Candidate for Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Commissioner-At-Large

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Why a Vote for Meg is a Value-Added Vote

  • She is passionate about Parks.
  • She has proven commitment.
  • She practices public service.
  • She jumps in with both feet.
  • She finds creative solutions.
  • She is a team player.
  • She sees the big picture.
  • She listens before she acts.

It’s time for Meg Forney as your Commissioner-At-Large of our Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board!

Not a single-issue, agenda-driven advocate but one who sees tremendous opportunities, not overwhelming problems

I have steadfastly worked on civic committees and projects because I am committed to the quality of life that defines this city.

League Of Women Voters’

Park Board Candidate Questionnaire
Minneapolis Parks are a critical factor in the quality of life in our city. Unlike most cities in America, Minneapolis has an independently elected body – the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board – that is responsible for the governance and oversight of the entire Minneapolis Park system.
Nine commissioners are elected to serve four-year terms beginning in January. Six Commissioners are elected to represent one of six districts spanning the city and three Commissioners are elected as “at-large” representatives with all city voters casting ballots for those three seats. For a map of districts – follow this link. For a description of Ranked Choice Voting in Minneapolis – follow this link.

In years past, there has been limited information on candidates and issues and for many, the Park Board elections were not given much attention. The increased energy surrounding this year’s Park Board Elections is an indication that more people understand the critical importance our parks play in our city and the potential impact decisions by the Board has on the lives of everyone who lives in or visits our city and region. This increased attention is a great outcome.

As groups that have worked with the Park Board in the past and are committed to working in Minneapolis for the long-haul, we developed a few questions for the candidates to respond in order to help understand how they may approach some of the questions and challenges that the Park Board has faced recently. It is not an exhaustive list and our approach was not meant to indicate a point of view – but rather offer each candidate a chance to respond in their own words.

We thank each of the candidates for committing themselves to service to the city and for taking time out of a very busy season to provide us with responses. Our commitment to each of them is to present their responses without edits or comments and to guide voters to these responses to help them make informed decisions by November 7th.
We look forward to working with whoever is elected and continuing to improve how our parks serve everyone in Minneapolis.

1. Introduction:
Please share a little about yourself to help voters get to know you.

Meg Forney
I am in my first term as your city-wide Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) Commissioner — the only at-large woman incumbent. I have been advocating for parks and open spaces for years — first, when 13 elms were taken from my street’s boulevard. I was the co-chair for the Lake Harriet Bandstand, president of People for Parks, original board member of both the Midtown Greenway Coalition and Above the Falls Community Advisory Committee. Access for all is critical and I am a proven leader in eliminating barriers. Parks define the quality of life in our city. After all, Minneapolis is a city within a park.

2. NPP2020 funding agreement
The Neighborhood Parks Plan 2020 (NPP2020) is a historic agreement between the MPRB and the City of Minneapolis bringing $11M annually to maintain, repair and replace neighborhood park facilities. A comprehensive equity matrix will be used to allocate the funds in order to help address racial and economic equity across all 160 neighborhood parks. As a commissioner, would you support the current agreement and methodology for allocation of the funds?

Meg Forney
I was one of the lead Commissioners in securing these 20 years of funding for our neighborhood parks by building a large coalition of stakeholders. This historic ordinance, I indeed, support. MPRB inventoried all assets and condition, held extensive community outreach including the City’s elected officials to inform all of the need for consistent and robust public investment. I will continue to steward the plan to ensure families in our most vulnerable communities have high quality parks for years to come. The methodology using data of racially concentrated areas of poverty and asset condition will assure equitable distribution.

3. Equity-based criteria for prioritizing investments
Few would dispute that historical inequities and opportunity gaps persist in America and Minneapolis today. What role, if any, do you think that the MPRB should play in combatting these inequities? What are the pros and cons of MPRB’s equity-based matrix assuring equitable improvement of neighborhood parks as the 20-year funding plan is implemented? As a commissioner, what actions will you support that will actively improve equity in the Minneapolis Park system?

