• Charles Exner
  • Abdi Gurhan Mohamed (did not respond to questionnaire)
  • AK Hassan

1. Introduction:

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

Charles Exner
District 3 deserves a qualified candidate with solid solutions. My relevant experience include a BA in Environmental Studies from Augsburg, working as an environmental consultant in the private sector for ENGIE Inc, and serving on the board of directors/finance committee of MPIRG.

My solution for the various allegations of biased hiring, racism, and corruption that have been lodged against the MPRB is to have a board-appointed Environmental Justice officer whose role is not to apologize for the park board, but to hold the MPRB, Park Police, and superintendent in line with an EJ Framework in all decisions.

AK Hassan
I was born in Somalia, and lived in Kenya before coming to the United States. In Minneapolis I have dedicated myself to the service of others. I am currently the Neighborhood Chair of the Ventura Village Neighborhood Association, and two term Chair of the DFL Somali-American Caucus. I have worked with Representative Ilhan Omar to enfranchise voters, and Representative Karen Clark to bring the Phillips Community Pool to Ventura Village Neighborhood. I am passionate about our city and our parks, and the opportunity to better them both by being an advocate for racial justice and progressive values.

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?

Charles Exner
The NPP 2020 is truly historic, and bringing attention to the right things. My only onus with it is the priority placed on new capital investments, instead of new community education. Creating new structures in itself is problematic as the MPRB has not used a cradle-to-grave lens in procurement: how were the employees at the manufacturing plant treated? how much of the material is virgin vs. recycled? were the material components built using the same standards we’d expect in Minneapolis, even if built somewhere with looser environmental or worker protection laws? I would personally have a critical eye towards this, as would a potential EJ Officer. A little-discussed aspect of maintenance and repair is providing for job growth for our part-time employees, especially those who have worked in the parks for years. To provide economic equity for all workers should be a goal of the MPRB. I would increase community group input on all aspects of the NPP funding as to where the community wants the money spent most.

AK Hassan
The equity matrix is complex, and it is weighted to prioritize parks that are in neighborhoods where the pressures of poverty, density, crime and poor health are felt most among youth in communities of color. I fully support a strong prioritizing of park updates where these pressures are strongest, and feel the NPP20 appropriately assesses need as it relates to neighborhood parks in historically underfunded areas. However, the historical injustices and the lack of resources and advocacy in certain areas is not always easily quantifiable, and for the NPP20 to be truly effective, we need to make sure the voices of those not heard in chronically underfunded neighborhoods have input in how these improvements look and play out. More outreach and discussion with partners in the community and community members is key for the MPRB to deliver relevantly updated parks in under served areas. Very often people feel neighborhood park plans are done without their input, and this needs to change, especially in the context of the equity matrix in the NPP20.

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?

Charles Exner
The MPRB has a crucial role to play in combatting institutional racism in Minneapolis. Parks are part of the fabric of everyday life of Minneapolitans and our greenspace is what sets us apart from most other major metropolitan areas. Hiring an EJ Officer, whose duty would be to scrutinize MPRB decisions on underserved communities, ensure that the MPRB is following affirmative hiring practices, and has equitable outreach for upper management job positions. This role is very important to ensure that EJ Framework is followed no matter who comprises the future Board Commissioners, as well as to prevent micro-managing from the Board itself.

The matrix used now is not inadequate but also does not account enough for distribution of funds within the parks themselves: a park in an underserved community may receive more money, but how much of that money is going towards maintenance & programming vs. policing? It’s something that needs to be seriously considered. Additionally, many of the lived experiences with racism and misogyny that employees have reported are subjective/qualitative in nature and therefore impossible to quantify and express in a spreadsheet. Only when we respect individual subjective experiences will we make real strides towards equitable park planning.

AK Hassan
Combating historical inequities is central to the NPP20 updates, and the racial equity matrix is effective, be we risk losing touch with the human element that drives the park plan itself if we rely too much on numeric representations of our communities. The goal of the NPP20 is to provide opportunity through better park funding and to create more equitable and accessible parks. This is the MPRB’s responsibility, and the opportunity to affect people’s lives through park accessibility is central in shoring up the gaps that plague Minneapolis. Our success will be determined by our ability to deliver these economically and culturally appropriate updates effectively and in a timely manner, but they don’t happen without other important efforts, like the need to bring diverse voices in among park employees, park police and commissioners alike. We need to deliver racial equity though better park board management, employment practices, and through less heavy handed and more inclusive park policing, in conjunction with city-up policies that benefit the most dis-empowered members of society.

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?

Charles Exner
Riverfront buyback programs have been incredibly successful and it’s my dream to have every square inch of riparian property to held in the public commons. I do not see it necessary to have mixed-use developments and business industries “coexisting” with parkland—eventually the whole riverfront should be parkland. Other than that sticking point, I support the Riverfirst vision as is and would support continuing on the 20 year plan with relatively minor adjustments.

