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MRLF puts new focus on 2017 Minneapolis Park Board races

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, October 27, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS — All nine seats on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will be up for election in November 2017, including three At Large positions as well as all six district seats.

The election will bring a dramatic turnover on the board: only three of the current nine incumbents are running for re-election.

Park board members have been in the hot seat in recent years —facing budget woes, charges of racial inequities within the park system, and contentious decisions about outsourcing public employee jobs through public-private partnerships.

The departure of so many incumbents has attracted a field of many first-time candidates as well as two former commissioners seeking a return to the board.
Candidate filing closed August 15.

In the weeks and days before that deadline, more than one candidate has jumped from an At Large race to a district race or vice versa. In two instances, that switch means those candidates lost their endorsement from the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.

(Note: Bob Fine and Mike Tate switched races and no longer carry the MRLF’s AFL-CIO endorsement).

The MRLF’s current list of endorsements for Minneapolis Park Board may be found here.

The stakes in the 2017 Minneapolis Park Board election are high, not just  for residents, but also for the park system’s employees.

“At the rank and file, the morale is probably at an all-time low,” reported Kevin Moody, business manager for City Employees Local 363, which represents the workers who maintain park grounds and facilities and care for boulevard trees.

In the early 2000s, the system employed 152 park-keepers, a number which has dropped to 102, Moody noted, and even was down to 80 at one time. The number of arborists has dropped from about 50 to 35.

“I think the people of Minneapolis have noticed a difference in the parks,” Moody said.

At the same time as cuts to frontline staff, the park board has added new levels of management.

Lately, “the number of frontline staff is moving in the right direction, but it’s years behind the curve,” said Tony Kelly, Local 363 field representative.

Local 363 vigorously opposed a plan that put the nonprofit Loppet Foundation in charge of ski and bike trails at Wirth Park. Commissioners voted 5-3 in favor of the plan (Labor Review, December 16, 2016), which the union decried as outsourcing.

“That was a watershed vote for us,” Moody said.

“Our issue with the park commissioners — a total disconnect with the rank and file,” Kelly said.

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