Meg Forney
MPRB has the opportunity to combat racial and economic inequities through the roll out of funding in the NPP2020. The merits of the equity-based matrix is that data drives the decision-making process versus political influence. Tracking impacts to the community such as crime reduction, jobs creation, housing stability and more will guide on-going investments. The interpretation of the data needs vetting and balance. We cannot “anticipate” the outcomes and need to be open-eyed with a diverse lens. Often mono-cultural interpretation can exclude others. So the diversity of staff is critical. Active recruitment of employees that reflect the community is essential.

4. Commitment to the RiverFirst vision
While the Mississippi Riverfront is lined with parkland and public spaces through the Central Riverfront and Lower Gorge, North and Northeast Minneapolis have been cut off from and by the River because of the limited public access in the upper riverfront area. As a commissioner, how would you approach the community developed RiverFirst vision for transforming this segment of the river with new parks and trails as amenities to accessible jobs and homes in this area? What are your approaches to ensuring that nearby neighborhoods fully benefit from its development?

Meg Forney
As an original member of the Above the Falls Citizen Advisory Committee over a decade ago, I am passionate about connecting underserved communities of North and Northeast Minneapolis to the only natural body of water in their community. Everyone should be able to have access to open spaces. The partnership with the Minneapolis Parks’ Foundation’s RiverFirst has leveraged private donated investment above the St. Anthony Falls. In my first term as Commissioner and as MPRB’s appointee to the Foundation Board, MPRB has secured three more miles adjacent to the shores of the Mississippi River for trails and parkland. The addition of connections into these communities is equally important. Broad collaborations are needed to fulfill key accessibility for North residents, such as Federal funding to create a land bridge over Interstate #94.

5. Role of innovative public/private partnerships in the Mpls park system
Due to ever-reducing public funding and a need for specialized expertise, there has been a trend over the past fifteen years of the Park Board leveraging public-private partnerships to better serve the public. These partnerships include in-park eateries like Sea Salt and Sand Castle, the Fred Wells Tennis Center, the Walker Sculpture Garden, Mintahoe Catering, and most recently, the redevelopment of Theodore Wirth Park through a partnership with the Loppet Foundation. With the redevelopment of the upper-riverfront, new park spaces through Parkland Dedication Ordinance requirements, and potential opportunities through the Urban Agriculture Activity Plan there are opportunities for more public-private partnerships.
What are your views on these public-private partnerships? What roles do public partnerships play in activating and funding existing and future park operations? How is public interest protected, and how is community engaged?

Meg Forney
MPRB’s history with not-for-profit partnerships is vast and highly successful in leveraging resources for the greater community. One of the best examples is our over 100 year relationship with the Minneapolis Institute of Arts that sits on MPRB land and receives annual funding via the Legislature through the MPRB. Most recent is the success of Minneapolis Swims in securing funding from the Legislature for the Phillips pool, in an area void of swimming opportunities in a community lacking this life survival skill. The Loppet has taken on all fundraising and liability to construct a facility as well as surrounding infrastructure for year-round outdoor activities, that will be given when completed to the park system. These not-for-profit partnerships are essential to meet the growing and diverse needs of Minneapolis residents. It is imperative to me in my next term to build a park system for future generations by expanding public/not-for-profit partnerships to bring new funding in to maintain our parks. Thereby, limiting the burden on the taxpayers while ensuring open space for all residents. Continual community engagement is essential and beneficial to assure needs are met.

6. Strategies to addresses climate sustainability and improving park ecosystem
With growing impacts of climate change, managing the park eco-system has become more and more important over the past several years. As a commissioner, how would you work with staff to establish environmental priorities for parkland. Do you have any specific climate change/environmental priorities that you would promote beyond those outlined in the Ecological System Plan?