It’s very important that the riverfront property be friendly not only to recreational cyclists but also bike commuters—a group that I am a part of and feel has been routinely ignored by the MPRB and city council in their attempts to woo new riders and those with less confidence. The river road can be a fast and also scenic ride as long as pedestrian and cycling paths are clearly separated from each other.

AK Hassan
Much like the need for NPP20 to include the human elements to be successful, River First, especially the Upper Harbor Terminal in North, needs to be spearheaded by partners in cooperation with North-side residents and voices from the community. Much of RiverFIRST development will involve innovative ecological restoration and improvement, but specific plans will include retail and manufacturing space as well as other types of development. We must make sure we are protecting neighborhoods that haven’t seen similar investment in the past, so that rapid gentrification that outpaces resident’s economic capabilities doesn’t occur. I also think that as a deterrent and predictor to these kinds of changes, the MPRB and the City Council need to advocate for commitments prom partners, public and private, for affordable housing units to be allocated to areas where necessary improvements like RiverFIRST are happening. I am committed to this project and making sure it serves the residents in the plans main goal, in reconnecting residents to the city’ most important waterway.

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?

Charles Exner
Public-private partnerships are simply gussied up attempts at enclosing the commons and should be resisted at every step. The Loppet/Theodore Wirth deal is a perfect example of this. It has been a catastrophe on all fronts: destruction of some 50 of our remaining old-growth trees, non-union outsourced labor for construction, Golden Valley and suburbanite focus instead of Northsiders, unchecked pollution in the process of construction, and putting the income from the park back in Loppet instead of the MPRB. The list continues from there and I would propose breaking that contract, along with any contracts that do not serve the interests of my neighbors and other denizens of our city.

We cannot have privately held businesses lining their pockets using public-funded capital and the prime real estate that is park property. I would only support contracts with third party companies, whether concessions or constructions, if they were fully unionized or incorporated as worker-run cooperatives. Let’s make sure that the parks belong to all of us, not just some of us.

AK Hassan
Public private partnerships create lasting social and financial relationships, those of which can help or hinder our parks. Commitments from private companies and individuals to benefit our parks are important, especially in the context of an economic downturn that has created pressures on the park budget. However, these relationships need to be relevant to park goers, and our commitments cannot in any way detract from use, create barriers to park-goers, or hurt park employees. The Walker Sculpture Garden’s choice to bring in a culturally insensitive installation is an example of the private not working to benefit the public domain, and both not engaging with the public on how public land is used. Making sure these relationships create opportunity as opposed to alienating residents is key. The Loppet Agreement is an example of a Park Board contracting where workers were negatively affected, resulting in job loss and reduction in pay and benefits. All contracting, more importantly large-scale partnerships and public/private proposals, need to take place with more robust community engagement. As the labor endorsed candidate in District 3, I feel Park Board commissioners need to be knowledgeable of the negative impacts on workers and park users, so that they can be effective in protecting park access and employee agency.

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?

Charles Exner
A cornerstone of my policy-based campaign is the creation of a “Pollinator’s Path” through the city. This would entail having milkweed, globe flowers, echinacea and so on at all our parks. In general, we need more natural prairie and wetland planting and less concrete/asphalt. The current MPRB seems to want to fill every empty space it can with a pavilion or a playground, and has no regard for our nonhuman neighbors.

Future construction should have roofs that can support the weight of solar panels (many older buildings cannot support the weight of solar arrays+snow) and older buildings should be retrofitted where possible. Eventually the Parks could provide electricity for our communities and release us from the monopolistic grip of Xcel energy. We can combat urban runoff by phasing out concrete and asphalt pathways/parking lots for permeable resin-bound pavements. There are many potential ways to fight pollution, decelerate climate change, and help the environment within the MPRB—and my extensive history working with the environment would help inform all my decisions as a board commissioner.

AK Hassan
The Ecological System Plan is on the right track, but I feel there are missed opportunities in the ways of education in our parks around climate change. We have an ability to bring in more kids around community agriculture in our parks, settings where school board involvement and other educational partners can become invested in teaching our children on how to grow their own healthy food. In this kind of environment we can effectively teach what we all can do, as well as what the MPRB is doing, to help limit our carbon footprint and promote ecologically sound and healthy parks. The MPRB can and should make more commitments to public education, to remove pesticides from parks, to find alternative ways to deal with pressures on park ecology, and to bring in different materials to replace carcinogenic crumb rubber from artificial turf fields. We need to make commitments that will improve the health of park goers.

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?

Charles Exner
There is not interested in soccer and want a skate park at Cedar Field to avoid dangerously skating on the foot bridge over Cedar Ave. Overall, we need to branch out to nontraditional sports and activities, especially those not offered by the school systems, in our park programming. We need to put limit on league rentals and alter the fee structure so that parks in low-income areas, such as East Phillips, have lower costs than those in Lake of the Isles. Commissioners should meet with activist groups, such as EPIC and Corcoran Grows, on a regular basis as well as hold a meeting at last once a month in a District Park Building to gauge community needs. It is the job of all elected officials to make time for their constituents, and I personally would be a highly involved commissioner with the community to hear their needs. These needs can then be relayed to the staff.

