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Before boosting pay, Minneapolis Park Board should allow the public to have input

August 31, 2018

In yet another example of elected officials considering raising their own pay, members of the Minneapolis Park Board have discussed increasing their annual stipend from $12,438 to $30,000 to attract more diverse candidates and reflect the work involved in serving on the nine-member board.

In our view, more than doubling pay in one fell swoop would be excessive. But reasonable increases over time are acceptable when theyre proposed and vetted with public input. Should the board take up a formal pay increase resolution yet this year or in the future, it should propose an amount early enough in budget discussions to allow opportunity for public review.

The idea of a pay increase first came up last spring when board President Brad Bourn and interim Superintendent Mary Merrill discussed hiring a board liaison to the public. That prompted discussions about workloads and whether commissioners needed additional staff help or should be paid more themselves. One line of thinking is that low pay has resulted in mostly retirees or high-income candidates running for the board in the past, although it became more diverse last fall when six new members were elected.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board was created in 1983 by an act of the state Legislature and a vote of Minneapolis residents. It serves as an independently elected, semi-autonomous body responsible for governing, maintaining and developing the highly rated Minneapolis Park System. It has an annual budget of $112 million and the equivalent of 957 full-time employees overseeing 6,804 acres and 160 parks. More than half of its budget comes from property taxes.

During the past two decades, the board has approved raises for its members every four to eight years, in a process similar to the one followed by the full-time Minneapolis City Council. At the end of four-year terms, the board has voted on increases for the next incoming board. In 1990, commissioner pay was $6,000; increases over the years have roughly mirrored the average hikes that parks employees have received. Parks officials bargain with seven unions to set employee pay and benefits.

That approach has worked well again only when done in a public, transparent way. The Star Tribune Editorial Board took the City Council to task last year for its failing on that score. Council members voted themselves and the mayor a $10,000 pay increase late in the year and just before passing the 2019 budget. The raises were not on the pre-meeting agenda, committees hadnt considered them and there was no public comment period or public hearing.

In addition to their stipend, parks commissioners are eligible to receive the same health, dental and life insurance benefits as parks employees. The annual value of the health insurance, including premiums paid by board members, is $7,728 for single coverage and $20,328 for a family plan.

Were not suggesting that commissioners never receive raises. However, should they decide to change or update their job descriptions or increase pay, they should do so in full public view. Taxpayers deserve no less.

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