District 1

Candidates

  • Mohamed Issa (did not respond to questionnaire)
  • Chris Meyer (did not respond to questionnaire)
  • Billy Menz

1. Introduction:

Please share a little about yourself to help voters get to know you.

Billy Menz
Working as a teacher and volunteer, my whole life has been dedicated to serving those who utilize and appreciate public services. Working with the homeless as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Austin, Texas taught me the value of service, the importance of community, and the strength of individuals. Throughout my teaching career, I have always worked to ensure equal access to all the gifts education has to offer students of color, students from different cultures and students who don’t speak English. I believe I can and learn as much from my students and their families as they learn from me. I am running for the Minneapolis Park Board because I want all people in our community to feel welcome, valued and respected in our world-class parks. I look forward to learning from you along the way.

2. NPP2020 funding agreement

The Neighborhood Parks Plan 2020 (NPP2020) is a historic agreement between the MPRB and the City of Minneapolis bringing $11M annually to maintain, repair and replace neighborhood park facilities. A comprehensive equity matrix will be used to allocate the funds in order to help address racial and economic equity across all 160 neighborhood parks. As a commissioner, would you support the current agreement and methodology for allocation of the funds?

Billy Menz
I support the current agreement and the new matrix to allocate funds in the most equitable way possible. I believe the work of many, including Parks and Power, the current Park Board, and the Save Our Minneapolis Parks campaign should be recognized and maintained. I think the matrix has wide support in communities who have been historically neglected with funding and we must utilize this plan as a direction forward. Our buildings are in need of assistance, but we cannot fix everything at once. The plan provides definitive timetables and allocations that should be adhered to. I am supportive of the plan and believe it provides the next Board with a clear direction forward in regards to our neighborhood parks and maintenance. We can use the plan to leverage even more support and reinvest in our neighborhood parks like never before. The strength of our parks is in the neighborhoods and people that surround and inhabit them. The equity plan is designed to strengthen our neighborhood parks and I am in full support.

3. Equity-based criteria for prioritizing investments

Few would dispute that historical inequities and opportunity gaps persist in America and Minneapolis today. What role, if any, do you think that the MPRB should play in combatting these inequities? What are the pros and cons of MPRB’s equity-based matrix assuring equitable improvement of neighborhood parks as the 20-year funding plan is implemented? As a commissioner, what actions will you support that will actively improve equity in the Minneapolis Park system?

Billy Menz
We must listen to the diverse communities of Minneapolis. Much of my focus will be on strengthening our local park buildings and the communities that surround them along with increasing accessibility to the Mississippi River across the entire city. I am humble enough to know that my opinions about what a park building or neighborhood needs in North Minneapolis versus Southeast Minneapolis are very different due to the communities they serve. We must be willing to empower the workers in those buildings to share their thoughts and ideas. We must ensure those spaces are public and welcoming to get a true understanding of what each community needs. I support the equity-based matrix that is involved with the MPRB 20-year funding plan, but I am not naïve enough to think issues will not arise around equity during this term. I think when those issues arise, it is essential that we listen longer and act with communities to build consensus and this may take longer than a 2 minute share time at the board meeting. MPRB is currently working to resolve the very real issues of inequity within our park system and I will actively support continuing those projects. As commissioner, we must always be asking, “Who does this benefit?”

4. Commitment to the RiverFirst vision

While the Mississippi Riverfront is lined with parkland and public spaces through the Central Riverfront and Lower Gorge, North and Northeast Minneapolis have been cut off from and by the River because of the limited public access in the upper riverfront area. As a commissioner, how would you approach the community developed RiverFirst vision for transforming this segment of the river with new parks and trails as amenities to accessible jobs and homes in this area? What are your approaches to ensuring that nearby neighborhoods fully benefit from its development?

