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Mayor Rybak wins one in battle with predecessors over park board power

In a battle of the mayors, score one for Minneapolis Mayor R.T.

In a battle of the mayors, score one for Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak over two of his predecessors, Sharon Sayles Belton and Don Fraser.

A Hennepin County judge ruled Thursday that an effort by citizens groups to put forth a ballot effort that would have given the Minneapolis Park Board greater autonomy from City Hall politics was unconstitutional.

The measure, which was opposed by Rybak but supported by Sayles Belton and Fraser, was shot down by Hennepin County District Court Judge Cara Lee Neville, who declared that the proposal was “manifestly unconstitutional.” The state Constitution, the judge said, requires that only the state Legislature can create separate units of government.

The issue of who controls the parks — the city or the Park Board — has been brewing ever since efforts were made last spring by some members of the City Council to give it more authority over the Park Board.

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An organization of citizens concerned over future control of the parks quickly put together a referendum that seemed to have considerable community support. That referendum was to have appeared on the ballot in November. But the city attorney’s office squelched the effort, saying the proposal was unconstitutional. Citizens for Independent Parks took that decision to court but again were blocked by the judge’s decision.

“We are deeply disappointed that Minneapolis voters have been denied the right to determine the future of their parks, lakes and open spaces,” the organization said in a statement following the ruling. “ . . . We intend to appeal this decision and believe that the courts ultimately will give the citizens the right to decide.”