So far, at least, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board seems largely unrepentant.
The board was exhorted Wednesday at its bi-weekly meeting by Pastor Virginia Jones to repent.
“The Bible says you have to repent. That means turn from your ways. Turn from your wicked ways,” Jones told the nine commissioners.
As of this writing, southwest Commissioner Brad Bourn expressed something approaching ruefulness, while North Side colleague Jon Olson admitted to some repentance but not the specific kind being sought by the bevy of activists who have been sniping at the board on racial equity issues.
“I try and repent every day,” Olson said. Bourn said, “For years, I've expressed my regret and concern over the dismissive and disrespectful behavior the Park Board shows when issues of equity are brought forward by members of the community. At-large Commissioner Annie Young said she wasn’t sure what to repent for. Board President Liz Wielinski wasn’t ready to repent either. The other five commissioners didn’t respond to a Star Tribune e-mail seeking their stance on repentance, their election plans and new leadership next year.
The activists argue that the park system has been discriminatory toward people of color in hiring, promotion and discipline. The district’s response can be found here:
It was the fourth straight board meeting where the activists have used the board’s agenda item allowing public comment to sound off on racial grievances. That period was followed Wednesday by more than 30 seconds of chanting “enough is enough” that prompted a board recess for 10 minutes.
A new topic was opened Wednesday when Nekima Levy-Pounds, now a resident of encompassing Hawthorne neighborhood, raised a concern about Farview Park. She objected to the $50 fee charged by the park system for a nine-week summer camp for children held at the park. It involves arts, sports, water fun, education and field trips. She said that participation for $25 is available, but that such programs should be free in areas of widespread poverty. “My son enjoys it,” she said.
The Park Board says the fee covers 170 hours of summer camp, and that it typically doesn’t waive the $25 portion that covers supply costs. It uses federal poverty guidelines for waiving the other $25.
Spokeswoman Dawn Sommers said the goal is that no child be turned away from park programs for lack of money. Summer park camps are supported by fees, property taxes and at Farview, partly by General Mills Foundation. Without fees, other services at Farview would need to be reduced to offer the camp, park officials said. Levy-Pounds suggested that the board could cover the money by reprioritizing some of what it spends for consultants.
One repeated demand of the protesters has been that that Wielinski and Miller step down. “Not tomorrow. Not anytime soon,” Wielinski said during an interview. Miller has a contract through late 2018. But Wielinski said she’d informed her board colleagues when she was elected to a third straight year as board president in January that one of them would need to step up next year.
The board also has been criticized as all-white. Olson said he’s running again next year. Young said her future depends on her health, and Wielinski said she hasn’t decided. The other commissioners didn’t respond to a Star Tribune inquiry on whether they’ll seek another term, or whether any were ambitious to run for board presidency.
“The goings-on haven’t really inspired anyone,” said Wielinski, noting raucous criticism of the board by speakers. Levy-Pounds said she’s not running. “The recent activism may spark a greater interest in people running for those seats who care about equity,” she said.
(Photos: top--Zumba class at Farview Park; above right--Nekima Levy-Pounds, photo by Liz Flores; above left--Liz Wielinski.)