Ramsey County officials want to try something that could head off politically charged controversies that have consumed other communities over naming of buildings, parks and libraries.
The County Board is expected to vote Tuesday to no longer name amenities after individuals, and to consider the impact that a name might have on “underrepresented communities” and their experiences.
County leaders are considering the change as venues in Minnesota and across the country have faced intense criticism for names of lakes or for the names of buildings named after once-revered people who face backlash for positions now deemed racist or anti-Semitic.
The county has no plans to change current names of any locales under the proposed policy, officials said, and the county wouldn’t automatically take someone’s name off an existing facility or feature.
But such a name would be reevaluated if the facility undergoes major renovation or if a name “comes into disrepute.”
Proposals for new names would be reviewed and approved by the county manager, but the new naming policy wouldn’t preclude honoring corporate or individual donors with a plaque or building inscription.
Ramsey County so far has avoided the major naming controversies that have bedeviled other places. The county’s most notable buildings, such as the Landmark Center, Union Depot and the St. Paul City Hall-Ramsey County Courthouse, don’t reference people. Many of its parks are named after lakes and creeks.
“The proposed policy emphasizes racial equity considerations, community engagement, and a practical and uniform residents-first approach to naming our county facilities, spaces and infrastructure,” said Johanna Berg, deputy county manager of Economic Growth and Community Investment, in a written statement.
Communities, organizations and colleges across the country have wrestled with controversial names of buildings, landmarks and natural features named for once-heralded people who harbored views now understood as racist or exclusionary. For many, the lack of diversity among those honored has become a particular flash point.
Both the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis Park Board have struggled with the issue of renaming familiar buildings and locales. The Park Board and the Hennepin County Board voted to change Lake Calhoun — named for a 19th-century South Carolinian who defended slavery and the removal of Indians from ancestral lands — to its Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska, only to have that decision overturned by the state appeals court.
Just last month, the law school at the University of California, Berkeley — called Boalt Hall for more than a century — stripped its classroom building of the name John Boalt, who held racist views and was instrumental in banning Chinese immigrants in the 1880s. Last summer, the state of Virginia removed the name of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from an archway at a state-controlled site where the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619.
The proposed Ramsey County naming policy would direct the board to consider, before deciding on a name, how the facility is used, the name’s historical context and cultural inclusiveness, the site’s possible ties to Indian history, and its geography and natural features.
The policy would carve out an exception for paid naming rights agreements for sports complexes, including the $2 million deal that the County Board approved last week with Twin Cities Orthopedics (TCO) to rechristen the Vadnais Sports Center as the TCO Sports Garden.
The new policy was drafted after discussion with county staffers, volunteer advisory boards, community groups and the County Attorney’s Office, Berg said.
The last time Ramsey County passed a naming policy was in 1998, Berg said, and a lot has changed since then.
The old policy allowed county amenities to be named for “individuals who have made an ‘exceptional contribution or service or funding,’ ” she said.