Proposal Over Park Board Diversity Fails

Mayor steps in to break 4 - 4 vote

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – It was a long night of debate at Sioux Falls City Council over the future of the city’s park and recreation board. A measure was on the table to require that a majority of board members represent districts in the city, instead of serving at-large. The Mayor had to step in to break the tie vote, but the final decision seems to go against the public’s wishes.

Discussion lasted nearly an hour, with a dozen people stepping up to the podium. Nine of the 12 were applauding a potential change to the Sioux Falls Park and Recreation Board.

“The people who understand our neighborhood parks best are the ones who live near them,” says Zach DeBoer, the vice chair of the visual arts commission.

Currently, the only requirement to be a board member is that you have to live in Sioux Falls.

“Four of the seven live in an area on the southeast district, two live in the northeast and one is in the central,” explains councilor Theresa Stehly.

But Stehly says this doesn’t give everyone in the community a voice.

“What the citizens want and what the parks board want are not meshing together,” she says.

That’s why Stehly spearheaded an ordinance to require five of the seven board members to be from five different districts. However, those opposed say the proposal is a solution to a non-existing problem.

“I keep coming back to what are we trying to fix,” questions councilor Christine Erickson. “What are we trying to fix? Does it matter?”

“It doesn’t solve any issues,” adds councilor Michelle Erpenbach. “It doesn’t solve what any of you have talked about in terms of diversity, it doesn’t.”

Much of the discussion surrounded whether having one person from each district on the board would create ‘turf wars’.

“We haven’t had a turf war in city council and the city council is divided into districts,” counters Stehly.

As well as whether the change would make it harder to fill the volunteer positions.

“There are 40 people on the back log wanted to be on the park board, I think it’s a very popular board,” says Stehly.

While Councilor Stehly doesn’t agree with those arguments, she says the 5 to 4 vote against her proposed change won’t stop her from fighting.

“I’ll be bringing it back, we haven’t seen the last of this,” says Stehly. “We’ve got a new crop of council members and a new mayor coming on board in 10 months, so I suspect this becomes an issue in that race as well.”

Another reason four councilors and the mayor voted no to the change is that the board is only advisory providing recommendations to the administration and city council. So they say if any biases were to come up, the council can shut down a project or contract change.

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