Minneapolis Park Board, District 5

This was my old district. Back when I lived in Minneapolis, it was represented by Carol Kummer, who I really did not like very much. Carol finally retired four years ago, and Steffanie Musich ran unopposed.

Anyway! On the ballot:

Bill Shroyer (DFL)
Steffanie Musich (DFL-endorsed, incumbent)
Andrea Fahrenkrug

Analysis below the cut.

I mentioned a week ago that the Hiawatha Golf Course is a big issue. It is in District 5, so not surprisingly, it’s an even bigger issue in District 5. Steffanie Musich voted to close it and has made it very clear she doesn’t think it’s viable. Both of her opponents are very strongly pro-golf-course.

Andrea Fahrenkrug

I’m going to start with Andrea because she was easy to eliminate.

My usual “is this person even a real candidate” test is a web site with a way to donate and a way to volunteer. Andrea Fahrenkrug has no way to either donate or volunteer.

Andrea really is a single-issue candidate and that issue is golf. She’s a golfer (past Women’s Metro Links golf league). Her “top issues” include “celebrating the diverse nature of our park’s offerings,” but if you click over to Current Issues you get a page about water management and Lake Hiawatha. That’s it. I found no campaign Facebook and her personal Facebook isn’t being used for campaign posts (at least public ones).

She did fill out the Our Streets survey, including this bit:

4. What strategies, if any, will you advance to promote racial equity in Park Board programming?

I believe it’s extremely important to ensure our parks are accessible and diverse in their offerings. To that end my goal is to bring forth options that are much more inclusive to our city’s diverse populations. At the same time, I don’t believe in “categorizing” so it’s important to me that we education our audiences as well.

I’m pretty sure that’s Minnesotan for “I don’t see color.” NOPE.

She also said a number of bafflingly clueless things on the Minneapolis Issues list about golf:

And while some people believe having a golf course on this land is too
narrow of a use for the greater good, I would argue all sporting fields are
that way. So if one believes the course is too exclusive because not
everyone golfs, one should feel the exact same way about all of the
softball fields, tennis courts, basketballs courts, soccer fields, etc.
throughout our parks. Why are those ok to have even though not everyone
plays those sports and a golf course isn’t?

The answer here is that you can use the softball fields, tennis courts, basketball courts, soccer fields, etc. for free. And for other purposes, even: there’s a big open field near my house that is maintained for soccer (and soccer teams get dibs), but which is also used for dog walking, kite flying, frisbee tossing, and — every Thanksgiving — by a family that hauls over a full-sized trebuchet in the back of a minivan and hurls stuff at a target (this seems to be an important family tradition for them). Golf courses are huge, reserved entirely for golf in the summer (they’re often available for X-C skiing and sledding in winter, so there’s that), and they cost quite a bit of money to use. (Hiawatha Gold Course charges $26/person for 18 holes. Which is actually pretty cheap for 18 holes of golf: private courses charge a lot more. If you’ve never played before, a set of four absolute-beginner lessons is $110. By comparison, a day’s admission at either of the city water parks is $5, or $50 for a season pass; the Webber Natural Swimming Pool is free. I couldn’t find rates for swimming lessons but in St. Paul, at the public pool, adult beginner lessons are $60 for a set of eight once-weekly hour-long group lessons.) Anyway! It costs a lot more than most city park activities, especially the ones that are LITERALLY FREE, and someone pointed this out, along with the fact that golf courses are reserved 100% for golf. Andrea’s response:

I don’t agree that golf is so exclusive. Nor do I go out and shoot baskets or play softball etc. But I understand how non-golfers look at the space involved and see it as an area of land dedicated to an activity they choose not to pursue. 

Someone pointed out the cost aspect of golf again. Andrea’s response:

I understand your point. I know there are people who don’t want to spend
the money to play golf and/or those who do not have disposable income for
activities such as golf. But does that mean it can’t be an option for those
who are able to? Part of the Park Board’s mission is to provide a diverse
offering of recreational activities.

So basically what I’m thinking is that in addition to not seeing color, this lady doesn’t see wealth or poverty, either. REALLY not what I want on the Park Board.