Billy Menz
As a future Park Board commissioner in District 1, I am fully aware of how the River creates a vibrant and rich fabric in our East Side Neighborhoods. The Mississippi River is a gift to our city and its citizens however, not everyone gets to enjoy the gift like us on the East Side. We must follow RiverFirst and the ideological intentions to make sure access to the river is equitable. These are ideas most in the community share and I will be initiating a Protect and Improve the River campaign as commissioner. The RiverFirst vision is a part of that public campaign. We have too many kids and families in NE/SE and the North Side who do not have ready access to bodies of water like in the SW and near the lakes. It is time for the Park Board to put our focus on the most important natural resource we have, the Mississippi River. I opposed commercial development on the river because this land should be for equal access and the public should benefit. We must do everything we can to restore habitat along the river and at the same time ensuring the communities closely affected by the work are involved. It will be essential to develop relationships with community groups, nonprofit organizations City/county government and even landholders along to the river to make sure we increase access to trails, the physical river and its natural spaces. We have a lot to do on this project, but my passion is in preserving and improving our River for everyone to enjoy now and in the future.

5. Role of innovative public/private partnerships in the Mpls park system

Due to ever-reducing public funding and a need for specialized expertise, there has been a trend over the past fifteen years of the Park Board leveraging public-private partnerships to better serve the public. These partnerships include in-park eateries like Sea Salt and Sand Castle, the Fred Wells Tennis Center, the Walker Sculpture Garden, Mintahoe Catering, and most recently, the redevelopment of Theodore Wirth Park through a partnership with the Loppet Foundation. With the redevelopment of the upper-riverfront, new park spaces through Parkland Dedication Ordinance requirements, and potential opportunities through the Urban Agriculture Activity Plan there are opportunities for more public-private partnerships.

What are your views on these public-private partnerships? What roles do public partnerships play in activating and funding existing and future park operations? How is public interest protected, and how is community engaged?

Billy Menz
In these times of budget shortfalls, we must work smarter not harder. The Park Board is a part of so much enterprise in this city we cannot be afraid of public-private partnerships. We must foster positive relationships with industry and business but ensure the interests of the Parks and the citizens of Minneapolis are accounted for first. This is going to be important as we look at youth sports and programming at the park buildings. I believe most of our programming can be handled by our current staff, but there are organizations out there doing things more efficiently and effectively. We need to take notice and work to provide a better registration experience for our families. In addition, we should ensure we always use our leverage to benefit our most marginalized communities. In addition, we must support and implement better public-public partnerships. As a school teacher, I see incredible opportunity for collaboration with the Minneapolis Public Schools and we must work to strengthen the current Memorandum of Agreement to work for our kids better. This relationship can be mutually beneficial and save money on both sides of the aisle.

6. Strategies to addresses climate sustainability and improving park ecosystem

With growing impacts of climate change, managing the park eco-system has become more and more important over the past several years. As a commissioner, how would you work with staff to establish environmental priorities for parkland. Do you have any specific climate change/environmental priorities that you would promote beyond those outlined in the Ecological System Plan?

Billy Menz
Climate change is real and our world must do everything we can to address the coming crisis. This includes the Minneapolis Park Board and we must do more. As commissioner I think I can have impact on reducing our waste, increasing solar capacity and restoring native habitat. Our parks should be zero waste areas and it would be helpful to encourage the public to think of the parks in the same way we do primitive campsites. Leave no trace is an important idea to consider when using natural spaces. This includes our fields and trails. By using our athletics programming and our park buildings, we can begin to educate our citizens on the value of waste reduction. This involves more than just setting out labeled bins. Solar is also a top priority for me.. We must first evaluate each building we currently own for potential solar (only about 60% of structures in the city are capable) and then identify which roofs are ready for replacement under the 20-year funding plan. I will lead on this issue by developing relationships with solar companies and local governments to ensure MPRB identifies useful outlets for the tax credits which could result from solar installations. Finally, through a Protect and Improve the River campaign we will work to restore native habitat along the River, create a Pollinator Pathway and reduce/eliminate our use of toxic pesticides and herbicides.

7. RecQuest and programming

How well do you think the MPRB meets the needs and interests of our diverse and changing community regarding sports and other youth programming? If you think it’s out of balance, how would you propose to make it more equitable? What is the role of a park commissioner vs. staff in this regard?

