would like to see MPRB develop inquiry-based, experiential nature programming that would sequentially share the natural world with preschool youth up through the teen years. With MPRB's unique, almost two-decade relationship with neighborhood children and young adults, we cannot lose this chance to go deeper by offering progressive "outdoor school" opportunities tied to a broader, systematic naturalist curriculum. Naturalist and birdwatching classes are a start, but with the unique resources we have in our parks, we need to think more broadly. Preschools functioning completely outside immersed in experiential nature curriculum, elementary children on hiking outings or paddling excursions, middle-schoolers engrossed in native habitat development and invasive species removal, teens doing ecological experiments around climate change and water quality or hiking and camping the Grand Round — the opportunities are endless! Let's help our kids learn the physical and mental benefits of connecting to nature.
Minneapolis has been given a tremendous gift in having 15% of its land being set aside for parks. We need improved strategic planning and resource allocation directed towards asset management, which includes both our natural resources and built structures.
MPRB has been largely reactive to emergencies rather than proactively anticipating repairs or looming environmental issues. This approach doesn't lend itself to a consistent, safe level of service, leverage the size of our assets for financial savings, or support long-range environmental protections. Proactive asset planning would avoid potential inequities of delivery, like the "squeaky wheel" response. With the reset NPP20 funds are providing our parks system-wide, it is time to plan and fund the maintenance of our newly designed spaces.
On July 7th, MPRB staff introduced a pilot program to the Operations Committee, entitled Asset Life Cycle Management, an analysis to extend the life cycle of our paved courts and trails with a plan for maintenance benchmarks and costs. This is new. Every MPRB asset need to undergo this planning process. As Director Wiseman told commissioners in the meeting: "we have severe needs and gaps (in this area) throughout the entire system and this is a first positive step in identifying the needs." The charge to "maintain" our parkland is in MPRB's mission statement and we can't permanently get to "improve" or "enhance" without it. Let's take seriously the stewardship of this land for future generations, remembering how foundational our public parks are to our city's quality of life.
Park Board Commissioner - District 5
District 5 is located in southeast Minneapolis, including lakes Hiawatha and Nokomis.
Lives in: Ericsson
Occupation: Trade show management
Should homeless, or anyone, be allowed to live in the parks?? Absolutely NOT! The Parks Board should in NO way enter into a landlord - tenant relationship with the homeless. Once they establish "squatter's rights", then they can put up more permanent housing, then gardens and water and sewage, then the parks have ceased to be parks are are now row housing.
The people of Minneapolis are a very generous people. Minneapolis has a lot of resources available to the homeless. The Parks Board manages the parks, and should stick to that. I've heard it on good authority, from park staff, that last summer, there were resources available to the homeless, but they wanted to live in the parks and NOT follow the two basic rules of the shelters: You must be "sober-ish" and not start fights. In the parks, they did not have to follow those rules. They used the parks as a safe haven for drug use and then ranged out and harassed, #RememberThePoo, the tax paying neighbors of the park. To top it off, activists blocked the police from investigating rapes and child molestations. Never Again.
In addressing neighborhoods demographically different from what i generally recognized as the norm, I would reach out to community member to see what in fact they think would be beneficial from us. As I would not appreciate someone speaking for me, I would not speak for someone else but would do what was necessary to bridge that divide and create Parks easily accessible to anyone wanting to experience what Minneapolis truly has to offer.
Under my leadership, I would expansion of the "Nokomis Bluff" pilot program throughout the entirety of the Minneapolis Parks system. I see there will be a big need for a "youth farmers" program to plant the native grasses and trees. With more flowers, the Parks could start a pollinator program with actual hives on Parks land. I see student building programs throughout the city, working to prepare the parks for the next 100 years. I envision an arts / advertisement program that would partner with local and larger companies for use in the parks to generate more funds for the Parks general fund.
Of most important, I think the Parks Board needs to get the Hiawatha Golf Course water situation figured out. I have had productive talks with the "Save Hiawatha Golf Course" group and think their insight and leadership could really help out the situation with the course and the local neighbors. The incumbent candidate from District 5 has made it their goal to shut down The Hiawatha Golf Course, completely ignoring the importance, and history of this course to the local community (shame!).
