Minneapolis Park Board At-Large Candidates

There are nine candidates; you get to vote for three, ranked, and your vote is allocated in this very complicated way that FairVote MN can explain to you. The important thing to know is that even though we have three slots and three candidates, ranking matters, and you should definitely put your favorites in your order of favorite-ness.

On the ballot:

Bob Sullentrop
Jonathan Honerbrink
Russ Henry
Mike Derus
Latrisha Vetaw
Meg Forney
Charlie Casserly
Londel French
Devin Hogan

I’m going to split these up and start with the people I see no reason to vote for:

Bob Sullentrop

Bob Sullentrop is an endorsed Republican. He has at least some relevant experience (he’s an engineer who worked for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) but his platform for the parks emphasizes spending less money and includes stuff like, “Some new facilities that I favor would be more dog parks. If elected, though, I wouldn’t actually support more dog parks until I studied the issue more thoroughly in order to determine if there is an actual need for more dog parks, or just the perception that more are needed.” He filled out the Pollen questionnaire and said his #1 issue was the golf course.  Asked about childcare in the parks, he said, “Parks are not daycare centers.” (FTR: they very much are. Last I checked, the after-school care run out of the rec centers was the cheapest after-school option in town.) He’s also one of those Republicans who ran for office but literally knows almost nothing about the job they want to do (half his answers are, “I don’t know anything about that.”) Anyway, I am not impressed.

Jonathan Honerbrink

He has an incoherent, ungrammatical website that mostly boils down to “save the golf course.” Not impressed.

Charlie Casserly

Charlie is another “save the golf course” candidate. He thinks the flooding problems are caused by not dredging Lake Hiawatha (the Park Board is adamant that dredging the lake would not fix this). Hilariously, he’s endorsed by Southside Pride. (This is hilarious because it’s a generally very-left-leaning paper and I do not think golf courses are usually popular with the left. I guess the editor likes to golf.) Also the Police Federation. He doesn’t appear to have any positions on other issues facing the parks.


People I’d consider voting for, but have a lot of hesitation about:

Mike Derus

Mike Derus is on the “save the golf course” team, but he has a few things to say about other priorities, as well; he talks about financial stewardship and riverfront redevelopment. My main hesitation about him comes from his endorsements list, which includes both the Police Federation and Bob Kroll specifically; Mark Stenglein; Mark Andrew; Steve Minn; and Jackie Cherryhomes. (Edited to add: found a better link for Steve Minn. Here’s a video of him in a conversation with the Park Board about a development project for which he wanted a fee waiver. The project may have been a good enough idea overall to overlook what a suppurating pustule Steve Minn is in the context of voting to approve the deal, but if someone’s saying, “hey, check it out, this guy endorsed me!” — that’s, um, that’s not actually good.) He’s backed by a whole lot of people I distrust or dislike (or really loathe) and that’s a good enough reason not to vote for him.

Meg Forney (Incumbent)

Meg Forney is an incumbent, finishing her first year in an At-Large seat, but four years ago, I groused that she hadn’t updated her website since 2009 even to say that she was running for an At-Large seat instead of the District 6 seat. I’m not sure if she held the District 6 seat?

She had pledged to drop out of the race if she didn’t get DFL endorsement, then did not do so. I’m undecided about how much I care. (It depends in part on how big a deal she made about it.) She said she got back in because there were so few women among the endorsed candidates. (Minn Post said she had joined a coalition with a bunch of other unendorsed candidates. However (a) I found no web page or other info about this coalition and (b) one of these candidates, Musich, is DFL-endorsed, making the whole thing extra confusing to me. Also, Musich is female and Devin Hogan is nonbinary, but Forney is right that this is looking like it’s going to be a super male-dominated board. The current board is made up of 5 women and 4 men. It’s also entirely white, which I’m not sure Meg has ever taken issue with.)

She’s endorsed Tom Hoch:

(I wish there were some central location where I could see exactly who everyone had endorsed and was endorsed by.)

Her web page kind of makes it look like she has endorsements from Take Action MN, the Sierra Club, Our Streets, etc., because she has their logos right next to a big banner saying “Get On Board: Support Meg Forney for Parks,” but if you read the fine print it says “to learn more, click on the image” and it takes you to her questionnaires for those groups. Take Action MN has endorsed Russ Henry, Devin Hogan, and Londel French.

My sense of Meg Forney is that she’s friends with the more conservative members of the local DFL (like Tom Hoch, who donated money to Rich Stanek, the loathsome Hennepin County Sheriff). If you’re a golf course fan, I’ll also note she was one of the people who voted against shutting down the golf course.

And NOW it’s finally time for the candidates I genuinely like. If there were only three of these, the rest would be super easy, but there’s four.

Russ Henry (DFL endorsed)

Russ Henry runs an organic landscaping company, which means that when he says we should transition fully away from using pesticides in the parks, I assume he isn’t completely blowing smoke.