Billy Menz
Honestly, we are not doing a good enough job in youth athletics and overall youth engagement. MPRB has incredible people working hard for our parks and we have resources to do more in the area of youth engagement. First, our youth athletics department is second class to the club sports in the area and our suburban competitors. This is not because of lack of funding but rather from lack of foresight. We must improve registration, transportation, recruit and retain quality coaches and support fee waivers. Most families cannot afford high priced club sports. Our families feel like the parks cannot provide their kids with a quality product, one that will prepare them for high school athletics, teach them the value of being a part of a team and compete. These are values the Park Board can support and grow in families and young people. As a school teacher, I will strengthen our collaboration with the schools. Unfortunately, MPRB sees high levels of engagement in youth programming in certain parts of the city but less in others. We must do better to ensure programming is responsive to the communities surrounding a park and also encourages exploration of new activities to stretch youth outside their box. As a baseball and soccer coach, I understand the value of athletic programs. Simply throwing more money at youth programming and making things free for families will not improve our youth engagement. The approach must be more holistic.

8. Vision – Top 3 priorities for next 4 years for district / citywide not being addressed

For the past five years the Trust for Public Land has determined that Minneapolis has the best park system in the nation. Do you agree with this assessment? By what criteria do you hope the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board is measured in the next four years and what steps do you see necessary to ensure that the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board scores highly within those areas? What are your top priorities for the next four years?

Billy Menz
I agree that we have the best park system in the country. We should be proud of our parks, but understand and empathize with those who disagree. As commissioner, I will ensure we maintain our standing as the number one park system in the country but also work on the institutional disparities of a 130-year old park system. Reinforcing a strong foundation to increase employee satisfaction and ensure equitable promotion programs to allow for a more diverse workforce, we can make a park system all people of Minneapolis are proud of.

I will initiate a “Protect and Improve the River” campaign designed to engage everyone in our diverse community but especially in District 1 and 2 where much of the river’s coastline runs. The Mississippi River is sacred to this part of the world. It can and should be the connecting force bringing people together. This campaign would involve collaboration with the schools, City Council, St. Paul, The National Park System and be supported through community engagement at the parks and along the river. We must take on this responsibility with vision and vigor!

I will improve the product of MPRB youth athletics so that students who participate in MPRB sports have the opportunity to grow personally and athletically so they are prepared for high school athletics. I am excited to help promote a youth sports product that promotes 1) having fun, 2) getting better, 3) good sportsmanship.

My top priorities over the next four years are to:

  1. Support healthy, welcoming, and safe parks for everyone. I’ve already worked to promote tobacco-free parks, and I will promote policies that reduce pesticides and keep our parks and air clean. Our parks are our city’s green spaces, and we need to keep them that way.
  2. Work to expand the community engagement process. I believe that the best decisions are made when the community is able to make their voice heard. I’ll promote new ways to engage the Minneapolis community and help bridge the gap between communities of color and the park board.
  3. Support youth recreation opportunities, like arts, music, and dance programs. Parks are places where kids come together to learn, grow, and form bonds with one another! I will invest in old and new programs that bring more Minneapolis children to the parks, improving their overall wellbeing.

9. Balancing Priorities

Our evolving and growing community has a series of needs to be addressed, including affordable housing, connected and affordable multi-modal transportation system, strong employment base, quality parks and public realm, equity and achievement gaps. What is the role of MPRB in these issues, how do the issues interrelate, and as Commissioner, how would you prioritize and balance them in your work?

Billy Menz
As an elected leader we have a responsibility to be aware of issues affecting our city. I do not think the MPRB is going to solve the affordable housing crisis, but we can continue to ensure our great citizens have access to safe and welcoming parks. We can be leaders in bikeway construction and ensuring safe routes for young and experienced bikers in our community. We can invest in our workers to ensure they are valued monetarily and feel empowered to be innovative. As a Park Commissioner, I will work with other elected officials collaboratively for our District and our city. It is important to stay engaged, informed and involved with issues affecting our kids and all of our citizens. We cannot be a city of silos working independent of one another. I will work everyday to build a Minneapolis inclusive for all citizens and the parks are a great vehicle to facilitate this discussion and social healing. I look forward to serving District 1 and the citizens of Minneapolis over the next four years.