Systemwide? Neglect. I adopted a tree in my local park. It is a mugo pine, a very fine and mature tree. It was covered in a creeping vine that nearly encased the whole tree. I got fed up looking at it year after year and this year I decided to do something about it. I cut all that vine down, freeing the tree. The Parks finally came around and cleared out the small trees and bushes. Do you know how long it had been since they had last cleared the area? Seven years (I counted the rings on the removed tree).
Lives in: Wenonah
Occupation: Current MPRB District 5 Commissioner; IT analyst
Homeless encampments should not be located in parks. Minneapolis is a diverse community with complicated needs. Unhoused Minneapolitans have sought community and safety in our parks since the founding of our city and yet the experiences of 2020 demonstrated that the Park Board is unequipped to manage park land when it is used as unplanned housing. Because the Park Board has a core mission that focuses on park spaces and recreational opportunities, I will continue to advocate for the deepening of an ad-hoc partnership with state, county, city, and non-profits so that our residents get the help they need from organizations that are best structured and funded to help them. Our parks need to be safe and accessible to young and old, housed and unhoused who seek community, recreation, access to nature, and a respite from the pressures of their lives. In 2020 I learned how deeply the Park Board lacks the capacity to meet the needs of homeless residents beyond our mission.
The MPRB must continue to expand access to high-quality neighborhood parks in historically marginalized areas. In 2016 I advocated for creating a 20 Year Neighborhood Park Plan with strategic land acquisition and park development to close existing gaps between Minneapolis residents and their parks. After five years of honoring capital projects approved before passing the 2016 Neighborhood Park Plan, next year all strategic capital investments will focus on closing the inequities that currently exist in historically marginalized parts of Minneapolis.
I am advocating for the MPRB to create and fund a youth employment track framework to expose kids to the various career pathways to employment within the organization. Adequate funding must be provided to ensure that this employment pathway will survive and employ Minneapolis residents into the future.
Deferred maintenance to park buildings and equipment is the greatest challenge to the quality of parks in my district. Addressing deferred maintenance through strategic replacement and rehabilitation of park amenities is my greatest priority for the parks in my district.
Climate Change has intensified the freeze thaw cycles we're experiencing and this has exacerbated the wear and tear on infrastructure in our parks.
As climate change continues to impact park landscapes, one of my top priorities will be to continue responding to those changes. I advocated that MPRB staff use precipitation projections when rebuilding Bossen Field, the rebuilding several sections of Minnehaha Creek's banks after the 2014 floods, the planning work for the future of Nokomis-Hiawatha Regional Park, all South Side Neighborhood parks, the Minnehaha Creek Regional Trail Corridor, and the planning work to ensure Hiawatha Golf Course can continue to provide golf operations while not succumbing to future, projected flooding. The Park Board needs to continue to incorporate climate planning into all of its plans and when possible, we should create partnerships to share costs because park users are not the only beneficiaries from climate-resilient parks.
Lives in: Field-Regina-Northrop
Occupation: Retired small business owner
I believe permitting encampments to be on MPRB property is a temporary solution that needs to be carefully managed by experts who know how to outreach to and serve people experiencing homelessness. The best way the MPRB can serve the people temporarily residing in the parks is to contract with an organization such as Avivo, Simpson or People Serving People who understand the unique needs and situations of those experiencing homelessness to help them secure shelter and eventually a home. By intentionally permitting people experiencing homelessness in the parks, plans can be made to make this situation as safe as one is possible for both those experiencing homelessness as well as the neighbors who use the parks.
The first thing the MPRB needs to do is to find ways to secure the input of the people living in these historically marginalized areas. This is not just a one time attempt but a commitment of the park board to authentically seek out and listen to the people as an ongoing principle and practice. A program such as park ambassadors (volunteers trained to listen and engage) can be developed to provide a bridge between the park and the neighborhood. Having additional volunteers active at the park will also create an environment that is safer for everybody. Programming in the parks can and needs to be adapted to the needs and interests of the community. Finally, a strong and comprehensive equity framework with specific outcomes for each park will contribute to parks that are high quality and responsive.
