By Charles Hallman
Since the MSR’s January 4 article “Black employees call Minneapolis Park Board a ‘toxic workplace,’” Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) officials say they have already undertaken significant changes to the organization’s “internal climate” and there is more to come as “we…acknowledge and address our shortcomings.” Some workers fear the changes will be superficial and fail to go far enough.
MPRB board and staff recently received an environmental and organizational analysis interim report by a local consulting team. The report, originally scheduled to be completed and released in April, confirms the findings of a six-month Minneapolis NAACP probe into employment conditions at the Park Board among Black employees.
“Unfortunately, many of the deficiencies and issues noted are not new but have been present for years,” admits MPRB Superintendent Jayne Miller in a January 25 cover letter to the report.
The 11-page report identifies current issues that “require immediate attention by everyone in the entire organization… It is not an overreaction to describe the MPRB as demoralized internally — where employees across racial and ethnic lines feel stymied in their ability to effectively meet job responsibilities.”
The reports recommendations include developing strategies to address culture issues, building a strong human relations department, reinstating a diversity council and strengthening and supporting the community outreach department.
“To fix this situation will require a laser-like focus” by MPRB officials, the report surmised. As a result of the report and NAACP investigation, Miller has set up a series of 10 employees’ meetings, which began January 26 at various MPRB locations around the city. She “and at least one Board member” will be in attendance “to hear…concerns, opinions and suggestions,” she wrote.
However, several Black and White MPRB employees told the MSR last week that these meetings are “being jammed down our throats” and are nothing more than having them “forced to confess” their concerns in an open setting. The employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of employer retaliation, said, “We don’t want to go [to the meetings] because you are going to hear the same old stuff.”
A White Park Board maintenance worker said, “They’ve got managers there [in the meetings] that people are afraid of or mad at. People aren’t going to speak openly about what’s going on, because they are afraid of retaliation. The managers that I have — they will retaliate on you. They are sitting there taking notes.”
Although the workers say the MSR article “was a shock” to many top MPRB officials, they add that the organization “is still toxic.”
“They fired [former human relations head] Karen Robinson — wow! But I feel it’s back to business as usual,” said one employee. “I want them to be serious about making changes.”
“From the NAACP standpoint, we are extremely concerned that employees are still feeling that it is a toxic work environment right now, even though [the MPRB] have taken few positive steps in the right direction,” said Minneapolis NAACP President Booker T Hodges, who has met with Miller and MPRB President John Erwin several times recently to discuss an “organizational complaint process” for all MPRB employees.
“This has to be a process that everyone can participate in,” Hodges told the MSR last week. “Hopefully we can get this process moving.”
Changes the workers strongly suggest to improve the MPRB workplace include firing several other officials who they see as a “longtime cancer” to the organization: “They need to get rid of some people in management and hold them accountable for their actions. Getting rid of that one person is not enough.”
MPRB employees “who are on the front line” need to be more consulted and respected by supervisors and upper management, the employees told us. They also want to see “an equal opportunity for Blacks and other people of color be hired by unbiased individuals. Qualified people should have the opportunity to move up and not be judged by whether or not someone in management likes them.”
Hodges admits that more immediate changes must occur at MPRB, including putting an end to “unequal” firings and reprimands. “Our hope is that the Park Board will continue to take steps to address [concerns]. Systemic organizational change is not going to happen overnight.”
The MSR spoke briefly with MPRB Superintendent Miller February 6 before going to press with this story. Asked for her thoughts on the series of employee meetings currently underway to address their concerns, she said, “They are really going well.” She said of the meetings with NAACP President Hodges, “They are really productive.”
Regarding some employees’ skepticism about the open meetings, Miller said she “respects and understands” that not everyone will be comfortable speaking in an open setting, but she has offered each employee the opportunity to contact her personally either by letter or by setting up a time to meet personally and share any and all concerns that they may have. “I am open to hear” from them, she said.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.