Bill Shroyer

His website prominently mentions fiscal responsibility (or, as he phrases it, “Stop wasteful spending on boondoggle projects”) which is one of those “is this person a Republican?” red flags, but he’s definitely not. (He tried for DFL endorsement, I think. He’s got a post up on his campaign Facebook about how in general he thinks Park Board Commissioners should stick to parks stuff but he was too incensed about DACA not to post.) He’s also not easily categorized as either a progressive DFLer or an old-guard DFLer, though.

Bill is a long-term employee of the Minneapolis Parks; he’s an arborist. He’s pro-golf-course. In one of the forums he apparently said that the people advocating for a “food forest” on the part of the golf course that wouldn’t wind up underwater were hippies who wanted fruit to make hard cider:

 

He’s more tactful about the proposed food forest in his LWV questionnaire responses: “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.”

(The idea of a park orchard is intriguing to me, but it’s worth noting that orchards require a lot of work to keep them viable. You have to prune apple trees to keep them small so people can reach the fruit without climbing. You have to prune raspberry bushes to keep them from turning into an unyielding thicket of thorns. Lots of fruit gets spoiled by birds and bugs, then falls to the ground and rots. I’m not saying this is not possible in the parks, just don’t underestimate the work that will be required from a bunch of moderately skilled people to create a free orchard.)

In addition to produce, Bill Shroyer has a lot of thoughts on wood:

What he suggests is that when a tree has to be removed (because of storm damage, because it’s an ash, whatever) that rather than just turning into wood-chip mulch, that the Park Board set up shop to mill the wood and sell it. There’s a company that has done this very successfully. This has always seemed like a good idea to me, so it’s interesting to see someone who works for the Parks Department proposing it.

There are two really big issues on which Bill Shroyer and Steffanie Musich are completely opposed: the golf course and the deal with the Loppet Foundation. Having researched the golf course previously, I went and looked up information yesterday about the Loppet Foundation thing. Basically: the MPRB signed a deal with the Loppet Foundation (a non-profit best known for its big annual ski festival) whereby the Loppet is building a fancy new building at Theodore Wirth Park that will be used as a center for cross-country skiing and mountain biking, and added some trails that they’re going to keep groomed, plus I think they’re taking over some stuff that Wirth Park had been doing.

On one hand, this is hopefully getting the parks a new building, nice trails, and staff they don’t have to pay for. On the other hand, those staffers won’t be unionized, unlike park employees, although they are supposed to be paid the “prevailing wage,” and the parks will be on the hook for all sorts of money if the Loppet Foundation realizes its pockets aren’t as deep as it expected, and there were some budget numbers that didn’t add up followed by no budget numbers at all, and their building didn’t use bird-safe glass.

Golf course: Musich voted to close it; Shroyer has been advocating for keeping it open.

Loppet deal: Musich voted for it and thinks it’s a great example of how public-private partnerships should work; Shroyer thinks it’s a godawful idea and a great example of how public-private partnerships are used to undermine labor; also, “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.)”

Finally: one of the really interesting areas to compare them on is equity.

Steffanie’s position on equity can more or less be summed up, I think, as “we have a data-driven plan to fix inequities in park upgrades and features.” (There’s a video up on her website that was made by MPRB about the plan.) Asked specifically about racial equity in the Our Streets questionnaire, her answer: “I support the MPRB’s RecQuest project, which includes a Racial Equity lens for looking at what changes should be made to programming. I am also spearheading an effort to implement centralized registration for youth sports to ensure that all kids that want to play a sport are placed on a team.” To be fair, they’re limited to 200 word for their answers. However, that was 51. She left 150 words on the table! (To be fair, all her answers were brief.)

Bill Shroyer appears to be an old(ish) white guy. He’s not fully up on the phrasings that you are supposed to use, if you’re a white person in politics who wishes to impress on everyone how thoroughly woke you are. (From Jono Cowgill’s website: “We also need to continue to boldly weave equity through all decision making. As the the primary author of a transformative study that put equity into all St Paul infrastructure spending, I know what it takes to make equity a priority.” From Russ Henry’s website: “put community members first in the decision making process to move forward a policy agenda that advances equity, justice, and ecosystem restoration.”)