Similar to my response above, the best way to enhance youth programming is to ask youth and their parents what interests them and what they would invest time and perhaps money into. Scholarships to offset costs of programs (for example the First Tee program) should be widely and easily available. The professional sports teams in the city offer resources and expertise (as well as lots of potential volunteers) for a variety of sports programs. Added to that are all the professional and semi-professional individuals that we have in our midst who could provide specialized mentoring.
The rec centers in my district need to be upgraded to include amenities like handicapped accessible restrooms, air conditioning and enhanced programming for seniors. The greatest systemwide need is for more investment in the professional development and accountability of the center directors. As I have met with them they have asked for more systemwide support especially around the administration and planning of their centers. These directors are the key representatives of the MPRB out in the public, they are the lynchpin between their community and the park board. Their success is the success of the entire MPRB.
Park Board Commissioner - District 6
District 6 is located in southwest Minneapolis, including Lake Harriet and the east side of Bde Maka Ska.
Lives in: Lynnhurst
Occupation: Principal civil engineer, University of Minnesota
My short answer is no. I've talked with people in my district, and encampments in the parks are very unpopular. People simply don't want the MPRB to expand its mission into social services. I do feel that public-facing park employees—rec center workers, Park Patrol Agents, Park Police—should interact with people experiencing homelessness with compassion and if they encounter someone in distress, they must be trained on how to connect them to agencies that can help. I want to maximize day use in our parks by all in the community, but allowing residential shelter in our parks is a vast restructuring of the MPRB's mission that I do not support.
The first step to expanding access is to create the kind of programming that will draw people in. I don't believe in cookie-cutter parks; every neighborhood has a different population and history that we must honor, and the neighborhoods must be engaged in developing successful programming. Dedicated MPRB staff, such as park directors, often know their programming gaps better than anyone and likely have already made connections throughout their neighborhoods. Metrics should be developed to measure the success of park offerings and make program adjustments as needed.
The second way I think of access is related to safety and the physical environment. Using the concept of Safe Routes to School, the MPRB must work with other local government in the following ways: 1. The neighborhoods must be safe so parents feel comfortable letting their kids run down to the park. More people and activities in the parks will help, but kids need to be safe from random violence and other crime. Letting our kids play outside safely should be a top goal of every government agency in Minneapolis. 2. As a civil engineer, I see how infrastructure improvements can be made to reduce barriers to access. The MPRB must push for pedestrian oriented street design that centers neighborhood parks as high demand destinations no matter where they are. The MPRB must identify the gaps and coordinate with city and county transportation planners on developing the safest routes possible.
The answer is apparent: MPRB needs to get out of MPRB's way. I've had countless conversations with people who are frustrated with MPRB's failure to consider requests for new sports or expanded activities. I believe in public systems, and it disappoints me when public organizations reinforce stereotypes of government as rigid and stymied. I've worked in public service for over two decades, and I've seen the "this is the way we've always done it" mindset up-close. Ironically, stonewalling families isn't how MPRB has always done it; the parks used to be neighborhood hubs for kids to play sports or just meet up with friends. If I'm elected commissioner, I will bring honest, creative collaboration and a long track record of getting to yes in public service.
Nature-based youth recreation programming will be a top priority for me. Expanding programming throughout the city is not only utterly core to the mission of MPRB, but also the single greatest opportunity we have to help our kids learn new skills, explore ideas, and practice independence. I will be looking for ways to measure improved youth programming, such as growth in participation and in the number of offerings. Youth programming that is flexible and responsive to each neighborhood's needs is something I will prioritize as commissioner.
Both in my district and systemwide, my answer is the same: water quality improvement. According to the MPRB website, nearly all of the 30 billion gallons of annual precipitation in Minneapolis runs through park land and our lakes and streams. While some of this runoff is intercepted for quality improvement, the majority arrives in our water bodies untreated. Bacteria, sediment, excess nutrients, and chlorides present in runoff, degrade water quality. The MPRB, as steward of these incredible water resources, must take a stronger policy-level stance on water quality.
