Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Politics Goes to the Dogs

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

I can no longer remain silent about something that matters to me, and the lost sheep who have chosen to oppose something that matters to me.

I'm talking about the proposed off-leash area in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park in Minneapolis.

As many of my readers know, I have been a core team member of the Kingfield Dog Park Task Force since 2009. I have refrained from speaking here about negotiating the politics, and labyrinth process involved with the proposed addition of a desired amenity to an existing, unused area of a neighborhood park.

Since the beginning of the process, the Task Force has taken pride in the true grassroots and community-oriented nature of it's charged initiative. One of the reasons for the progress made thus far has been the inclusion of as many neighbors, businesses, and corresponding neighborhood and business associations of the neighborhoods surrounding MLK Park. This includes not just the Kingfield and Bryant neighborhoods which border the park, but also the Tangletown, Central, and Regina neighborhoods. The Task Force also kept the community informed of the progress of it's study by sending representatives to not only Park Board meetings, but also scheduled meetings of the above mentioned neighborhood and business associations.

When the Park Board was informed that there was overwhelming support from the surrounding community for the promised Park District 6 off-leash area to be located in MLK Park, it immediately began the public notification process, which it has adhered to and complied with in an admirable fashion.

The process has not been without some controversy. In 2010, a small group of individuals who are occasional users of MLK Park were given incorrect information about the promised District Six off-leash area, and the intentions of the established and recognized Task Force charged with exploring the issue.

Basically, these casual users of MLK Park felt slighted, because they were given incorrect information by park staff members who were not involved with the Task Force in any capacity, and felt that they had been "left out" of the decision making process.

When the Task Force became aware of the potentially racially-charged nature of the misunderstanding, a meeting to discuss the issue was immediately held, and a local politician was present. At this meeting, the Task Force indicated that they wished to sit down with the opposing parties, clarify the intentions of the Task Force, and share all information and research gathered to date with the intention of clearing up all misunderstandings about the proposed project. It was strongly suggested by the politician that they should facilitate any discussion between the Task Force and the opposition. Even though the Task Force indicated that since there were minority members in their ranks who were better suited for such a discussion, the politician insisted that they would "handle it", and under no uncertain terms should an African-American member of the Task Force attempt to contact the opposition.

The Task Force reluctantly agreed to these terms, placed their trust in the politician to speak on their behalf and waited for the discussion to begin.

It never did.

The process continued on.

On December 15, 2010, the Park Board adopted a Resolution Authorizing the Formation and Charge of an Appointed Sixth Park District Off-Leash Recreation Area Citizen Advisory Committee:

WHEREAS, the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) is the steward of the Minneapolis Parks; and

WHEREAS, the Board successfully provides off-leash recreation areas in five of the six park districts; and

WHEREAS, off-leash recreation areas provide social opportunities for dog owners, have a positive impact on pets and help build strong communities;

WHEREAS, there is a demonstrated need for an off-leash recreation area in the Sixth Park District, especially in Community Service Area 10;

WHEREAS, the Board desires a citizen advisory committee to provide recommendations for an off-leash recreation area in the Sixth Park District with special focus on Community Service Area 10; and

NOW THEREFORE, be it resolved by the Commissioners of the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board as follows:

Direct staff to convene a Sixth Park District Off-Leash Recreation Area citizen advisory committee (CAC) with the following charge and composition:

CAC Charges:

1. Recommend a location for an enclosed off-leash recreation area within Community Service Area (CSA) 10 of the Sixth Park District specifically focusing on areas along Stevens Avenue South between E 40th and 42nd treets and areas along Kings Highway/Dupont Avenue South between W 38th and 40th Streets. The CAC will present recommendations and methodology of recommendations at the March 16, 2011 Planning Committee of the Board.

2. Assess community interest in piloting programming for residents and their dogs in Southwest/South Central Minneapolis. Assess community support for
piloting alterative methods of providing off-leash areas in the Southwest/South Central Minneapolis. If community support is garnered to pilot alternative methods, assist with pilot implementation and evaluation.

