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Brad Bourn claims there's systematic bullying on the Minneapolis Park Board

Brad Bourn, a self-styled social justice warrior, isn't making friends or influencing fellow commissioners.

Brad Bourn, a self-styled social justice warrior, isn't making friends or influencing fellow commissioners.

"Oh dear!"

Those are Arlene Fried's first words when asked about Minneapolis Park Board Commissioner Brad Bourn. Feelings of embarrassment quickly follow for Fried, co-founder of the watchdog citizens group Park Watch.

"This is hard on me," she says. "When Brad first ran I supported and really liked him. But once he got on the board, he changed. It's difficult to explain. He seems to always take an opposing viewpoint just to take it. There's almost like a vengeance to him now and he's become truly unpleasant.... He drives me crazy."    

Others as well. 

People within and outside the board offer similar appraisals. They can appreciate the virtue of Bourn's causes. He's green to the point of envy while voting against the board's annual budget because it shortchanged facilities in some of the city's neediest neighborhoods. 

It's his motivations that are called into question.

"His intentions are good," says Park Board President Liz Wielinski. "His methods are not."

Bourn's rigidity with no apparent end game was on display in 2014 when the board tackled proposing a new tobacco ordinance. There was consensus among commissioners to ban all forms of use, including vaping. Absent from the initiative was enforcement. Minnesotans tend to be law-abiding, they reasoned. Let's pass the ban, give it a year, and then revisit the issue of punitive action if the prohibition fell on deaf ears.

Bourn wouldn't have it. He wanted park police to be able to drag people out of Hidden Beach if they were sucking on a Camel Light. He was at the forefront. It fizzled right there. Today, tobacco regs in Minneapolis parks remain a ragtag compendium that often require a master's degree to understand.    

Fast forward to late last summer.

In August, Bourn threw his fellow panel members under the bus during the Loring Pond zombie weed controversy. The board had allocated $130,000 to annihilate stubborn cattails. They'd cut the intruders three inches below the water line so their hollow stems would flood and suffocate. Where hacking was impossible, they'd nuke them with herbicide.

Again, there was agreement inside the board that chemicals would be necessary, at least in part, to handle the problem. Yet Bourn took to grandstanding solo, writing, "I’ve suggested that during that six-month period, the Park Board place a temporary moratorium on chemical use. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be support for that proposal at the board.”

All the while Bourn was well-briefed that there was no other alternative. But that didn't stop him from playing to the crowd and painting his co-workers to look like the bad guys. 

Patience with Bourn appears to have tapped out last week.  

For about the first 40 minutes of last Wednesday's meeting, the commishes made nice. Superintendent Jayne Miller stood at the podium answering questions about asking voters to approve a property tax increase later this year. The idea is controversial for one reason. It's serious money: $300 million over 20 years that would be put toward Minneapolis' 157 haggard neighborhood parks. 

After Miller had answered a question, the mic belonged to Bourn. He called out commissioners Jon Olson and Steffanie Musich, insinuating that they'd bullied him. "It's really systematic of the bullying nature of the Minneapolis Park Board at times," he said.

Olson started laughing. The meeting deteriorated into a low-grade yelling match. Bourn even asked that Olson be removed.

His charge has left fellow board members dumbfounded. Wielinski even took to research to make sense of the accusation. But the only bully she found was...Bourn.

"Systematic bullying would fit the definition of what Commissioner Bourn does," she says. "Bullies are intentionally trying to harm you and your ability to do your work. Commissioner Bourn has made it perfectly clear to me he's uncomfortable with the path I'm leading as the park board president and will do whatever he can to stop me from getting my work done." 

"I'd say it's more like systematic disagreement with his methods." 

She points to Bourn's online postings, where other park board members who've disagreed with him have been branded as cowardly and disingenuous.

"In the Park Board, like with any government, whoever your enemy is today, you might need them as a friend tomorrow," says Wielinski. "That long-term thinking doesn't appear to be part of his strategy."

Commissioner John Erwin was out of town for last week's gathering. He has watched the video online, though. He's equally flummoxed.

"People on the board are passionate," says. "They can disagree on issues. There's nothing about the Park Board that I've ever seen to suggest there's systematic bullying. Disagreement, yes, but not bullying."

Contacted yesterday, Bourn said "he'd be more than happy" to expound on his comments, but his schedule was packed and he'd call later in the day. He didn't.