- Andrea Fahrerkrug (did not respond to questionnaire because she was out of the country)
- Steffanie Musich
- Bill Shroyer
Please share a little about yourself to help voters get to know you.
I am running to serve a second term on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. I have worked in the banking industry for the past 15 years, as an accountant and IT analyst. I started the Friends of Lake Nokomis, a non-profit stewardship and advocacy group partnering with local government agencies and other non-profits to protect, preserve and improve Lake Nokomis and its surrounding park. Prior to joining the board, I served as a Master Gardener with Hennepin County. My son has participated in youth sports and summer programs throughout his childhood, exposing me to the diverse neighborhood park system.
I am a 17 year employee of the MPRB (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board). Certified Arborist, Aquatic Facilities Operator, union steward and Recording Secretary of the City Employees Local 363 of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA). Many decades as an environmentalist, activist with progressive causes including DFL politics. Lived in California, Florida, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Fluent in Spanish and involved in educational and solidarity movements. At the MPRB I have pushed for real equity in employment-jobs, not just once a year “cultural sensitivity” trainings. Solid experience with a vision for the parks.
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?
Absolutely! This historic agreement allows for not only investment in amenities above and beyond those requiring updating due to changes in regulations and safety standards, but it takes the politics out of deciding where funds should be spent and instead supports data driven decision making. This particular aspect of the work done by the current board is one I find myself discussing with park professionals from across the country on a regular basis. It is a unique method for approaching the distribution of resources and one that I am proud is being used as a blueprint for other systems looking to address equity issues in their systems.
The NNP2020 funding is based on a proposal for a voter referendum that I supported. It became a wider agreement that helps City of Minneapolis infrastructure with $20 million a year for 20 years. The “Martrix” has serious problems in implementation even if the intent is good. It is designed to improve equity in Neighborhood parks but this money is NOT for the MPRB REGIONAL parks like the Chain of Lakes, Loring Park or others. Few park users understand the difference in Neighborhood versus Regional parks. The criteria are also somewhat arbitrary; a high score in one area like Population Density might not mesh with the percent of Youth Population. Or Racial Concentration of Poverty might not be directly related with a different measure like Proportionality of Investment (past money spent at a park). These criteria are also given separate Maximum Values—from 5 down to 0. The Matrix is ripe to be manipulated like any set of statistics. I support improving outcomes but nowhere does the Matrix address staffing levels. Many parks in poor areas are severely under-staffed, but the kids and the parents don’t notice that they are getting a much lower level of service. The Equity issues at the MPRB are more complex than this Matrix reveals. I will use different measurements that include staffing to reflect real equality.
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?
The current board, and superintendent have acknowledged that past board practices around land acquisition and development of parks primarily has occurred in areas that have been privileged enough to be able to pay for them. The change in practice to focusing investment on historically underinvested areas, and those that have reached the end of their lifecycle and require replacement to ensure the ongoing safety of park users is an important evolution of practice to help reduce disparities in access that exist in the system. One of the shortfalls in the equity matrix is the difficulty for underdeveloped parks like Ed Solomon that are in moderate income neighborhoods have in achieving a high enough ranking in the matrix to have timely development per what is laid out in their Master Plans. Creative funding strategies and partnerships should be pursued to help these parks be developed for neighborhood residents in line with their desired park amenities.
As a commissioner, I feel that a large part of my role is as a partner to the park staff in helping implement our equity action plan. Employees that feel their work is supported by commissioners know we’re there to back up the work that they’re doing, even when it is difficult, helping to ensure that these changes which improve experiences for all are successful. This approach of setting goals that are tied to realistic timelines is an effective method of achieving progressive gains on this issue.
I believe that the MPRB has a huge role and responsibility in addressing inequality. Government has always had opportunities to affect change for the better. This comes from the economic impact of decisions, the benefits of providing a good example, and the chance to set legal/regulatory standards. The Matrix—is it a science fiction movie or a public policy fiction? How could the measure not include good living wage jobs for people that reflect the faces of the children that use the parks? One snarky worker said that, “The bosses aren’t racist…they just like working with people that resemble themselves.” A fairly good analysis of Institutional Racism put in a sarcastic way. The individuals are not necessarily bad/evil people but they are perpetuating harmful stereotypes and patterns that hurt People of Color/Indigenous (POCI) and diversity in general. The employment numbers at the Park Board have been terrible. Outreach, Cultural Diversity Training, Equity etc. are just buzzwords if the jobs aren’t there. The percent of white people with good paying jobs with benefits like vacation, sick pay, and a pension was 80% when I started in the year 2000. The percent of lousy paying jobs with no benefits was 40% People of Color. In 2017 the number of white people with the good jobs had dropped to 75%. Very slow progress to employment equity. I will insist on better hiring practices that level the economic playing field.