The proposed CAC would be composed of 23 individuals appointed by entities or persons with some vested interest in the community:

CAC Composition:

Appointing entity or person

Board President (appoints chairperson)
Other At-Large Commissioners
Commissioner District Six
Commissioner District Five
Commissioner District Four
Ward 8 Minneapolis Council Member
Ward 10 Minneapolis Council Member
Ward 11 Minneapolis Council Member
Ward 13 Minneapolis Council Member
Kingfield Neighborhood Association
E. Harriet Farmstead Neighborhood Association
Lyndale Neighborhood Association
Tangletown Neighborhood Association
East Calhoun Community Organization
Calhoun Area Residents Action Group
Lynnhurst Neighborhood Association
Field Regina Northrop Neighborhood Group
Bryant Neighborhood Organization
Mayor of City of Minneapolis
Kingfield Dogpark Task Force
Dog Grounds
Sabathani Community CeItalicnter Board Chairperson

An incredibly fair and diverse cross section of the surrounding community, right? The opposition (born from the AARP group at the Sabathani Community Center) even has been given the right to appoint a representative to the CAC, even though the Sabathani Community Center is not located in, and many members of the opposition do not reside in or near Park District Six.

You'd think that this would be seen as shining example of inclusion, cooperation, and willingness to compromise and find common ground, right?


Late yesterday afternoon, I got two phone messages. One from a Park Board Commissioner, the other from a fellow Task Force Core Team member. They were both telling me that the formation of the CAC was now off the agenda of the January 5, 2011 Park Board meeting. When I asked why that was, it was explained to me that a letter had been received by the Park Board from a group calling themselves "Citizens In Action For Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park -- CIA FOR MLK". The text of the letter follows. For the purposes of clarification and truth, I will interject in italics where necessary:

December 29, 2010

Dear Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Commissioners:

CIA for MLK represents a large, city-wide community of citizens who have a strong interest in the character of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park (MLK). It appears, to us that the process for choosing a site for an off-leash dog park in the sixth park district has trampled the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s (MPRB) usual methods of informing the public, soliciting public comment and keeping stakeholders informed. Further, it appears to us that the proposed site for a dog park at MLK Park ignores the MPRB’s own guidelines for appropriate locations that discourage sites close to areas where there is active recreation or places where children usually play. We are writing this to offer an alternative process for locating an off-leash dog recreation area in the Sixth Park District at the MPRB meeting January 5.

The Process Trampled Usual Methods of Community Participation

• 2001 – Off Leash Recreation Area Site Study Committee identifies and ranks 19 potential sites but makes no recommendation.

• January 2002 – MPRB receives final report of the off-leash dog exercise area feasibility study.

• 2009 – Kingfield Neighborhood Association (KFNA) establishes a Dog Park Taskforce.

This is almost correct. In 2009, a group of residents from the Kingfield, Bryant, and Tangletown neighborhoods formed a task Force to look into the feasibility of finally establishing the promised Park District Six Off-Leash Area. After it was determined that there was significant demand for such an amenity, the project was adopted by the Kingfield Neighborhood Association, and the existing Task Force was permitted to continue it's work.

• May 5, 2010 – Kingfield Dog Park Committee presents a proposal for an off-leash dog park at MLK to the MPRB during open time at its regular meeting.

This was a public meeting. The agenda was public information as it is for all public meetings of the Park Board. This implies that the Task Force should have been required to seek out any potential opposition before that meeting. This is simply ridiculous, and is not a precursor to the process for obvious reasons.

• July 22, 2010 – MPRB holds an “open house” meeting at MLK on this proposal.

This meeting met all criteria for public notification, and was well attended. The letter writer implies that they were not notified of this meeting... yet other members of the opposition were in attendance. There was also specific notification on City Council Ward Eight's website: http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/ward8/docs/8thWardNewsletterJuly2010.pdf

African-American Newspaper Insight News reported the upcoming July 22, 2010 meeting on July 12, 2010:

• Sept. 2, 2010 – MPRB holds another meeting on the dog park at MLK.

And again, this meeting met all criteria for public notification. Once again, there is also mention of the meeting on the Ward Eight website... in August no less, well in advance of the meeting:

• December 1, 2010 – Regular MPRB meeting where the dog park proposal was discussed.

Another public meeting that met all criteria for public notification.

• December 15, 2010 - MPRB Planning Committee approves a resolution to create a Community Advisory Committee (CAC).

Yet ANOTHER public meeting that met all criteria for public notification, including the meeting agenda being made public on advance.

