MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Next week, Minneapolis voters will choose from almost two dozen people running for one of the nine seats on the board that governs city parks, lakes and trails.

But what is the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and what else does it do?

‘Unusual’ Function Of Government

The board is made up nine commissioners, six representing local districts and three at-large seats. These positions are chosen by voters and then the commissioners choose a superintendent to lead the group.

It functions as a semi-autonomous body with its own budget and police department, and it has ability to enact ordinances and buy and sell property, according to the city charter.

Last year, the board decided to allow permitted homeless encampments in city parks for people displaced by the pandemic and civil unrest, which sparked controversy.

That Minneapolis voters independently elect these commissioners makes the city unique. Doug Linkhart, president of the National Civic League, said he isn’t aware of another city that has the same structure.

“Many cities have a parks commission or commissioner where parks are treated a little differently than other departments,” he said. “It’s very unusual to actually elect commissioners of a parks board.”

Lisa Hondros, who is on the advisory board for nonprofit The Trust for Public Land, said she has previously volunteered for campaigns in past elections and acknowledged that sometimes there is confusion among voters about what the board does. These races are often more low-profile than those for mayor and city council.

“[The board] is keeping things up, maintaining things. You should care because you want to have a say in that,” she said. “You want to elect people who share your values and what you think should be happening in the parks with the great deal of money they have to spend.”

Budget: Where Does The Money Go?

The Park and Recreation Board’s has its own budget of nearly $130 million.

The board governs, maintains and develops 6,800 acres of local and regional parks, trails, lakes, playgrounds, and other recreational amenities like golf courses.

But it also funds youth programs like job readiness and skills training, and violence prevention. It’s also responsible for recreation centers and their services, which includes children in kindergarten through sixth grade.

There are 550 full-time employees and 1,150 temporary employees under the leadership of the superintendent.

All of the details of the 2021 budget can be found here.

Minneapolis’ park system is ranked among the top in the nation, according to an analysis by the Trust for Public Land.

Caroline Cummings