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At its May 4 meeting, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board repealed a resolution passed by the previous board in 2020 to sever its relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department.

With crime increasing across the park system and fewer resources than 20 years ago, the new board wisely chose pragmatism over politics. While acknowledging that the public trust lost after an MPD officer murdered George Floyd has not been regained, and even despite recent troubling revelations about MPD, a majority of commissioners voted to repeal.

Minneapolis residents remember well what can happen when commissioners abandon the Park Board's mission and instead push their own political views and agenda. While well-intentioned, the previous board's decision to allow encampments in our parks in 2020 led to dangerous and unsanitary conditions, overwhelmed and exhausted staff, and caused extensive damage to parkland at great cost to the board's budget and credibility.

Meanwhile, some of the damage that errant previous commissioners caused to the credibility, stability and integrity of the Park Board are less obvious and will require concerted effort to reveal and repair.

  • Reduced independence. Some previous board leaders actively blurred the lines between the city's goals and the Park Board's purpose. Those commissioners used the Park Board to implement city policies that don't align with Park Board priorities. While cooperation and collaboration are necessary between these two units of government, those commissioners focused so much on implementing the city's priorities that they compromised the Park Board's mission, most notably on environmental protection.
  • Favoritism and disrespect. Previous leadership empowered certain groups who agreed with the changes they wanted to see on our parklands. Sadly, concurrent with this favoritism was disrespect for people who didn't agree with those changes. Negative tactics to discredit critics were employed by some commissioners, including calling community members "hysterical" or "elitist" and disregarding opposing viewpoints rather than listening and balancing input from constituents.
  • Less transparency and accountability. When commissioners advance policies and projects based on personal political agendas, the Park Board's actions become less transparent. Staff expertise can be ignored and dismissed in favor of predetermined objectives.

For example, Park Board foresters concluded that a plan proposed in 2019 to build a bike path on King's Highway would threaten dozens of healthy mature trees. Yet this information was suppressed and contradicted by other staff less qualified to assess the risk, with the support of commissioners eager to build the path regardless of cost, redundancy and adverse environmental impacts. When sustained protests by concerned citizens stopped this plan, one of the commissioners vowed to bring it back, showing no regard for the Park Board's own experts or constituents.

Unfortunately, some carry-over issues remain politicized and less transparent, such as the goal of some special-interest groups to make driving in Minneapolis more difficult. Although the city's goal to reduce miles driven is not within the Park Board's mission or purview, some previous commissioners prioritized closures of the Grand Rounds parkway system to cars, and in an act of doublespeak initiated an "open parkways initiative" to work toward parkway closures.

The politicization of this issue continues in the preferential treatment of a tiny constituency that would benefit from parkway closures at the expense of many others. For example, without sufficient data, context, discussion and transparency, a proposal to remove sections of the Grand Rounds parkway seems likely to be incorporated into the planning staff's "preferred design concept" for the Cedar Lake/Lake of the Isles master plan.

A resounding majority of community members oppose this idea and rightly think any reconfigurations should be decided by commissioners with a robust community engagement process, not in a master plan.

To regain the public's trust in the Park Board, commissioners must recognize and reverse policies that previously politicized this agency and diminished its credibility and effectiveness. Fortunately, the new board as a whole is listening and responding to these concerns, recognizing that they were elected to focus on the Park Board's mission to protect natural resources and to provide recreational opportunities for park visitors.

Constance Pepin lives in Minneapolis and volunteers for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.