I appreciate the fact that he has his answers to all the questionnaires on his website, including the one from the Alliance for Goats. Who even knew that there was an Alliance for Goats? If you’re wondering, Russ is a long-time supporter of goats in the city and he’d like to hire herders of goats to help with invasive species removal. (This is happening on a small scale; he’d like to see it happen on a much larger scale.) He’s also got his golf course position online. I’d say he’s not wildly enthusiastic about it but he’s not unalterably opposed to keeping it, either. So long as it’s possible to run it without pesticides: if it would require pesticides, it has to go.

I’d say his top priority is environmentalism. He wants to eliminate pesticide use, increase pollinator-friendly landscaping, and add renewable power. (He also mentions kids’ programming, but that’s sort of like running for school board and saying you’re in favor of small class sizes. Everyone wants kids’ programming.)

He does have some interesting specifics in his Our Streets questionnaire. He wants to increase staffing in the parks in the poorer parts of town; change the requirement for a 4-year degree to become a park manager (“this discriminates against long time employees who didn’t attend a 4 year college”); stop cutting basketball courts in half; and “turn on the lights at night to encourage folks to be in the parks.”

I was curious about his anti-pesticide stance and e-mailed him with a question about wasp nests. He said that the pesticide-free option for wasp nests is to have an employee put on a bee suit and physically remove the nests with tools or high-pressure water.

Latrisha Vetaw (Green endorsed)

Latrisha Vetaw works for a health clinic, is the board chair of Our Streets Minneapolis, and is program director of the Neighborhood Orange Bikes Program, which seems to be a spinoff of NiceRide where people apply to get to take a bike home for a season. She’s actually best known as an anti-tobacco activist and pushed for the restrictions on menthol cigarettes.

She wants to reduce pesticide use and increase engagement, particularly of marginalized communities in North Minneapolis. She’s a Black woman who lives in North Minneapolis, so I’d say she’s got a legit case for being the right person for that outreach (especially since outreach is a big part of her job with the Orange Bikes program and her job at the health clinic).

She answers questionnaires. (Possibly because she works for Our Streets Minneapolis, which does a questionnaire.) Here’s her Our Streets questionnaire and her Pollen questionnaire.

Londel French (DFL-endorsed)

Londel French has held a bunch of jobs in the parks — rec worker, running the summer lunch program, Adaptive Hockey coach. He also mentions working in the Minneapolis Public Schools. He’s a paraprofessional (I’m pretty sure he’s a Special Education Assistant) at Harrison Education Center. Harrison is a school for students with severe behavioral issues. In 2015, Nekima Levy-Pounds brought a federal complaint that it was not a school but a prison, warehousing kids rather than educating them, and it was almost impossible for a student to get out of Harrison once they were sent there. The district brought in a new principal who valiantly attempted to make it less prison-like but just under a year after starting her job, she was assaulted by a student who left her with a serious concussion. In the wake of this incident, the principal said the district had not given her the support she needed to make the school work as she’d envisioned (and given that among other things they refused to pay her a principal’s salary — she was paid as if she was an assistant principal — for months, I think her anger here is legit.)

This made me wonder if Nekima Levy-Pounds had endorsed French (and vice versa.) I was able to find out that Londel French has endorsed Raymond Dehn.

Anyway. He’s a para: I’m definitely not going to blame him for the situation at Harrison.

His experience also includes volunteering for the Justice 4 All initiative with Take Action Minnesota, the Vote Yes for Kids levy referendum campaign, and with the Office of Black Male Student Achievement.

His website doesn’t have a ton of specifics (he says his priority is getting kids and families into neighborhood recreation centers. Did I mention yet that everyone talks about kids?) In his opening statement at a forum last June, he said his priority was the fact that the Minneapolis Parks employ a lot of people they pay less than $10/hour. He also raised the issue of youth violence and quoted the line, “the best way to stop a bullet is with a job,” suggesting that they hire youth at a fair wage to do work in the parks. On his website, he notes that he is a Black man who has been the victim of police brutality.

Devin Hogan (DFL-endorsed)

I saw one of Devin Hogan’s buttons on Twitter. It said, “DEVIN HOGAN FOR A NEOLIBERAL FREE PARK BOARD.” I read this as Devin wanting a free & neoliberal park board and was concerned, but a friend of mine clued me in that I should be reading it as “neoliberal-free,” i.e., free from neoliberals. That’s much more appealing. This is why punctuation is important, people! Including hyphens.

There are a couple of things I really like about Devin.

First, I like that he has some very specific ideas for changing the Minneapolis Park Police. The Park Police are a separate organization from the MPD; he suggests a bunch of stuff people have suggested for the MPD (train them in de-escalation and mental health stuff and have people expert in mental health accompany them on calls)  but also suggests that we “update uniforms and patrol cars to reflect a more appropriate Urban Park Ranger mindset” (you can argue that this is superficial, but uniforms genuinely affect how people act, in part because they so strongly affect how people respond to you) and then adds to that, “obtain the Minneapolis Public Schools SRO (School Resource Officer) contract and cut the School to Prison Pipeline at the source.” Possibly this would not help with the school-to-prison pipeline? But I really like this idea as a new thing to try.