Meg Forney
Our parks’ eco-system is a rich campus for leading in sustainable and renewal practices. I will continue to advocate for educating youth in environmental projects like our Green Team, for infrastructure investments such as solar and wind resiliency, for the State’s B3 (Building Benchmarks and Beyond) guidelines with priorities being heat island reduction, bird safe structures and improving our bio-diversity. Our Tree Preservation and Reforestation Fund should be renewed for continuing investments in trees, still our best weapon against global warming with carbon sequestration.

7. RecQuest and programming
How well do you think the MPRB meets the needs and interests of our diverse and changing community regarding sports and other youth programming? If you think it’s out of balance, how would you propose to make it more equitable? What is the role of a park commissioner vs. staff in this regard?

Meg Forney
The MPRB system is based on when the majority of the recreation structures were built back in the ’60’s and ’70’s. Our population has changed dramatically since then. MPRB’s RecQuest is presently engaging the community to set a vision for the next generation of users. Pairing this vision with the Service Master Plans for each geographic area of the city, should align budget priorities each year. Our Street Reach project is an excellent example of adjusting staffing and effective programming for the growing needs of our youths’ development. Appropriate resource allocation is the role of the Board of Commissioners so staff can implement these aspirations.

8. Vision – Top 3 priorities for next 4 years for district / citywide not being addressed
For the past five years the Trust for Public Land has determined that Minneapolis has the best park system in the nation. Do you agree with this assessment? By what criteria do you hope the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board is measured in the next four years and what steps do you see necessary to ensure that the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board scores highly within those areas? What are your top priorities for the next four years?

Meg Forney
I am humbled by the Trust for Public Land’s top rating which is based on the legacy of over 134 years of an independent park board. Strong continuing stewardship is critical to maintain this rating. A criterion that I would hope we would also excel on is racial equity, with a measurement of percentage of minority staff in relation to our community’s adult population.
The work I’ve done these past three and a half years, has paved the way to take clear steps

  1. To reduce barriers to park access for all
    • by expanding awareness of free and reduced lunches and programming for kids and seniors
    • providing childcare opportunities at Park events to encourage engagement
    • expanding hours at neighborhood parks to provide safe havens for kids
  2. To bring families, kids, all residents closer to our parks
    • by continuing to secure parks, trails and play spaces along the banks of the Mississippi River for North and Northeast Minneapolis and expand connections into those communities
    • expanding the citizen engagement process to bring more voices to the table, letting more neighborhoods decide how to collaborate with their park
  3. To build a park system for future generations by expanding public/not-for-profit partnerships to bring new funding in to maintain our parks to limit the burden on the taxpayers while ensuring open space for all residents.

And, lastly, to assure the public interest is always protected.

9. Balancing Priorities
Our evolving and growing community has a series of needs to be addressed, including affordable housing, connected and affordable multi-modal transportation system, strong employment base, quality parks and public realm, equity and achievement gaps. What is the role of MPRB in these issues, how do the issues interrelate, and as Commissioner, how would you prioritize and balance them in your work?

Meg Forney
Collaboration with multi-jurisdictions is essential for each of these issues and prioritizing and balancing is critical during the annual budget review. The strength of these partnerships will direct their outcomes. MPRB’s Memorandum of Understanding with the Minneapolis School Board has the potential to leverage resources for Equity and the Achievement Gaps. Collaborating with the City, Hennepin County and the Metropolitan Council is critical to establish Connected and Affordable Multi-Modal Transportation by developing safe connections between park trails and mass transit. Affordable Housing could be impacted through tax relief for homeowners within a defined radius of NPP2020 improvements. Legislative action would be needed. Increased funding through the Legislature for youth employment programs is needed for a Strong Employment Base. Quality Parks and the Public Realm will be enhanced with the incorporation of a racial equity matrix for regional parks and funding by the Metropolitan Council should reward this data-driven prioritizing. Continued cooperation with the City of Minneapolis to implement the use of Park Dedication Funds to grow connections and parks in newly developed areas will create Quality Parks and the Public Realm.