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?
The visionary RiverFirst initiative is helping guide the evolution of the riverfront away from its industrial past and towards a parks and people focused future. The robust engagement process that has been utilized to guide development and land acquisition thus far should be continued to ensure that useful connections from the surrounding neighborhoods are created as land is transitioned from current uses to parkland. I fully support continued land acquisition in under served communities, so that those residents can have the same access to the river that my constituents have in the 5th district.
The Riverfront or RiverFirst (or Above the Falls..the City of Mpls version) planning is crucial to the success of long term parks. Unfortunately it has been captured by a vision of hyper-developed parks that use “green-washing” to put a happy face on what actually puts the Park Board at risk. I asked Superintendent Jayne Miller, “Will Minneapolis Park Board employees clean the buildings, cut the grass, trim the trees, and work with the kids on Recreation programming in the new Riverfront parks?” She said, “I don’t know.” The Superintendent is paid more money than the Mayor of Minneapolis or even the Governor of the State of Minnesota to run the public parks, not to out-source jobs or create public/private partnerships that turn us into beggars dependent on corporate funding. I am not against such cooperation when appropriate but a careful look at the planning for these parks shows a lot of heavily developed pictures with towering condos in the background. The riverfront was neglected for decades and was almost an open sewer. We need to buy the land by all means while it is still affordable. But we cannot rush in with expensive plans that overextend the budget.
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?
Public – private partnerships help provide amenities to the public that are otherwise too costly for the park board to take on and reduce the risk associated with new business ventures. The services provided by the park’s concessionaires are superior to what could be provided by the organization, have the added perk of bringing investments in park infrastructure that there are not public dollars available to implement and are well loved by the public. In areas were public-private partnerships provide desired amenities and experiences that are otherwise not possible with current resources, I will consider them.
During my initial campaign for office, I doorknocked 5,000 households in my district and received a lot of feedback on this type of arrangement, with encouragement to see more innovative partnerships expand the services and amenities available to Minneapolis park users. This cycle, I am hearing similar requests from residents, with a lot of support for the agreement with the Loppet, particularly in the area of increasing winter programs.
The out-sourcing at Wirth Park is a classic case of the dangers of public/private partnerships. The same deferred maintenance that hurt neighborhood parks was used to justify selling out living wage jobs of Wirth Winter workers (and summer trail maintenance). A Mountain Bike Instructor job was advertised by the Loppet Foundation for $8.50 an hour. Hundreds of trees were cut down by the Loppet group to put in those new trails with poorly monitored practices. (For the record, I’m a Certified Arborist and personally know how sloppy this work was performed.)
The Park Dedication Fees are required to be spent in the neighborhood where the development happens. The Board claimed to be against the Downtown Commons un-Park because it doesn’t control the site. But the Park Board rushed to offer to give $8 Million to help with Capital Improvements to the Commons…a ten year payment paid IN ADVANCE! A billion dollar stadium (publically subsidized) surrounded by luxury condos and two Wells Fargo Bank buildings is gonna get $8 million. Put that into your Matrix for racial equality. Dedication Fees are a unintended form of discrimination against poor neighborhoods. No development equals no money. 28 neighborhoods are slated to get ZERO dollars from Dedication Fees…guess where they are! My matrix as Park Commissioner is going to be long range benefits to the citizens of Minneapolis. Any partnerships must be sustainable and equitable.
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?
One of the greatest opportunities for responding to climate change, and enhancing our city’s resilance is in water management.
As the board upgrades and replaces infrastructure – all aspects of footprint reduction, including water use is assessed for potential improvements. Through my work with the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District we’ve entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to work together with them, and the City of Minneapolis to improve the health and ecology of Minnehaha Creek by leveraging the staff and resources of our institutions to have the greatest positive impact on the creek. Currently, very few of the storm drains emptying into the creek have any sort of remediation and this partnership has the potential to change that as infrastructure upgrades take place and the master planning process for the corridor gets underway. Making green infrastructure an asset not only for water quality, but also as a method to beautify the tie in to our city’s waterways should be a key component of the park board’s planning process.
I would also like to see the board allocating more budget support for natural resources management to ensure that our staff is adequately trained to do the work necessary to keep our natural, and naturalized areas from being overrun with invasive species. The work begun by the current board to develop a management plan for these spaces is a good first step, but needs to have follow through from the incoming commissioners to ensure its successful implementation.
