Election 2021: Minneapolis Park Board, District 4

Having not merely gone down a rabbit hole but temporarily moved into a rabbit warren of Park Board meetings while researching District 3, I feel very prepared to just whip through this one. Let’s see how fast I can get it done.

On the ballot:

Jono Cowgill
Elizabeth Shaffer

A note: Elizabeth Shaffer is running for Park Board District 4, and Barb Schlaefer is running for Park Board District 6, and I’ve seen a number of people stumble over the Shaffer/Schlaefer similarity. There are two separate people, and only the last names are particularly similar.

tl;dr vote for Jono.

Jono Cowgill

Jono has been president of the Park Board since the beginning of 2020 (before that, it had been Brad Bourn since 2017). I was already favorably disposed to him, because Jono generally votes the way I would prefer: he’s strong on both the environment and social issues (by which I mean stuff like homeless encampments and policing). After watching a bunch of Park Board meetings, I am even more of a fan. I’ve seen old meetings with people screaming at each other, so watching Jono keep things on an even keel, with everyone calmly taking turns and sticking to their allotted time while dealing with high-stakes, complicated issues was really impressive. Possibly the fact that things moved to Zoom was helpful. There were some significant divisions on the Park Board, and it was not free from drama, but he set a tone that seemed to help a lot.

His website doesn’t include endorsements, but he’s endorsed by the DFL, the Sierra Club, and Friends of Lake Hiawatha. His retiring Park Board colleague Chris Meyer’s comment on him was unambiguously positive: “Jono is one of the kindest, most incredibly earnest people I know. People like him usually get weeded out of politics.”

So yeah: two thumbs up.

Elizabeth Shaffer

Elizabeth Shaffer is pro-police (with multiple sections about policing in the parks) and says she would have kicked homeless people out of the parks immediately in 2020. She’s door-knocking with candidates endorsed by Operation Safety Now.

Her major past accomplishment was fundraising and lobbying to get the Seven Pools fountain in Lowry Hills park restored, which is fine. Seven Pools fountain looks pretty cool, especially if kids are allowed to wade/play in it. Edited to add: however, the funds for the restoration came from redirected affordable housing money. There’s some complexity there as to why they were able to redirect it (the money had been lent out for that purpose, and repaid, once, allowing the neighborhood more flexibility), but there’s absolutely an ongoing need for affordable housing. There’s a real irony to her position statement that “by permitting encampments in 2020, the park board inserted itself into a crisis that was not a part of its mission and created confusion for Hennepin County and others who do have the responsibility and resources for homeless services,” when she was personally involved in redirecting some of the money designated for affordable housing to restoring an expensive amenity in the parks. I’m not sure she’s noticed the irony here.

Her section on climate initiatives focuses on water quality and trees, both of which I support, but there’s nothing anywhere on her site about bikes and biking or the many arguments the Park Board has had over parking and how much park-owned acreage should be dedicated to it.

Fundamentally, though: I really like Jono, and I am really not in favor of replacing him with someone whose comments about unsheltered people don’t even bother to pay lip service to their needs, right to human dignity and humane treatment, etc.


Did you know that I had a book released this April? Chaos on CatNet is a sequel to Catfishing on CatNet and takes place in a future Minneapolis. Signed copies are usually available from Dreamhaven and from the current mail-order-only incarnation of Uncle Hugo’s. Books make great holiday gifts, but should be ordered early this year — Tubby & Coo’s bookstore explains why.

I do not have a Patreon or Ko-Fi, but you can make a donation to encourage my work! I get a lot of satisfaction watching fundraisers I highlight getting funded. My readers have now bought a refrigerator for the school nurse at Olson Middle School, outfitted 8th grade Algebra students with binders to stay organized, and equipped a classroom with an air purifier. Here are some other worthwhile fundraisers for high-poverty Minneapolis and Saint Paul schools:

An art teacher at Andersen United middle school is starting a ceramics program and needs a pug mill to recycle dried out clay back into usable clay. (Over time, they’ll save a lot of money on clay if they have this!)

The North High School librarian would like copies of We Are Not From Here for students to read in 9th grade English class.

A teacher at Green Central Elementary would like a book/curriculum set that covers “themes such as racism, cultural identity, homelessness, immigration, gender and sexuality, and social activism.”

1 thought on “Election 2021: Minneapolis Park Board, District 4

  1. Based on the informal non scientific polling of yard signs in my neighborhood, Jono is very outnumbered. Will be interested to see how this one plays out. Seven Pools is beautiful, we went to the opening party last weekend. This is the kind of thing I want out of my park board.

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