- Associated Press - Friday, November 27, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - As debate picks up over whether a lake should be named for a proponent of slavery, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has affirmed its authority to make changes and a key agency official has advised Hennepin County to conduct a public hearing to discuss the matter.

The Star Tribune (https://strib.mn/1NSrZYm ) reports that the controversy over the name surfaced in September when the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board voted to add Lake Calhoun’s original tribal name to area signs after activists said the name Calhoun is offensive. Lake Calhoun was named for John C. Calhoun, a former U.S. vice president from South Carolina and proponent of slavery.

Questions had arisen after the board’s legal counsel advised that it has no authority to change the lake’s name.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources clarified the legal question this week when it affirmed it has the authority to change lake names -subject to federal approval- even if they’ve been in use more than 40 years.

But Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who supports a name change, suggests that there’s no community consensus yet. The law specifies that Hennepin County must hold a hearing on the topic if 15 voters sign a petition requesting the change. However no such petition has surfaced, despite an online petition that has drawn wide support.

Although the state DNR commissioner has power to approve name changes, the parkland around Lake Calhoun is owned by the Minneapolis Park Board. Minneapolis Park Commissioner Brad Bourn and petition organizers argue that the board’s opinion will be influential both if the county takes up any naming petition and with the DNR.

Views on the Minneapolis Park Board, which would play an influential role in any change, also vary widely.

Minneapolis Park Commissioner Brad Bourn has favored a name change while others, like Commissioner John Erwin argues the city’s racial or ethnic groups should get a voice in the matter. Meanwhile, Commissioner Anita Tabb opposes it outright.

“I don’t know where you end,” Tabb said about changing features named after figures who have fallen out of favor. “I don’t want to judge yesterday’s people by today’s standards.”

Bourn suffered a loss on the issue last week, when his proposal to ask the state Legislature to enact a name change failed on a 2-2 committee vote.

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Information from: Star Tribune, https://www.startribune.com

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