Bill says things like, “I am a multi-culti person by nature” in his 250-word answer to the Our Streets question about equity. He also says: “The consequences of racial inequality at the Park Board are primarily manifested in employment numbers. The percent of Full-time benefited jobs held by white people was around 80% most of my time at the MPRB (Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board). The percent of low paying Seasonal, Temporary, and Recreational jobs with no benefits was (and is today) around 40% People of Color. You cannot put the good jobs in with the lousy jobs together to show you have a diverse workforce!! My living wage job allows me to buy a house and take a vacation. It’s about three times the compensation of a Seasonal when you add vacation, sick days, holiday pay and a pension.” On the LWV questionnaire he notes that the Equity Matrix is well-intended but could be gamed and adds, “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.” And goes on to talk again about employment numbers: “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.’ … Outreach, Cultural Diversity Training, Equity etc. are just buzzwords if the jobs aren’t there.”

He also talks about the issue of Park Dedication fees without explaining them very well. When a big new development goes in, they can either set land aside for park use or they can pay a chunk of money for use in developing parks in the city. Park Dedication fees are supposed to be spent in the neighborhood in which the development was built. Bill points out that if no one’s building in a neighborhood, they’re not getting any of this money: “28 neighborhoods are slated to get ZERO dollars from Dedication Fees…guess where they are!”

I didn’t find him commenting on pesticides (and sent him an e-mail but haven’t gotten a response yet.) He did suggest, environmentally, that we should install solar panels on buildings and also upgrade equipment: gas equipment results in spills and battery-based equipment has gotten a lot better in recent years. His work truck got 9 miles to the gallon, and he thinks that’s appalling and we should work on upgrading everyone to greener equipment.

See what I mean by him being hard to pigeonhole?

Also, I thought when I started researching that he failed my is-he-a-real-candidate test (he had a website, and a donations link, but I couldn’t find any way to volunteer.) It’s out there, just well hidden: he has a Facebook group for this purpose.

Steffanie Musich

Steffanie Musich was first elected four years ago with the blessing of her predecessor, Carol Kummer, who I really did not much care for. She ran unopposed in 2013, which meant I didn’t write about her.  (Have I mentioned that a lot more people are running this year? A lot more people are running this year.)

Things everyone likes about Steffanie: she’s a good communicator. She sends out a frequent, detailed newsletter, letting people know what’s going on. She’s done a lot to improve pollinator-friendly plantings. She’s also the only woman running for Park Board with DFL endorsement.

(Liz Wielinski has repeatedly talked about the all-male Our Revolution slate, ignoring the fact that Devin Hogan is non-binary. If you’d like to complain about the shortage of women without erasing Devin’s identity, you can complain about the fact that OR didn’t endorse any women, and that there is only one DFL-endorsed woman in the race for Park Board this year.)

Steffanie was solidly in favor of closing the golf course. This has been controversial in her district. One of the weirder things I ran across was a Southside Pride story from Ed Felien claiming that Steffanie’s grudge against the golf course was personal:

One of the newer legends at Hiawatha Golf Course is that before the great flood of 2014, Park Board Commissioner Steffanie Musich brought her family out to play golf on a Sunday afternoon at Hiawatha.  They had clearly never played before and they were holding up play.  Tee times for foursomes start every eight minutes.  A Ranger went down and threw them off the course and refunded their money with tokens for the driving range.  So, when the flood came and the course flooded, many people at the golf course believe, Musich must have thought, “This is a great time to get even.”

You know, this is kind of what people are talking about when they say golf is exclusive. It is a sport with multiple genuinely high barriers to entry. If I want to play tennis, and I don’t want to sign up for tennis lessons, I can find a friend and borrow a racket and just go over to the tennis courts at a local park. I’ve played tennis very little and I’m terrible at it, but if this doesn’t bother my friend, it’s not going to annoy anyone else. If all the courts are full, we can limit our game to the time frame of a normal game even if we’re not keeping score, but we’re really unlikely to get yelled at or thrown out by the local park staff because we’re slowing things down.

(I don’t know if this ever actually happened, but the person who loves golf courses and wants this one preserved is the one claiming it happened — this is not a “why golf sucks” story from someone who wants to just let the course flood!)

 

Steffanie is also solidly in favor of the agreement with the Loppet Foundation and says she’s heard a lot of support for it while door-knocking.

