Two prominent black leaders have come to the defense of the Minneapolis park superintendent after repeated attacks on her handling of issues involving the hiring, promotion and discipline of park employees of color.
“The accusations against Superintendent Jayne Miller in regards to her being a racist are absurd and off base,” wrote former Minneapolis NAACP President Booker Hodges “The attacks against her are personal and they don’t reflect the view of the vast majority of the community.”
Hodges preceded Nekima Levy-Pounds as NAACP branch chief. Last week she called for both Miller and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board President Liz Wielinski to resign. She has alleged that the Park Board has lagged in hiring and promoting minority employees and disciplined them more harshly than white employees.
Meanwhile, Steven Belton, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Urban League, on whose board Miller serves, wrote that Miller has been “unfairly maligned.”
“Jayne is compassionate about serving underserved and marginalized populations in our community, including African Americans, African immigrants and other people of color,” Belton wrote.
Both letters are dated May 4, a week before a well-publicized blowup between Levy-Pounds and Park Board President Liz Wielinski, when Levy-Pounds interrupted a board budget retreat to press for more action against what she described as racist practices. Both letters were appended to the Park Board’s Wednesday agenda, but Wielinski said they were not solicited by park officials. Belton didn’t return a Star Tribune inquiry.
Hodges said that in 2012 as NAACP president the organization was investigating over 160 allegations of racial bias involving park visitors and employees. He said Miller acknowledged “some serious room for improvement” on workforce bias and was willing to work to address that. He said she personally conducted hearings for employees who felt unfairly disciplined due to their race, an action he called unprecedented.
“Superintendent Miller is not a racist and attempts to cast her as such [are] very disturbing and counterproductive,” Hodges wrote.
However, one Park Board employee who has been disciplined, Cynthia Wilson, said the hearings lacked a neutral party. According to the Park Board, 78 disciplined present or former employees of all races were eligible for rehearings that Miller held voluntarily, 16 had their discipline reheard, and four had their discipline reduced. Wilson said the discipline modifications were not significant.
Wilson also suggested that Hodges had divided loyalties between the employees who felt aggrieved by the alleged park system bias and his pursuit of the job of park police chief. The Park Board confirmed that he was one of four finalists for the job, but the position wasn't filled until the year after Miller reviewed the employee disciplinsry cases. Hodges called the claim of divided loyalties "baseless" and said he took considerable time from his family to pursue the issues raised by employees.