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Minneapolis park commissioners show support for keeping elected Vancouver board

"We would be happy to assist you in any way possible to support your public policy makers and the citizens to hold fast and true to the invaluable public asset…"
Vancouver park commissioners Brennan Bastyovanszky (second from left), Tom Digby (back row) and Laura Christensen (front, right) met with their Minneapolis counterparts in Seattle Sunday.

The chair of Vancouver’s park board has received a letter from his counterparts in Minneapolis that outlines their support for an elected park board, despite Mayor Ken Sim’s plan to dissolve the century-old institution.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board emailed the letter in April to Brennan Bastyovanszky, who said Monday that he plans to read excerpts from it at Monday night’s public park board meeting.

“It just shows how much people care about green spaces, and that it extends beyond borders,” Bastyovanszky told Glacier Media. “Democracy is under threat everywhere, and these grassroots democratic institutions are worth fighting for.”

Minneapolis is the largest city in the United States with an elected park board.

The letter from board president Meg Forney and vice-president Cathy Abene points out the historical and present-day similarities between the boards, with the Minneapolis board created in 1883, five years prior to Vancouver’s board.

The Minneapolis board also survived a fight with a previous mayor to dissolve the board, but the letter noted the city’s current mayor, Jacob Frey, is a supporter of the institution. The letter paraphrased Frey’s words from an event he attended earlier this year.

“Mayor Frey stated that the civic and public devotion and commitment to public parks and public spaces has proved the test of time, and he realized in his two terms in office that there is a deep and abiding value in having the parks independently governed,” the letter said.

'Seven generations'

The two boards also serve on the lands of First Nations.

“The peoples of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations have occupied your lands from time immemorial,” the letter said.

“Our first citizens and ancestors from the Lakota and Ojibwe tribes have always told us that wise planning requires looking back seven generations, as well as looking forward seven generations before decisions are made.”

The letter continued: “Both Minneapolis and Vancouver have benefited from seven generations of park commissioners that have been independent with their purpose: the protection and utilization of our public land, waters and natural environment.”

The letter, which is addressed to the Vancouver park board and “citizens of Vancouver,” concludes with Forney and Abene saying “we would be happy to assist you in any way possible to support your public policy makers and the citizens to hold fast and true to the invaluable public asset that is the Vancouver park board.”

That offer was extended again Sunday when Bastyovanszky and commissioners Laura Christensen and Tom Digby travelled to Seattle to meet with seven members of the Minneapolis board, who were attending a conference.

“They were eager to meet,” Bastyovanszky said.

“They have the same values, and they've actually been through the same issue in 2009 with their mayor. They laughed about some of the similarities because their mayor didn't have a mandate for it, and it was under the guise that it'll be efficient and will save money. And I was like: ‘That sounds familiar.’”

Vancouver Charter

Sim announced in December that he wants to dissolve the elected board, saying parks and recreation matters would be better served under council. He also suggested millions of dollars in savings.

The three local First Nations have stated they support the move.

The mayor’s plan, however, is on hold because it hinges on the provincial government making the necessary changes to the Vancouver Charter to dissolve the board.

Premier David Eby has said those changes will not be contemplated until the next session of the legislature, which won’t occur until after the provincial election in the fall.

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