The MPRB does an admirable job of monitoring and reporting on water quality, but it's unclear what the goals for improvement are. As a civil engineer working in water resources management, I can tell you that measurement without a clearly defined goal is not enough.
The MPRB must require accountability from the watershed districts and city and suburban partners that includes investment in treatment systems retrofitted into upstream pipesheds. The MPRB cannot go it alone, but it can make water quality a higher priority and set timelines for measurable improvements. Attention to non-point sources of water pollution goes back to Clean Water Act legislation of the 1970s and 1980s. We've lost a lot of time in the fight to clean up our lakes and streams.
Lives in: Linden Hills
Occupation: Real estate attorney
NO. The core mission of the Park Board is not to provide a place to live in its parks, any more than the libraries, schools or other government agencies. Besides, this prevented the general public, especially our youth, families and seniors from safely using their parks, as they are intended. As a long time Park Commissioner, I have always opposed the use of our park facilities for other than their intended purpose. The agencies set up to deal with these issues are the city, county and state, not the Park Board.
The Park Board should improve access in historically marginalized areas by devoting more staff effort, funding to these communities. The MPRB has not provided enough of the high quality level of programming required in many of our marginalized communities of color and it shows in the number of participants in park programs. I have always been a promotor and supporter of racial equality. I am currently the longest serving Commissioner in the history of the city on the Civil Rights Commission.
There is no one specific way the Park Board can enhance youth programming. To improve youth programming, in a multi-faceted city, depends on the specific areas and needs. One advantage of having 49 distinct neighborhood parks, which are the centers of each neighborhood, is to fit the individual needs of each neighborhood. It is not acceptable to take one approach for the entire city. It is important to include the older youth in such a way as to be the leaders of the younger park users. The MPRB needs to stop contracting out the youth programming to outside agencies. As a former Park Commissioner, I know and believe we must employ teens as mentors so they become positive role models for the younger members of their communities. This is especially true in our more marginalized communities.
The greatest park related need in my district, as well as systemwide, is to maintain the quality of our park and recreation system. There are way too many instances of park repairs and maintenance being deferred, resulting in a deterioration of our park infrastructure. Seeing our paths and parkways in disrepair, as well as the buildings, tennis courts, golf courses and athletic fields is simply unacceptable. This also applies to the environmental issues of our park system. As a former member of Clean Water Partnership, I worked hard to protect the water quality of the lakes with the wetlands that were established, to improve water quality at the lakes where we all swim. The MPRB must continue to be a role model for the best environmental practices of our city. The Park Board must also continue to acquire park land along the north side of the River, which I was instrumental in.
Lives in: Tangletown
Occupation: Key accounts manager
Minneapolis is experiencing a housing affordability and availability crisis. This comes after decades of discriminatory housing policies, as well as disinvestment in infrastructure that would support affordable housing. That said, people have been taking shelter in our parks for as long as they have existed. 2020 saw this happen on a larger scale, but the issue is not new.
I do not believe encampments in our parks are the best solution, as it's a patch on a larger issue; housing is the best solution. When I talked with folks who were seeking shelter in our parks last year, it became clear that multiple layers of government had failed them. They'd tell anyone who would listen that living in a park was not a choice they made, but a desperate attempt to seek safety and community when no other safe options were available.
The Park Board is responsible for the health and safety of every person who is using our parks, but this department alone cannot solve the housing crisis. With the right tools and resources, the park outreach team can connect people taking shelter on our park lands with support. I am advocating for those staff to be equipped with resources to be able to respond compassionately and I believe we have an opportunity to foster collaboration among City, County, and non-profit organizations that specifically deal with housing issues, to represent the best resources available to individuals. Everyone deserves these services, and meeting people where they are has always been the most effective solution.
Every person deserves access to a safe, accessible, and well-maintained park, and all parks need a specialized response based on meaningful community input. This means every park can and will look different. A hyper-local response—one developed to meet each neighborhood's range of needs, interests and desires—is crucial. Different neighborhoods with different cultures may want unique park amenities for recreation.
