The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board launched a counteroffensive Wednesday against allegations that its employment practices and facilities are racially inequitable, starting with an apology from the top.
Park Board President Liz Wielinski apologized at the outset of the board’s meeting for shouting at Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, during a budget session a week earlier.
The full board then followed with a formal apology to Levy-Pounds, the NAACP and the public for "lack of decorum and respect at that meeting.
It also voted to meet with Levy-Pounds by Aug. 31 to discuss the issued raised by the NAACP.
“I’d like to apologize for losing my temper,” Wielinski said. She said it’s apparent that people continue to feel that their voices haven’t been heard as the board grapples with issues raised by those who believe the park system is flawed by racial bias.
Superintendent Jayne Miller announced the board is planning a series of community meetings in July to hear how it can improve on racial equity issues and to explain efforts it has made. It has asked a spectrum of people of color to assist in what it described as dialogues.
Levy-Pounds called the apology insufficient and condescending, “but it was an apology nonetheless.”
Wielinski earlier ruled out making an apology the day after the blowup, despite criticism from some fellow commissioners. She shouted at Levy-Pounds after the NAACP president stood during a budget discussion to inquire whether public input would be allowed during the Committee of the Whole meeting, which requires an exception to board rules that was not granted.
The board Wednesday took steps toward opening up such meetings to comment in the future.
Levy-Pounds questioned what community input guided the decision to hold community meetings. “It seemed like a Minnesota Nice response to allegations of racial discrimination,” she said afterward. She repeated previous calls for Wielinski and Miller to resign.
The dispute dates to 2011, when the NAACP under different leadership alleged racially discriminatory treatment in parks and employment. Miller reheard some cases then involving employee discipline. Levy-Pounds has revived the issue, working with some employees who have been disciplined or fired.
That group Wednesday repeated its charges of unequal treatment both in a news conference before the meeting and during the board’s scheduled time for public comment.