• January 5, 2011 – MSPB full meeting that will take action on the resolution.

Tomorrow's meeting that the Park Board has already buckled on. The CAC is now off the agenda because of this letter.

Concerned Citizens’ Participation Was Systematically Left Out

• Nine years elapsed between the feasibility study and the current activity.

The current activity picked up where the previous activity left off, including re-evaluating each original potential site.

• None of the elders who were involved in renaming Nicollet Field to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park were notified of any Kingfield planning or Dog Park Task Force meetings.

It is difficult to expect a group of neighbors to seek out an opposition group that they are not even aware of the existence of.

• No community members or parents of children that use MLK Park were notified about the proposal presented to the May 5th MPRB meeting.

This is simply not true. Community members and parents of children who use MLK park have been involved in the process since the beginning. Members of the Task Force are residents of the neighborhood that border MLK Park, and have children of the two-legged as well as the four-legged variety.

• Community members received no formal notification of the July 22 meeting.

As shown above, the July 22, 2010 meeting met all criteria for public notification. It was well-attended, which indicates that the Community was indeed formally notified. Members of the opposition were present at this meeting as well... Who exactly was it that missed the memo that so many others got?

• In early August, Elizabeth Glidden arranged for a meeting with the Sabathani AARP chapter and Park Board Chair, John Erwin.

The Kingfield Dog Park Task Force was not notified of this meeting between Councilmember Glidden, and Park Board President Erwin. Is the writer's intention to inform the Task Force of the injustice committed by the opposition when the Dog Park Task Force was not permitted representation at what amounts to a secret meeting between the opposition to a proposed public project, and two elected officials who could potentially influence the outcome?

• At the September 2 meeting members of the community provided contact information to be informed of next steps and to help plan ways to honor Dr. King’s legacy.

• Most of the community members who provided contact information were not informed about the December 1 MPRB meeting. Mr. Mays called MPRB to get information but got no response. He then called Elizabeth Glidden and was told it wasn’t necessary to attend because the dog park was not on the agenda. When Mr. Mays watched the meeting on cable, he saw that the dog park was discussed, that members of the dog park coalition were there and heard Mr. Bourn comment that, “Apparently there is no more opposition to the dog park because nobody showed up.”

This isn't entirely accurate. It is true that the proposed off-leash area was not on the meeting agenda, however, since Park Board meetings are public, and time is generally made available for the public to speak at these meetings, I get the impression that the problem the letter writer has is that supporters of the proposed off-leash area are taking it upon themselves to show up at Park Board meetings and speak in support of the proposed project. Does the letter writer expect to be informed each time a random member of the general public chooses to show their support of something they may oppose? Yes, Task Force members are present at each public meeting, and speak in support of the proposed project at every opportunity. That's part of the process. It seems we're being faulted for following the rules.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park

• Although it was dated December 10, most people on the contact list did not receive notice of the December 15th Planning Committee meeting until December 13th or 14th. By that time, it was too late to offer an alternative to the proposed resolution.The composition of the CAC proposed in the December 15 resolution guarantees a skewed result.

The heavy snowstorm of the previous weekend delayed the mail for the entire city, not just the letter writer. This is a moot point however, as I was at the December 15, 2010 meeting, and spoke to the other stakeholders in the lobby of the Park Board building after the conclusion of the Planning Committee Meeting.

As for the proposed CAC producing a "skewed result" please refer to where I talked about the CAC above... It is set to be composed of residents of the community surrounding MLK Park. Could it be that your claim of potential "skewed results" are indicative of the fact that you have become aware that the community at large disagrees with your issue?

MPRB meeting notice for January 5th stated, “The Board does not ordinarily take comment on agenda items, so it is not anticipated that the Board will take public comment on this item”.

From our perspective, it seems like we were shut out of the whole process. The last notice culminates a series of events where we were not notified of meetings and now we apparently are denied opportunity to comment on a Community Advisory process that shuts out our voice as well.

Other Off-leash Sites in Low Recreation and Child Play Areas We are puzzled why the MPRB would even consider an off-leash site in a place like MLK. The six off- leash sites are in areas that are away from housing, playgrounds and other recreational areas.