I support a bottom-up approach to park planning, based on deep listening focused on those historically not heard. I have advocated for broader community involvement in the design and development of new programming and infrastructure within our park system, and as Park Board commissioner, this would be a top priority for me.
Every member of our community should have a say in the resources and amenities at their local park. The Park Board can ensure community needs are met by:
- Expanding access to surveys and other platforms we already use
- Hiring and retaining staff to spend time in parks talking directly to the people utilizing them
- Prioritizing continuous engagement with community members rather than checking an engagement box for every new project
Currently, MPRB has a lot of park amenities for young children and many quality leagues and other organized programs as children get older. However, many of our park programs have barriers to access, such as fees or an inaccessible schedule to many parents. As COVID-19 has highlighted, a world that supports parents and families is one that supports all of us. We need to do better for our community, and youth programming is one such way.
I am committed to breaking down barriers to use our parks. One priority I will advocate for is funding and supporting more informal park programming. This includes features such as open gym time, unstructured play time and more equipment out for young people to play their own games without signing up for a league or class.
Some of the best, most utilized parks in our city are the ones where youth feel free to start their own games of basketball, soccer, etc. These games offer them an opportunity for growth and development they wouldn't have without this access. Youth learn so much about themselves and their abilities through play, and the Park Board can support that.
Tree canopy is hugely important for our city and provides significant environmental benefits. I will work to pass a new tree levy to ensure we provide this critical environmental asset for our city. That is our number one system priority. We will need to remain flexible to respond to the changing needs of our city as climate change continues to present new challenges.
Protecting our urban forests across the entire MPRB system is one of the ways we will work to decarbonize our city. We must address threats to our urban forests including Emerald Ash Borer and Dutch Elm's disease, and we must follow through with funding and attention to expand our tree planting capacity to address a 200,000 tree deficit across our city.
We must also address the fact that a number of our parks are not accessible to my neighbors pushing strollers, using mobility devices or navigating our city without the use of a personal motor vehicle. Every day, I see places my neighbors who use wheelchairs can't access. The ADA regulations are a bare minimum standard, and we need to do more than meet them. We need to exceed them.
Finally, we must update our current assets before expanding into new projects and maintain the infrastructure that we have and that our community relies on to reach our green spaces.
Lives in: Fulton
I do not support allowing people to camp in city parks and I will oppose efforts to re-open city parks to encampments.
The Park Board responded with good intentions to the unique and convergent crises of 2020. But the decision to house hundreds of people in our parks in tents took the Park Board and its staff far outside its mission and was neither safe nor sustainable. Those living in parks were vulnerable to violence, theft, severe weather, lack of consistent services and food insecurity. Many relied on the good will of nearby residents for help – a model that was admirable but not sustainable. During this time, many residents kept their children away from city parks due to safety concerns.
The issues facing unhoused people are varied and complex. Human beings in crisis often need access to medical care, mental health services, addiction services and secure shelter with plumbing, electricity, meals and case managers who can help them navigate appropriate support services. Park Board staff are not equipped to address these needs.
Housing is one of the greatest challenges facing Minneapolis, and it is not due to a lack of available real estate. A comprehensive strategy involving city, county, state and non-profit leadership and investment is needed. These entities have the expertise and resources to serve people who are unhoused. The Park Board should equip park staff with information and training to empower them to connect people to compassionate services and housing options.
Great parks strengthen neighborhoods. The Park Board must play a role in dismantling systemic racism by expanding access to safe, welcoming parks and excellent programs in every neighborhood. It must engage communities and cultures more honestly in decisions about their parks and utilize data to ensure equitable opportunities.
The Board recently began applying equity-based criteria to its decisions about new capital investments in parks. This new approach is used to give weight to projects in historically marginalized areas of the city. In addition, the Park Board has identified "park gaps" or neighborhoods that have less access to parks. These neighborhoods can be the focus of strategic land acquisition as opportunities emerge.
Both of these efforts represent a good first step. But they do not address the prevailing environmental injustices that exist in parts of the city where access to nature is limited. One example is where I94 creates a concrete canyon that cuts North Minneapolis off from its one great natural resource, the Mississippi River. Together we can heal that wound.
