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Judge Sends Petulant Park Board to Time-Out Bench

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Earlier this year, the City councilmember for the 55418 proposed a few changes to the Minneapolis City Charter. Among the ideas for consideration was folding the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board into the City Council. The claimed benefits would be cost savings from eliminating duplicate administrations, and greater accountability due to the concentration fo authority in the Council. Opponnents claimed the cost would be lesser accountability, as the MPRB would no longer be an independent body focused on the City’s highly-acclaimed parks.

The initial proposal was not to eliminate the Park Board outright, but to put the question on the ballot, allowing voters to decide if a semi-independent Park Board was still the best arrangement for Minneapolis.

MPRB took the threat to their power seriously. They initially denied the use of park buildings for public hearings on the ballot issue. The hearings were heavily astroturfed in favor of the Park Board, attempting to deny voters a chance to decide the matter.

The Charter Commission—responsible for deciding if it would go on the ballot—sided with the Park Board. Voters will not be asked if MPRB should be integrated into the rest of City government.

But the Park Board went further. They used their astroturf power to collect 17,000 signatures aimed at making the Park Board a completely independent governing—and taxing—authority. The petition was sold with threats that if the parks were not independent, the Council would strangle their funding and sell park land to developers.

MPRB did not think things through. Their proposed independence petition was ruled unconstitutional:

“The language of the petition which was circulated clearly states the intent of the proposed amendment is to create a ‘separate and independent governmental unit of the State of Minnesota,’” she said in a memorandum. “Only the legislature however has the constitutional authority to create a ‘state governmental unit.’

Neville said city charters can make changes to city departments, but this seemed to be going beyond that.

“The proper entity to create another state governmental unit is the legislature,” Neville wrote.

The petitioners also had argued that if any part of the proposed charter amendment were considered unconstitutional, the parts that are deemed OK should be retained and still go before voters. But Neville said that after all the unconstitutional parts are chopped off, a very different question would end up before voters.

Those with government power will do all they can to keep or expand that power. I expect the issue is not dead. MPRB will likely appeal, but they have only two days before a ballot deadline cuts them off this time.

Underlying, none of the Park Board’s machinations do anything to resolve the fact that there’s not enough money. Property taxes are going up another 11% this year. If the parks stay open, there will be no residents left to enjoy them.