I recently discovered that the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) allow members of the public to address their board meetings during something called “Open Time.” Open Time is a 15-minute time slot on the agenda of full board meetings and Committee of the Whole meetings, which are not closed to the public for personnel and litigation matters, that is specifically designated for citizen testimony. Individuals wishing to speak in front of the Board can call 612-230-6400 before 3 p.m. the day of the meeting to be placed on the agenda, or can sign up on the day prior to the start of Open Time.
The MPRB consists of nine Commissioners (one from each of the six park districts) and three that serve at-large. You can find a summary of the Open Time process on the Board Meetings page of the MPRB website at minneapolisparks.org/about_us/leadership_and_structure/board_meetings/.
I live adjacent to Folwell Park and decided to take advantage of Open Time to address some of the ongoing issues affecting our park. I am going to share my experience and pass along some additional information and tips that may help you maximize your time in front of the Board.
Tips – what I learned
My best piece of advice for anyone thinking about participating in Open Time is to attend a board meeting before you present, to get a feel for the place and process, and hear how others handle their time. I was impressed with how prepared and articulate my fellow presenters were, and at the breadth of topics covered.
After my Open Time experience, I realized I had a number of questions about the process, answers for which were not to be found on the MPRB website. So, I spoke to MPRB Office of the Superintendent Executive Assistant John Goodrich to get a clearer understanding of some of the areas.
* I called MPRB the Friday before the Wednesday meeting to get on the agenda, I ended up at the top of the sign-in list and was first to speak. Goodrich confirmed that, as a general practice, calling in to get on the list creates the order of go for Open Time, and that most people don’t sign up very far in advance. However, MPRB may on occasion group people by topic. For example, if a bunch of folks want to talk about the Webber Natural Swimming Pool, they may be grouped together in an order determined by MPRB.
* There is no direction on handouts. I was advised by Goodrich to give my handouts to the secretary, but this might be tricky based on the meeting room set up unless you get there before the meeting actually starts. You can also give handouts to the MPRB staffer checking you in and ask them to ensure the board receives them before Open Time begins.
* Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. The board president will announce shortly prior to Open Time how much time you have to speak based on the number of people signed up to present. This seems to be the only notice you will receive on how long you have to deliver your message. I read the procedures and confirmed with the customer service representative that I had three minutes – “yes, around three minutes.” So, I rehearsed the heck out of a dynamite three-minute speech only to discover that we only had two minutes! The prep I had invested in using a timer allowed me to edit a full minute from my presentation on the fly.
* There were nine people presenting when I spoke, each given two minutes by the president. I asked Goodrich if there was a limit to the number of people that were allowed to sign up for Open Time and was told that no-one had ever been turned away. When I asked if a one-minute time constraint (or less) could be possible, I was told it was “plausible,” since there is no minimum testimony time allotment. Be prepared to talk fast!!
* To try and establish how much time you may have to present; Goodrich confirmed that you can call MPRB and ask how many people have signed up to speak at Open Time (bearing in mind that people can also sign up the night of the meeting).
* When you are called up to the podium, you are asked to state your full name and, if comfortable, your address. You will be speaking into a microphone and a red light/buzzer will go off when your time is up. There is a digital time counter on the wall in front of you. The president respectfully allowed all speakers to finish their thoughts before thanking them for their time. The lack of interaction with your “audience” and the tight time constraint may make this feel very different than presenting experiences you have had in the past.
* I learned that people can bring signs to hold up while you speak to help get your message across and convey solidarity.
* I asked if PowerPoint presentations were permitted, and was told that, logistically, this would be extremely hard, if not impossible, due to the format.
* You are permitted to bring an ASL/language interpreter.
* The meeting nomenclature is confusing and the statement that I found at the top of the board meeting agendas that reads “Meeting times are subject to change based on discussion from previous meetings” suggests that the stated “time certain” of 5:30 p.m. for Open Time may not be quite so certain! As was the case with the recent September 12 meeting. Goodrich said that agendas are posted online the Friday prior to the meeting (click on the ‘View Other Meetings and Agendas’ link on the board meetings page for agendas, minutes and meeting packets). He suggested subscribing to email alerts (see directions at the end of this article). Agendas are also posted outside the board room at the MPRB Headquarters. Or simply call MPRB customer service at 612-230-6400 if you have questions.
* You can expect to read a short summary of your presentation, including your full name and partial address, in the minutes from the meeting. The meetings are also recorded and posted to YouTube (see below for directions).
Why participate in Open Time?
Since Board procedures allow for no debate during Open Time presentations, the experience left me wondering if I had truly been heard by the commissioners, and if I might expect some kind of follow up specifically relating to my Open Time presentation.
While the board may ask clarifying questions, they did not do so during or after any of the presentations heard at our Open Time session, although the president did take the time to refer some speakers, including me, to MPRB staffers in attendance who might be able to assist presenters with their concerns/issue. This was helpful. I also later received a little “thank you” message from District 2 Commissioner Severson.
So, what is the value of presenting at Open Time? Because the current format feels more like a space in which to have a controlled (and very brief!) rant, rather than providing a real opportunity to be heard.
I for one appreciate this opportunity. It builds awareness of your particular concerns for the board and the public who may be in attendance (or listening, since meetings are streamed live). And because your presentation is entered into public record, it helps ensure the commissioners continue to be held accountable for the manner in which the #1-ranking park system in the nation is managed.
Ultimately, if we don’t speak up, take advantage of this and other opportunities to appear in person in front of the MPRB and staff members, then it’s like leaving money on the table. This is about citizen advocacy. You never know who might be listening!
You can sign up to receive emailed agendas (and other info), view live meetings online and view recordings of recent MPRB meetings at minneapolisparksmn.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx.
MPRB Headquarters (Open Time is held at this location, plenty of free parking):
2117 West River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55411
The Commissioner for District 2 (covering the Camden Community area) is Kale Severson.
612-230-6443, Extension 2