At the weekend barbeque my friend asked with unfeigned surprise, “why the Park Board?” He was referring to my social media posts, videos, much of the writing on New Hughes – Old Shoes, and my expressed desire to repeal and replace 8 of the 9 Commissioners on the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board in the 2017 election. I told him that the MPRB was one of the stealthiest municipal institution in the city. They have a huge budget, control almost 15% of the land in Minneapolis, win awards for the MPLS Parks, and have their own police force. Yet many people do not even know the MPRB exists, let alone that the Commissioners are elected every 4 years. The Park Board has a role to play in almost every critical issue roiling through Minneapolis – and the nation – today. Climate change, economic and food security, energy use, racial justice, immigrant rights, police/community relations, urban development, gentrification, youth education and health, these are just a few aspects of our city that the MPRB has been loathe to address in any substantive way. Why the Park Board? We need to activate the MPRB toward issues and projects that will uplift and enrich the lives of more people, provide more jobs for middle class workers, protect public spaces, and benefit every neighborhood in the city. That is why.
The current Board considers it a victory when they outsource good paying union jobs to private interests and corporations, cede control of public land and infrastructure to non-profits, and hire more 6-figure administrators to orchestrate more privatization of public resources. Plus, 2017 is an off, off year election for which Progressives and those to the Left have been organizing since 2015 – at least. We are ready for this. Every seat on the Board has a strong challenger and the incumbent centrist DFLers and Neo-Liberals have either decided to retire (Anita Tabb, Annie Young, John Erwin, Jon Olson) or are running tepid uninspiring campaigns (Meg Forney, Scott Vreeland). A large field of strong candidates has arisen from the progressive left of the party, Chris Meyer in the 1st District, Kale Severson in the 2nd, and AK Hassan in the 3rd, along with Devin Hogan, Londel French, and Russ Henry running for the 3 Commissioner At Large seats, as well as Jono Cowgill (District 4), Bill Shroyer (District 5) and the only worthwhile incumbent, Brad Bourn (District 6).
The “Big Picture”, mathematical, rational analyses are not the whole answer to “why the Park Board?”, however. At the root it is how people like Hashim Yonis were treated by the Board and Commissioner Scott Vreeland in particular. Yonis remains a controversial figure in the Minneapolis Park system. I’m not interested in rehashing the case made against him for allegedly pocketing rental fees for the soccer field at Currie Park in Cedar-Riverside. That case was not relevant to the testimony he gave on June 1, 2016. Hashim Yonis did not mention his suit against the MPRB for wrongful termination, the deal he made with the MPRB to retroactively resign, or the agreement not to appeal the 2014 trial that found him guilty. He raised the issue of poor communication between the MPRB and the East African community – his community. Instead of answering Yonis’ questions about translation of the MPRB web site into languages used by the large Somali and other East African communities, Commissioner Scott Vreeland chose to dodge and attack Yonis personally. Not only were Vreeland’s comments out of line and vicious, they were also the first mention of Yonis’ “personnel issues” with MPRB. Remember that when you hear Scott Vreeland accuse Yonis of breaking the rules by bringing up employment related issues. All that vitriol spewed at Yonis and not a single Commissioner bothered to point out that Hashim was only partially correct. Translation of the MPRB website into Somali was available, although I cannot vouch for the quality of the translation. Instead they followed the pattern of ignore, dismiss, silence, and personal attacks. Why the Park Board? Because this privileged arrogance and hunger for retribution must end. Enough is enough.
Aside from the few words of caution uttered by Commissioners Wielinski and Tabb, Vreeland’s flagrant violations and lies went virtually unchallenged by the Board or Legal Counsel Brian Rice. Except for Commissioner Brad Bourn (District 6). When President Wielinski refused to hear his Point of Order, Bourn took an Open Time slot to speak his mind. When he finished his testimony, Wielinski invited Vreeland to break Board rules, again, by debating with Bourn during Open Time. Scott took it upon himself to double down and continued discussing personnel issues. Listen. See if I’m lying.
The case of Hashim Yonis exemplifies the pattern of bias and retribution by the MPRB and Scott Vreeland in particular. So much so, that President Wielinski and Vice President Vreeland resigned those offices within 1 month of the events in these videos. But that was a lame attempt by the Board to reshuffle the deck chairs because Liz Wielinski chaired the committee that replaced them with President Anita Tabb and VP John Erwin, neither of which are seeking reelection in 2017. President Tabb hardened the resolve of the MPRB to ignore public testimony about racially biased practices within the Parks system and with regard to allocation of resources throughout Minneapolis. Listen to the Open Time testimony of Nekima Levy-Pounds, now a candidate for Mayor of Minneapolis, because she spoke directly to why I believe that 2017 is the time to substantially change the authority on the Minneapolis Parks Board, if not the rest of our city government. Levy-Pounds reads an email Commissioner Vreeland sent to a friend during a discussion of Nekima’s testimony at MPRB meetings. Vreeland misrepresented Levy-Pounds position, demeaned her ethics, and lied about her motivations. Again, President Wielinski, Counsel Rice, and the rest of the Board ignored Vreeland’s racially biased bullying. President Wielinski barked at Levy-Pounds instead of reprimanding Vreeland. Both Liz Wielinski and Scott Vreeland are running in 2017. Wielinski in District 1 and Vreeland At Large. Vote them off the Board.