AK Hassan
In many respects the MPRB’s priorities are displayed through the budget allocations, and the fact that youth development and recreation is suffering right now is telling of where our priorities are. I support expansion of youth recreational programming, as well as making sure that these funds are augmenting and improving upon our NPP20 infrastructure investments. We need to provide funds that will alleviate the cost of child care, and expand funding for after school recreational and sports programs. Our kids should have the opportunity to feel like they are growing up in our parks with robust community involvement, and this should be taking place throughout the entire city. The role of commissioner is to make sure that the pressures of the budget are not felt by the staff in their ability to deliver effective programming. If we cannot fully fund and resource kids in our neighborhoods with strong programming, then the budget needs to be shifted.

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?

Charles Exner
Given the metrics used the Trust for Public Land, I believe that Minneapolis has the best park system. If labor relations and racial equity were included in those metrics, this certainly would not be the case. For the Minneapolis Park System to rate highly in these areas, there will need to be some pretty major changes: the annual budget needs to be set after all union contract negotiations have taken place, affirmative hiring practices need to be enforced, a bridge to careers should be an integral part of our part-time staff, and all employees deserve insurance or at the very least some kind of medical expenses account. It is necessary to make sure that all of our unions, including my endorser the MPEA, are fully supportive of the superintendent. Only then will we have the best labor relations of any park system in the metro.

I believe it is of utmost importance to have a board-appointed EJ coordinator/officer, with a seat at the table alongside the superintendent at all MPRB meetings. I have detailed this role in my other answers and on my website

Public Art is another priority of mine that I felt did not sensibly fit into any of the other questions. The ability to create art and appreciate art are not only fundamental to critical thinking but also fundamental to being human. We can begin by having a District-wide, community-led muralism project to decorate the bland brick walls of our park buildings.

AK Hassan
I don’t disagree with this assessment, but I feel that we should judge ourselves in the next four years on how well we empower residents, most importantly children, through the NPP20 updates. We can ensure that this takes place by improving upon the racial equity matrix where it is not working, and by involving the community in the stages of implementation of the project. We can have great parks, but there is always room for improvement, and a greater ability to be more aware of constituent’s concerns relating to parks issues. My priorities are effectively delivering the NPP20 updates in District 3, creating a pilot program that allows for more community gardens in or near our parks in District 3, and to prioritize residents’ and park- goers’ needs by being available. We can host more community forums and “park town halls”, and this would create a stronger channel of communication between people and the Park Board. I would also like to see a youth advisory council be created that can act as a liaison to the park board on issues that affect them, and what they would like to see in our parks, especially in the context of scheduled NPP20 updates.

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?

Charles Exner
I have always been an activist first and foremost, and this campaign is the form my activism is taking. Being a board Commissioner is an outgrowth of that activism. I would seek to elevate, not obstruct, the voices who are critical of the board and find ways of implementing my ideas that are amenable to everybody. I believe that the MPRB has a limited, but not insignificant, role to play in making Minneapolis a more equitable city and turning the tide against privatization and gentrification.

We can ensure that Parks do not contribute to gentrification by limiting the construction of flashy amenities that serve only to increase property values and push renters out of their homes. We can lobby MetroTransit to increase the pickup frequency of stops at the parks and increase the bus stops at Parks.

Finally, Minneapolis can have a voice for renters. Over half the city consists of folks with no greenspace of their own; we are the people who need the parks the most. I would do what I can to make our parks feel like the “back yard” for all Minneapolitan renters. We are the people whose voices should come first in park planning. By making our parks prioritized on people who live here now, and not hypothetical future residents, we will see the public perception of MPRB shift dramatically in a positive direction. Thank you for your consideration and happy voting!

AK Hassan
Equity concerns are in zoning, housing, transportation, park access, education, employment, health, and policing, and all are affected by park policy. The achievement gap is the most pressing concern facing our children in the city of Minneapolis, and the remedy to this woe is multi-faceted. One of these facets is making sure the MPRB is doing everything it can to create better access to parks, expand funding to recreational programs and youth development, and to empower communities of color who have not seen the same resources and advocacy. The MPRB as the biggest landholder in the city has a commitment to promoting affordable housing near our parks, as parks should not create an unlivable environment for residents, but quite the opposite. Our contracting needs to respect MPRB workers, and our employment practices also need to bring in new diverse voices, those who feel like they have a say in their workplace environment. Park police need to look like their communities as our city continues to change, and over policing is a sign that the equity matrix cannot stop at park funding assessments. The MPRB must promote these policies holistically, using parks as a foundation for promoting equity and justice in our communities. If the MPRB is in fact a “primary contributor to the quality of life in all parts of the city”, which no resident can doubt, then the mission of the board is to always strive to improve upon the ways in which this promise is delivered.