Its time for me to come clean. For weeks I have been telling you that it is time to hold many of the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (MPRB) Commissioners accountable for their notable lack of respect for racial equity, community input, and open budgeting by voting in more progressive, active, community-driven Commissioners in 2017. But I have been misrepresenting the situation. The master of the Parks Board cannot be held accountable by the democratic process because Brian Rice, legal counsel and lobbyist for the MPRB, has held that unelected $500,000 per year position since the mid-1980s without any challenge or competition. Commissioners have come and gone, but the man referred to as the “Rasputin of the Parks Board” remains entrenched. Undoubtedly, Commissioners will point out that Rice serves only with their approval and by a vote of the Board while defending the high cost of his questionable services. However, the MPRB has routinely renewed his position without considering an alternative and letting Rice, MPRB Legal Counsel, write his own contract. It will be a good day for Minneapolis Parks when
Rasputin Brian Rice resigns or has his contract terminated by a new Board of progressive, accountable Commissioners after the next election.
“Brian doesn’t operate in the sunlight” – Star Tribune, September 30, 2013
The recent audit of the MPRB by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General cited over $1 million of no-bid contracts, misspent funds, and incomplete projects, demanding that the Board repay $5.3 million to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Most of the mismanagement was related to the perennially delayed repair project for 2014 storm damage along West River Parkway near the University of Minnesota Campus. Given that the MPRB Commissioners routinely defer to Rice on matters of contracts and his role as lobbyist for the Board includes securing funds from government agencies, it is critically important that light be shed on his role in this costly debacle. Can we trust the current MPRB Commissioners to push the Master of Minneapolis Parks to account for the inept handling of the project and demand that Rice answer for losing 5% of the MPRB budget? I hope so, but I doubt they have the backbone to stand up to him. I hope they prove me wrong. I urge the MPRB to reconsider the usual rubber stamping of his next annual contract and to look for alternative Legal Counsel. We can no longer afford to pay huge fees for such shoddy work. Especially at a time when the Commissioners cite lack of funds to employ union workers and feel the need to turn control of our public spaces over to private concerns such as the Loppet Foundation.
“Whatever he says, goes” – City Pages, January 20, 2010
The Parks Board is but the center piece of Counselor Rice’s web of influence in Minneapolis, the metro region, and Duluth. He and his partners at Rice, Michels, and Walther, LLP have an impressive list of clients for which they lobby and lawyer. Most notable may be the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis headed by Rice’s friend, the controversial Lt. Bob Kroll. You might remember Lt. Bob Kroll from his inflammatory comments during the occupation of the Fourth Precinct by community members demanding prosecution of officers Ringgenberg and Schwarze for the murder of Jamar Clark in August of 2015. The Parks Board overseen by Rice has also been the focus of racially tinged controversy for mistreatment of protesters at their public meetings. A Legal Counsel worth the high price that Rice demands from the MPRB might offer more sage advice concerning racial sensitivity in hiring and promotions within the Parks Department, but the inability of the MPRB administration to do so continues unabated. I’m uncertain whether such is another example for Counselor Rice’s ineptitude, the unchecked privilege of an entrenched political boss, or a product of his own convictions. In any case, his demonstrated lack of ability to provide useful legal counsel to the embattled MPRB on such issues is one more reason to reconsider his contract with the Board. The voters of Minneapolis depend on the Parks Commissioners to hold the Master of Minneapolis Parks accountable. If they cannot, or will not, then is high time to elect new Commissioners that will.