Second, he has a triangle improvement plan. Triangles are those odd little patches of land scattered around the city; there are apparently 37 of them. They get mowed, and mostly are otherwise ignored. The fact that he’s even thinking about these makes me happy.

Third, I like his position on the golf course, which includes the observation: “This is ultimately a multi-jurisdictional regional watershed issue, of which the golf course is an interrelated part. We have no idea of what’s feasible here, and any redevelopment will likely cost tens of millions of dollars, which doesn’t just appear. We can also still take more immediate steps to mitigate pollution at Lake Hiawatha.”

(Fourth — I found his Our Streets questionnaire and in response to a question about plowing bike lanes in the winter, he suggested considering grooming some lanes instead to allow for people to commute by X-C skiing. I am not sure how workable this is, but it’s a really interesting idea.)

Devin is also apparently endorsed by Sea Salt. (So his concerns about neoliberalism do not extend to leasing park buildings to restaurants. Which is good, because I think Sea Salt is more beloved than some of our actual parks.)

In the videos from the forum held in June, he starts by saying that it’s outrageous that the part-time Park Commissioners get health insurance through their jobs, but many park employees do not.

I think Devin is my #1 and Latrisha is my #2.

I am waffling between Russ Henry and Londel French for my #3. I absolutely think the Park Board needs more representation from people who are not white: Londel French brings that, and would also bring the sort of expertise on parks operations you have when you work non-managerial jobs there. Russ Henry would bring some really specific expertise on landscaping: given that a large percentage of the parks are grass, that’s really useful in its own way. I like the wealth of content on Russ’s website. He seems like someone who’s committed to accountability.

Their priorities are different: Londel is very focused on the well-being of the people who work at the parks, and Russ Henry is very focused on the environmental aspects of park management. I think I’m going to come down on Londel for my #3, in part because, when I think about my own park experiences, staff have been both central to me and my kids, and frequently overlooked by the system as a whole.




8 thoughts on “Minneapolis Park Board At-Large Candidates

  1. “l do not think golf courses are usually popular with the left”

    LOL! Gus Hall, General Secretary of the Communist Party USA from 1959 until his death in 2000, was an avid golfer, as he wrote about in his book, Working Class USA (International Publishers, sometime in the 1980s). He was also the longest serving leader of a Communist Party in any country on Earth (41 years).

  2. So … I’m pretty lefty … and this race has been really hard for me to figure things out on.

    I love your writeup, and I just want to add a few things that I found “offline” in face-to-face conversations.

    Someone I met who’d worked with Meg Forney said that the #1 reason they loved her is how incredible of a worker-bee they found her. Not only her own “tedious” work, but also, if for some reason a colleague needed a sub, she was the kind of person who’d volunteer to fill in for them, too — even if it involved tons of meetings across town for several months. They had a hard time imagining the park board without that contribution of Forney’s to all the “boring work” that’s going to have unanimous consent to continue. I think I’m way to the left of Forney, but I can see the argument for that. Oh, and yes, she’s been on the board, despite her unclear web site.

    I also heard someone impressed by LaTrisha Vetaw’s work ethic — apparently, as a community member trying to lobby the park board, she always had everything detailed-but-summarized, and she would pre-meet with board members individually, as possible, to understand their concerns before preparing to present to them as a group. In other words, also comes off as a worker-bee.

    Finally, I heard that Russ Henry can come off as a typical “I have lots to say” squeaky-wheel type of activist like you see in the mic line at community meetings. So … that might be what you want on the board. Or it might not. I thought it was an interesting fleshing-out of his impressive web site. (I feel like people with impressive “issues” lists are often really quiet or really talkative…) HOWEVER, I haven’t met him myself, so take that with a grain of salt. But I kind of got the impression that outspokenness may be a major difference between Devin & Russ (besides Russ’s gardening experience).

    I only met French briefly, but it felt like he had that kind of rooted “I’ve been working this — let me put my hand to running it” wellspring of convictions that you want in a park board candidate. He seemed laid-back and approachable. I suppose most people seem friendly when they’re canvassing, though.

    So there you go!

    After much deliberation, at the last minute, I’ve switched from French-Vetaw-Henry to Vetaw-Forney-French, because I decided to weigh that “worker-bee” thing in more heavily with my other considerations. I probably sound like the kind of Clinton-primary-voter who drove me crazy saying Sanders was “better off in the Senate,” but … I doubt anyone who’s running for park board as a former activist-before-the-park-board is just going to roll over and go away if they don’t get a seat. (What can I say … I guess I care more about sweeping changes like single-payer healthcare and less about day-to-day management at a federal elections level than at a local elections level.)

    I think we’ll end up with a pretty decent park board no matter who wins among the candidates you’ve favored here. Which is good, because boy, does Minneapolis have an amazing park system.

  3. Thanks so much for delving into the specifics of each candidate. I was desperately searching for some insight, and your arguments felt very true to me, and super-helpful in my deliberations and decision-making. I also appreciate the feedback you received from other readers. It’s great to find some respectful dialogue happening in the virtual realm.

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