I have tried through the years to advocate biomass and wood utilization at the Park Board. There was a sustainability committee that was formed that looked at various elements in the workplace. I pointed out that we remove thousands of trees each year. There are sustainable forestry crews in Minnesota that go into the woods during the winter months and use horses to log trees. The Park Board has the most modern equipment and the best Arborists in the state. We cut down trees on city streets with large trucks and turn them into mulch. If we want to sequester carbon it is necessary to use the tree trunks for wood products. Minneapolis is called the Mill City because of grains and wood! We need to make some benches or tables instead of grinding the trees up.
We can do many improvements to make buildings energy efficient. Solar panels can be installed in multiple locations. The vehicle fleet must be improved…my work truck gets 8 or 9 miles per gallon! The many chainsaws, weed whips, mowers and equipment are fueled on site and are a source of many small spills every day. Battery powered tools are more efficient and clean each year. We need to be leaders in addressing climate change as a large institution. The MPRB has the opportunity and the responsibility to become part of the solution. Water usage on ball fields and winter ice-skating is extremely wasteful and is just one more area to improve.
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?
I have been working closely with park staff on the effort to provide centralized registration for youth sports, which I am hopeful is just the first step in identifying a way to combine park and school program registrations. The current patchwork system where each recreation center decides what teams to field based on previous year’s participation can make it challenging for families to find teams for their children if a sport isn’t popular in their area or if they’re looking specifically for an all girls team. I want to see every child that registers to play, placed on a team and provided the transportation support they need to be able to fully participate no matter where in the city they live. Park staff working on these initiatives need to be supported in this work by commissioners, as neighborhoods where the current system works just fine for them may object to changes that level the playing field for under served neighborhoods.
Horseshoes and Bocce ball are a couple examples of sports that are not big on youth programming. I had a Seasonal come up to me and ask what horseshoes was. He had been told to clean up the horseshoes pit and was lost. We need to emphasize the sports and programming that are popular, especially in the growing immigrant community. Soccer fields have gotten well deserved attention but even sports like Cricket are gaining attention. The range of programming is incredible in diversity from cultural, educational, music and sports. Commissioners that have connections to the community are important. The staff and management need to listen and learn.
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?
Having visited parks across the nation and the world over the past four years I feel confident that the Minneapolis Park System has a unique park system that stands apart from other large city parks. The interconnectedness of the parks and the preservation of so much of the city’s footprint as parkland, particularly along bodies of water is a key component of what makes our city so unique. I’ve spent much of my first four years in office helping my constituents navigate master planning processes for the parks within my district, and I am hopeful in my second term I’ll be able to see some of those master plans begin implementation, so people can see the changes they requested implemented. I also look forward to the challenge of finding a consensus plan for the future of the Hiawatha Golf property that respects the property’s history while meeting modern resident’s needs and managing water in an environmentally responsible way.
A goal that carries over from my first term is that of improving the youth sports experience in the city to create a pathway from fundamentals to High School sports through our partnership with the Minneapolis Public Schools and our youth sports community.
The rating as the #1 Park Board in the USA is a misleading measure. The founders of the Minneapolis Park system created a great grid that put almost every neighborhood in close proximity to park lands and buildings. The majority of the factors used by the Trust for Public Land have nothing to do with decisions made in the last few years. The Board also is prohibited by law from selling land—it can exchange/swap for a good deal but this has protected the city from getting cheated by short sighted politicians looking to get out of a financial crunch. I hope that the measurements for “best parks” is more slanted towards environmental impact and true equity. A truly successful system will be able to point to a solid economic base too. My platform is based on these three “matrix” as the guide into the future. Can it survive economic downturns, is it environmentally sound and is it fair to all people?
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?
The city council and mayor have been working on increasing housing density within the city’s boundaries, easing the tax burden on current residents, but increasing the use of parks. As we moved through the South Service Area Master Planning process, understanding that parks serve different needs for neighborhoods with different densities was an important design element to acknowledge, as was the importance of tying into existing trail networks and public transportation nodes. Consistency in process makes participating in these planning efforts more approachable for the public, resulting in plans that are more reflective of the needs of the community as a whole.
My job as Commissioner is primarily to represent the constituents well on park and recreation issues. I am in favor of Food Forests and Urban Agriculture in general terms…I’ll help plant the trees. But the Minneapolis Park Board is not directly responsible for ending homelessness or feeding the hungry. This is not cynical about our power to lead by example but it is realistic. How many additional Full Time Employees would we need to feed just the 40,000 kids that attend public schools each day? The Park Board is a great institution that just needs a better focus. The Commissioners have a valuable platform to cooperate with other elected officials but environment, equity and economic sustainability are the keys. I will listen to the people and work towards these goals with a open mind. Thank you, Bill Shroyer.