The Park Board must reclaim its responsibility to protect the city's natural resources. Together with communities, the Board should commit itself to expanding the tree canopy and natural areas, promote native landscapes and community gardens and enhance trails. As stewards of the city's natural resources, the Park Board must prioritize collaboration with the city to upgrade our storm water management systems to improve water quality in lakes, rivers and creeks while mitigating the impacts of climate change.
The Park Board should focus on improving and growing its existing youth programs, as well as strengthening partnerships that offer unique youth programming in parks. If we are to keep families in Minneapolis, the Board must make our parks the reason to stay.
The scope of youth programs currently offered is vast. Minneapolis parks deliver affordable youth athletic programs in basketball, baseball, hockey, softball, volleyball, football, soccer, swimming, gymnastics, wrestling and several adaptive sports. Through innovative partnerships, it offers youth tennis, sailing, golf and Nordic skiing programs in parks as well. In addition, the park system teaches thousands of kids to swim each year and operates recreation centers that provide child care and summer camps. And the Park Board has responsibility for maintaining fields, diamonds, golf courses, ice rinks and courts for school sports teams in Minneapolis. Let's make our school teams proud.
One suite of programs that is having an impact on the trajectory of kids' lives is structured youth employment targeted to at-risk teens that provide them with valuable work experience in parks. Participants in Team Teenworks and other programs work and learn alongside professionals in environmental stewardship, administration, gardening, park maintenance and summer youth programs. They are learning about careers, the environment, teamwork, work expectations and leadership in formal and informal ways. And they are seeing a future for themselves. Let's double down on structured youth employment.
Residents of Southwest Minneapolis would like to see the Park Board responsibly steward and maintain the assets in its care. This sentiment pertains to both natural resources and developed park assets. Deferred maintenance is on vivid display around the Chain of Lakes and along the Minnehaha Creek in particular. The Park Board must partner with the city to prioritize and address lake and creek water quality and parkway road resurfacing immediately. Erosion and invasive species are compromising these special places. The Lake Harriet Bandshell is in disrepair, with no funding identified to maintain it.
The Park Board must get realistic about budgeting for maintenance on all current assets and new projects citywide. Maintenance costs should be projected and included in base budgets.
Our kids need us. Engaging youth in accessible, safe and active park programs should be the first priority of the Park Board now. Our kids have been traumatized by the compounding effects of the murder of George Floyd here and a global pandemic that has disrupted their lives more than they know. The impact of these events has been experienced unevenly across socioeconomic lines. The Park Board must improve its outreach and promotion of programs through schools and community organizations, so that every family understands what programs are available for their kids and can afford them. We need to activate our parks and recreation centers so that young people have safe and welcoming activities right in their neighborhoods.
Board of Estimate & Taxation
Lives in: Kingfield
Occupation: Retired Star Tribune reporter
What are your guiding principles for setting maximum tax levies?
I'll seek a sustainable balance between the needs of the city and the ability of property owners to pay. Each year, I'll consider these factors in voting on the levy maximum: how many people would see their tax rise or fall under the mayor's proposed levy, and by how much; how the mayor proposes to use the increase; the amount of tax base growth; what increases the school board and Hennepin County are asking for their portions of the tax bill; the health of the national and local economies; and the comments that credit rating agencies make on the city's financial health.
We have a 163-year-old municipal infrastructure that is in constant need of renewal. We benefit from a stable city workforce and should remain committed to at least current levels of municipal service. The cost of providing those services typically rises, as do other portions of our household budgets. Yet Minneapolitans pay a higher tax rate than peers in many municipalities. We must take care that that this higher burden doesn't make us uncompetitive and remains offset by the many attractions of our city, including our parks.
How would you factor in the impacts of the pandemic on the city's tax base?
