The jury is out on MCWD Board appointments

by Stephanie Helseth
Sun Sailor Newspapers

The 11 applicants to the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District Board of Managers will have to wait at least another month before learning which of them will fill the Board’s two open seats.

The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners has been discussing the watershed district board appointments for the last several months, taking into consideration each candidate’s background and even their past and current involvement with the watershed district.

At the March 17 Board of Commissioners meeting, Commissioner Jan Callison suggested the appointments, which were scheduled to be considered that day, be pushed back to a future meeting at which all commissioners would be present.

With two Commissioners expected to be absent at the March 31 meeting, the final decision about Minnehaha Creek Watershed District Board appointments is now expected at the Board of Commissioners April 14 meeting.

Callison opened the discussion to the rest of the Board March 17, inviting commissioners to voice their concerns, or lack thereof, in making these appointments.

Commissioner Linda Higgins said in considering who to appoint, she hopes the Board will take into consideration both the fact that there is drama on the Board but that good work does come from the group.

“We have gone through this appointment process for a lot of Boards … and yet this is one that I really think we need to be as thoughtful as we’ve ever been,” Higgins said. “It’s a Board that’s got some drama that goes on, but it’s also a Board that does really good work when it sets its mind to it and important work.”

Commissioner Marion Greene added to Higgins’ point in saying she’s fighting an internal battle in deciding who she wishes to see fill the seats.

“For me personally, I’m balancing a desire for perhaps some change but also some continuity on the Board and also a wish that if the team does change it’s not considered an indictment or confirmation of some of the more nasty allegations that have been thrown around,” Greene said. “I do think this is a particularly tough one.”

Minnehaha Creek Watershed District Board of Managers President Sherry White and Treasurer Jeff Casale are both up for reappointment, with terms ending this month.
With the county’s decision to delay the appointment process, White and Casale will continue to serve on the Board until a decision is made. Both White and Casale applied for reappointment.

William Becker, Tom Casey, Richard De Los Santos, Tom Fletcher, Tom Geng, Dennis Libby, Kurt Rogness, Kristine Sundberg and Mary Ann Van Cura are the other nine applicants.

Callison, who has been approached by Minnehaha Creek Watershed District Citizens Advisory Committee members in recent months about allegations of dysfunction on the Board, took a chance to explain four things she is keeping in mind through this application process at the March 17 meeting.

First, Callison said she believes the Board’s action to dismiss former District Administrator Eric Evenson-Marden was within the power of the Board and she does not want to encourage anyone to think it should be reversed.

Secondly, Callison said she believes the dysfunction at the watershed stems from one side of the dispute, and the fact that White and Casale are both up for reappointment and share similar viewpoints “limits my ability to make the changes that I think are appropriate and are most likely to get the watershed beyond this point.”

Callison continued to say she appreciates the volunteers who serve on the county’s boards and commissions, and that those people should not have to “endure the character assassination” that seems to have occurred at the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District.

Lastly, Callison offered some insight into the type of people she wishes to see fill the empty seats: those who have positive relationships with the watershed already.

“Any new manager must be able to work impartially and constructively with all managers. I question the value of putting someone new in place if that person’s past involvement with the watershed or current associations make that outcome unlikely.”

Minnehaha Creek Watershed District Communications Director Telly Mamayek said this is not the first time the Board of Commissioners has delayed appointments – it happened as recently as 2012 when White was first appointed to the Board.

Minnehaha Creek Watershed District Board Managers serve three-year terms.

Contact Stephanie Helseth at [email protected]