Here’s the really weird thing about Steffanie’s campaign:

Back in 2014, there was a school board race. The DFL-endorsed candidates for the open At-Large seats were Rebecca Gagnon and Iris Altamirano. Don Samuels was also running, without endorsements. Iris appeared at an event with Don Samuels (and I don’t mean she was on a stage with him, I mean they both got invited to something like a meet-and-greet by a former school board member and Iris showed up) and she got massively slapped down by the local DFL: “Within days the dispute had become so heated that Minneapolis DFL Chair Dan McConnell took the highly unusual step of sending an e-mail to party endorsees outlining ground rules. Candidates who ‘undermine’ the party’s efforts might lose DFL campaign support, he warned.”

(Iris wound up losing to Rebecca and Don.)

So here we are in 2017 and Steffanie is not just appearing at events but has full-on endorsed a bunch of people who are running against other DFLers: Billy Menz, District 1, who’s running against DFL-endorsed Chris Meyer; Mike Tate, District 2, who’s running against DFL-endorsed Kale Severson; Tom Nordyke, District 4, who’s running against DFL-endorsed Jono Cowgill; and Meg Forney and LaTrisha Vetaw, who are running at-large, against three endorsed DFLers. (She’s also endorsed Abdi “Gurhan” Mohamed, but there’s no endorsed candidate in his district, so no worries there.)

This is genuinely odd for a person who’s running with her party’s endorsement. Normally the endorsed candidates campaign together. Typically, the DFL would print a flyer for District 5 that would say, VOTE FOR YOUR ENDORSED DFL CANDIDATES and would encourage everyone to vote for Steffanie Musich, Devin Hogan, Russ Henry, and Londel French, which is super awkward if Steffanie has been literally campaigning against Devin Hogan, Russ Henry, and Londel French.

And I’m honestly not sure what the difference is here. Why did it matter so much when Iris Altamirano did a much milder version of this that there was a local political meltdown and an official rules e-mail from the Minneapolis DFL Chair Dan McConnell, and this year it doesn’t matter at all? (Minneapolis DFL Chair is still Dan McConnell, I checked.) Possibly he got so much blowback in 2014 he resolved to just not worry about it in the future? Possibly he feels like the last thing he wants to do is to put himself in the position of having to strip party endorsement from the one DFL-endorsed woman running for Park Board this year? (Possibly the only difference is that the person stirring the pot in 2014 was Eli Kaplan, who died last November.) WHO KNOWS. But it’s weird. 

10/27 EDITED TO CORRECT SOMETHING: Dan McConnell stepped down as chair in September, in the wake of the controversy over him paying a bunch of party money to do some polling on whether we ought to be trying to unseat totally-progressive no-one-actually-has-any-complaints-about-him non-DFLer Cam Gordon. over the summer. I wasn’t able to find the info on the City DFL website, because that website is terrible, so I pulled up the Official Call for the convention and used that, figuring incorrectly that whoever was chair at the summer convention was probably still chair.

The friend who passed this along to me noted that Rebecca Gagnon has never gotten shat on for endorsing non-DFL-endorsed candidates so maybe — maybe — the key difference here is that Steffanie Musich, like Rebecca Gagnon, is white, and Iris Altamirano is not. Surely our enlightened, diversity-statement-reading local DFL would not be harder on a candidate who’s a Person of Color than they would on their white counterpart, would they? I mean, that’s definitely something that SEIU President Javier Morillo was clearly thinking and not saying straight-out in 2014:

“The rules have been rewritten” for Altamirano, complained SEIU President Javier Morillo. “We are starting from such a double standard. I personally as a Latino leader have never seen anything like it.”

It appears that McConnell has been replaced by Alicia K. Bennett, since she was vice-chair. Possibly they’ll vote in someone else at the next City DFL meeting, which as of September 15th had not yet been scheduled. Anyway, maybe that’s the difference. Who knows?

(End of edits)

I asked Steffanie what had drawn her to this assortment of fellow candidates, and what she thought they had in common, and her answer was not super informative:

Mike Tate (District 2) from North Minneapolis has been a volunteer coach with the Park Board for 40+ years and helped get city council members on board to support the 20 Year Neighborhood Parks Plan.  In District 3, Abdi “Gurhan” Mohamed is an immigrant who grew up in a refugee camp in Africa; he wants to expand public engagement to ensure that all Minneapolis kids grow up with park opportunities he never had. LaTrisha Vetaw (at-large) is a coalition builder who works in public health policy, particularly with youth, and led the initiative to make our parks tobacco-free.  Billy Menz is a public school teacher and coach who believes we can expand recreation for all Minneapolis residents.  Meg Forney (at-large) is an experienced commissioner who offers veteran park leadership.  Tom Nordyke (District 4) was the first ever LGBTQ Park Board President, and he knows how to bring commissioners together around shared goals.