The most significant impact of the pandemic on the tax base has been the contraction of downtown commercial tax base. That's a reversal from the past 10 years in which commercial property grew as a portion of the city's market value. This will shift the 2022 tax burden more onto homeowners and rental property. This means that these property owners are likely to see a tax increase that's higher than the citywide 5.45 percent increase the mayor proposed. That's especially true for the North Side, where assessments have risen sharply. That will mean much higher tax bills for Black and Brown residents, many of whom who are least able to afford it.
I've advocated for a lower 2022 property tax increase than the mayor proposes. The city could make additional use of budget reserves, which the city accumulates for times of financial stress such as this, and by deferring smaller capital expenditures, such as delaying replacement of city vehicles, and by wise use of federal pandemic relief aid.
The pandemic is also affecting the city's tax base through the dropoff in the special taxes that Minneapolis is empowered to collect, such the added sales tax and admissions, lodging, liquor and restaurant taxes. These enable Minneapolis to capture revenue from visitors who attend conventions, sporting events and other attractions. But these revenues have fallen sharply, which sapped $22 million in 2021 from the city's general fund. I'd advocate for deferring capital improvements at facilities such as the Convention Center until this income stream rebounds.
How do you think the city's debt management policy needs to change?
I'm generally a guy who avoids debt, preferring to save as much as possible toward a home improvement or a vehicle before borrowing. But with long-term improvements such as sewer and water or street infrastructure, the virtue of borrowing for improvements is that costs may be spread over future property owners who will inherit the benefits. Moreover, low interest rates currently dampen the cost of borrowing.
I'd like to see the board and the City Council address the growing gap between capital budget requests from city departments and the additional debt the council has budgeted for new projects in future years. This gap is roughly between $135 million and $145 million between 2023 and 2026. It affects the city's ability to renew aging buildings, such as elevator modernization at City Hall, or replace aging vehicle fleet maintenance equipment.
The city's debtload has actually fallen significantly over the past 17 years from its peak in 2004, when library improvements and pension debts were financed by borrowing. That suggests that Minneapolis can afford to issue more debt to address its infrastructure gap without endangering its credit rating.
Lives in: Midtown Phillips
Occupation: State employee
What are your guiding principles for setting maximum tax levies?
Maximum tax levies should be set based on what the city's identified needs are, not what the levy was last year. When setting a budget, there are two factors to consider: income and expenses. Income is only partly under the jurisdiction of the BET - it can only set property tax income. When setting a property tax levy, it's necessary to consider all the other available revenue streams, and it's also necessary to make sure we are able to fund our priorities.
How would you factor in the impacts of the pandemic on the city's tax base?
There are several ways the pandemic has impacted our available tax base, but it's important to remember that property taxes are the tool we have the most control over as a city, and also, the most progressive (meaning wealthier people pay more, and poorer people pay less). The amount of sales tax collected at the state level has been performing better than forecasts predicted, but the dropoff has still been steep and we have been feeling the effects of the pandemic especially at our downtown entertainment venues and hotels. These effects should resolve as long as public health efforts continue.
Property value changes are assessed annually, so the property tax base should already reflect the impacts of the pandemic. The pandemic's economic effects outside of the tax base are important and relevant, however. For example, the pandemic has exacerbated previously existing racial income gaps.
Most importantly, instead of relying on gut feel and short-run impacts in the past, I would rely on the facts: actual and reasonably anticipated future income streams, for the years which I would be voting on levies, starting in 2022, with property tax bills reflecting any levy I voted on starting in 2023.
How do you think the city's debt management policy needs to change?
As far as actual substantive changes, we should re-examine whether all the types of bonds we issue, in particular, Parking Bonds, are in line with our other stated priorities. It's possible we should look at bonding for other infrastructure categories, as well, such as sustainable energy infrastructure.
Probably the least important of our debt management policy has stuck out to me: Wherever we refer to the Finance Director in our Financial Policies document, we refer with he/him/his pronouns. We should change those to be gender neutral.
Did not participate: Kevin Nikiforakis; Samantha "Sam" Pree-Stinson.
Compiled by Liz Navratil, Susan Du, Matt DeLong and Susan Hilliard.
Correction: Previous versions of this article incorrectly stated that Park Board District 1 candidate Billy Menz did not participate. He was not included because he is running unopposed.