The Minneapolis Park Board commissioners are scheduled to meet January 5 to establish a citizen advisory committee (CAC) that will discuss a new dog park for the city’s Sixth Park District. Proponents want it at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, while opponents prefer it be installed elsewhere.
“We are opposed to that plan and are seeking to stop it,” pledged Sandra Richardson, who facilitated a meeting last week that was attended by an estimated 20 citizens at Sabathani Community Center. Now called Citizens in Action for Martin Luther King Park (CIA for MLK), the group wants the proposed CAC to be more inclusive, hold at least two public meetings, and consider other sites in the Sixth District.
“We support the need for an off-leash dog recreation area,” but not at King Park, said Charles Mays.
Richardson said she attended the public meeting held September 2 at King Park to discuss the plan (“Blacks, Whites divided over dog park’s significance,” MSR, September 9). “It was almost that all of the people who were in favor of the [dog] park were White, and all who were opposed were African Americans,” she recalled. “It was a painful meeting for many of us.”
Art Serotoff, who is not Black and also opposes the King Park dog park proposal, said, “I was at the meeting in September” and “thought they had a slam dunk until other members of the community found out about it.”
“Our children are using the park and are there all the time,” added Shannon Jones, whose children regularly play at King Park. “It was like we didn’t exist or we don’t matter enough because we’re not dog owners. I think children should come first.”
Safety “is one of my main issues,” said Jones. “I don’t want to make this a racial issue.”
Ray Daniels said that people who claim that opposition to the issue is racially motivated “truly don’t understand the reasons” why he and others don’t want the dog park at King Park.
However, Richardson argued that the dog park proponents have succeeded in getting the commissioners’ attention. “The people who want the dog park at Martin Luther King have been active for over a year to try to make that happen,” she explained, while the opposition has only more recently begun to organize.
All nine commissioners were contacted by the MSR for comment. Commissioner-at-Large Bob Fine did return our call and left a phone message, but he did not respond to the follow-up message left on his phone. No other commissioners responded.
The dog park proponents “seem to be two or three steps ahead of people who aren’t on the dog park side of things,” said Jones. Richardson added that now that the group has a name, “I think it means more when you present yourself in an organized fashion when you are dealing with institutions.”
Richardson and other dog park opponents contend that they aren’t “dog haters,” one of several misconceptions about those who oppose the dog park. “We like dogs,” she declared.
Nor should the King Park dog park opponents be stereotyped as just a bunch of old people. “It’s about people having a voice in our community,” noted Minneapolis MAD DADS Director V.J. Smith.
“If it weren’t for the seniors here at Sabathani, I wouldn’t have known anything about it,” added Jones. “As a parent, I have not received one letter…or any communications about it.”
“I just want the [Park Board] to be mindful of the other side’s concerns as well,” said Adair Mosley.
“I’m inspired by the energy and the commitment of the people in the room,” remarked Serotoff.
Park Board officials should listen to all parties pro and con, said Minneapolis City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, who has met with both sides of the dog park issue. “That is the role of the public official — to listen” to both sides.
Given their frustration at having been largely left out of the process thus far, do the CIA for MLK members feel that the decision on the King Park dog park proposal is already a done deal no matter what they do?
“I think part of me kind of feels like they’ve made their choice and they are going through the motions,” admitted Jones. “If that’s the case, I am really sad about it, because it is going to contribute to a racial divide that wasn’t apparent until the dog park came up.”
“I truly hope there’s room for adjusting the decision,” said Serotoff.
Noted Richardson, “I think you can’t have a done deal if you just listen to one side.”
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.