Seriously? The letter writer is implying that the existing off-leash areas, and therefore the very parks they are in are located in areas away from housing, playgrounds and recreational areas... the above statement is inaccurate at best.

...wait a minute... isn't a park itself a recreational area? The letter writer is also suggesting that we locate the off-leash area... which is a recreational area... AWAY from recreational areas? By this logic, the letter writer is also suggesting that there is no housing near any parks with existing off-leash areas, and that said park must also be devoid of playground equipment, basketball and tennis courts, baseball and softball diamonds, and anything else that could be construed as a "recreational" area.

Proposal for an Alternative Community Advisory Process
• Charge the CAC with proposing a site within the sixth Park District.

What the letter writer is proposing here has already been done. In fact, the letter writer is the one who has put a stop to the very process that the Park Board has created to include his group of stakeholders.

• Set 2 meetings one week apart and notify the community according to park board rules plus a public notice in the newspapers and notice to all those on the contact list. Anyone who is interested can attend.

This is exactly what a CAC is supposed to avoid. The letter writer seems to think that inviting the general public to attend a meeting a 23 members of the general public will serve what purpose exactly?

• Meeting 1 – Park Board staff review the Sixth District Feasibility Study providing the rankings of 19 sites and the criteria for ranking. Park Board staff also review the Kingfield study and rationale for the proposed Kingfield site. Park Board staff makes both documents available to the public electronically and in hard copy. Each group can choose one person to present their case to the community. After presentations, the assembled group can break out into small groups. Discussion groups will be facilitated by Park Board staff.

Most of this was done in 2001/2002; then again in 2009 and 2010. The letter writer not only wants to waste time and resources doing work that has already been done three times, but they are actually suggesting that the entire process return to square one simply because they did not take an active interest until after the process had already begun.

The purpose of these small groups is to clarify any questions and/or information.

No. That is the charge of the proposed CAC. It is part of an already tested and proven process. The letter writer's suggestion is akin to a group of blind men trying to describe an elephant. There must be no more time or resources wasted on work that has already been completed to the satisfaction of the process.

• Meeting 2 – Break the assembled group into small groups by random assignment. Park Board commissioners will facilitate each group discussion. The groups will discuss the merits of each position and rank potential sixth district sites according to the criteria set by the sixth district feasibility study. Small groups report back to the larger group and rankings are aggregated by Park Board staff. The result of the combined rankings is made known and the whole group has a chance to comment. The rankings and the commentary are transmitted to the MPRB for final

The letter writer suggests that we further complicate the process by trying to schedule a meeting of 23 people, broken up into "small groups", and a Park Board Commissioner "facilitating" each group discussion...

I can't even begin to imagine what a logistical nightmare scheduling such a meeting would be. Unfortunately, the other stakeholders are somewhat misguided in their purpose due largely to a lack of their receiving correct information. The letter writer indicates that there are misunderstandings as to how the process works.

We support the need for an off-leash dog recreation area in the sixth district. All we ask is that the MPRB recognize the special significance of MLK Park. We think that if MPRB were consistent, using its own criteria, a site other than the MLK Park would be easily apparent.

We look forward to hearing from you about our proposed alternative before January 5th.

Thank you for your attention.

Charles Mays

Representing Citizens In Action for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park – CIA FOR MLK

In a nutshell, the other stakeholders have become aware that there is overwhelming support for the project in the community. This displeases them, so they're now trying to alter the process to favor the outcome that they desire... which is contrary to what the community has indicated it would like.

To the Park Board Commissioners who read this... and we know you all will:

"Cowardice asks the question 'Is it safe?', expediency asks the question 'Is it politic?', vanity asks the question 'Is it popular?'. But conscience asks the question 'Is it right?' and there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right."

- Martin Luther King, Jr

Mull over that Commissioners. I'll see you at tomorrow's meeting.

Tomorrow morning I talk to the local media... Let the games begin!!!

1 comment:

  1. Pant! Pant! I need another choice for "reactions"....cause "funny", "interesting", "cool" just don't do justice. Perhaps "Dayum!" would suffice. Nice job. I can't wait for more disclosure, which must be forthcoming, right?

    And as far as Step #2: is this dude for real??? Can anyone follow this?? How convoluted, complicated, overdone can you get?

    By the way, your choice of a quotation from Dr. King left me breathless.