We want to see additional programming opportunities for kids, expanded park access for all Minneapolis families, sustainable park practices, continued revitalization of the Mississippi Riverfront, and an improved community engagement process, so that more people have a voice in the future of their parks.  I sincerely believe that these initiatives will improve the lives of the millions of people who use Minneapolis parks every year and that these candidates are the ones to make them happen.

Given these candidates’ experience working in the community and parks, they have a deep understanding of where there is room for improvement, and I trust that they will be able to build positive working relationships with park board staff.  They will be up to the task of meeting the diverse and evolving needs of our changing city.  While the elected commissioners provide direction, our park board is made up of hundreds of dedicated front-line and back-office staff.  These employees are the unsung heroes of our park system; they do everything from cleaning up trash to designing budgets to helping craft complex park processes, like the data driven equity framework being utilized to drive park investments.  I trust that these candidates will be open to our employees best ideas for how the park board should evolve to be a more equitable institution.

I mean, what strikes me about her description of these people is that she’s emphasizing experience and a cooperative attitude. I’m not sure I blame her for wanting those things in her future colleagues? But if you’re happily supporting a crew of young upstarts wanting to throw out the defenders of the status quo — she’s definitely part of that status quo and looking to keep as much of it on the board with her as possible. Including Meg Forney, who voted to keep spitting and lurking ordinances and is legitimately seen as one of the less-progressive current Park Board members, which is why she didn’t get endorsed. 

And, I mean, for building positive working relationships with park staff, it’s hard to beat adding a commissioner who has actually worked as park staff — and while I don’t expect her to endorse the guy she’s running against, she could endorse Londel French.

So who should people vote for? In this case, I’d say:

  • If you really want the golf course to stay open, vote #1 Bill Shroyer, #2 Steffanie Masich. Steffanie wants to close it; Bill vowed to keep it open. (And yes, I still think you should list Steffanie as your #2; I think Andrea is a genuinely bad candidate and would not want her on the Park Board.)
  • If worker rights are your top issue, vote #1 Bill Shroyer, #2 Steffanie Masich. Steffanie voted for the Loppet deal and Bill has Labor endorsements.
  • If communication from your rep is a priority, vote #1 Steffanie Masich, #2 Bill Shroyer. Steffanie sends out regular newsletters; Bill hasn’t gotten back to me yet after I e-mailed him.
  • If it is very important to you to have at least one woman on the Park Board, vote #1 Steffanie Masich, #2, Bill Shroyer. She’s the only woman running with DFL endorsement, and the woman most likely to win.
  • If combating systemic racism is your top issue, vote #1 Bill Shroyer, #2 Steffanie Masich.
  • If environmental concerns are your top issue, I’m really not sure which you should vote for. Steffanie has worked for pollinator-friendly native plantings but has not been at the forefront of an environmental agenda. Bill wants greener trucks and equipment but doesn’t say anything about pesticide use. Probably neither is really your cup of tea.
  • If recreation is your top issue, and you don’t mean golf, I’d say probably #1 Steffanie Musich, #2 Bill Shroyer.
  • If you want to boot the defenders of the current status quo, vote #1 Bill Shroyer, #2 Steffanie Musich.

Probably a lot of people are looking at this, dismayed and thinking, “but what do I do if I want a woman and golf?” In that case, vote for Shroyer, I’d say: you can vote in a woman four years from now, but it’s going to be too late at that point to save the golf course. (And again: don’t vote for Andrea.)

I think if I lived in District 5, I would vote #1 Steffanie Musich, #2 Bill Shroyer. In part because I don’t care about golf, and in a tiebreaker situation, where I’m struggling between conflicting stuff I like and dislike, “possibly the only woman on the Park Board” is pretty compelling to me. I like Bill Shroyer, though: don’t rule him out just because he’s not DFL-endorsed. He could very much be the candidate for you.

 

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One thought on “Minneapolis Park Board, District 5

  1. Thank you for your analysis of the races. Sorry I didn’t get back to you. I wish all voters could put in this amount of research. I promise to read future posts cuz that was fascinating. Your in-depth style had me smiling…I love democracy and wish I had gotten into the race sooner.

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