For many years streets.mn has published questionnaires for candidates for local office in the Twin Cities so that our many interested readers can make better informed decisions when they participate in local political races. This year
I am focusing on the Saint Paul Ward 1 Council race. The questions were compiled from community member inquiries in my Frogtown neighborhood.
The questions were compiled from a community member survey, edited for tone/brevity, and forwarded to candidates. Candidate answers were not edited or fact checked in any way. These are the answers of the candidates themselves and do not represent my personal opinion or the opinion of streets.mn as an organization.
All disclaimers aside, this survey would not have been possible without the generous contributions of inquiries from Patricia Ohmans, Bonnie Kristian, Pat Larkey, Amir, Jon Whitling, Jennifer Whitling, Judi Gordon, and Danielle Swift, and Daniel Choma. Thank-you to Greening Frogtown, The Frogtown Neighborhood Association, Karen Larson of WFNU-LP Frogtown Radio, and the administrators of Frogtown Neighborhood Facebook Group as well for promoting the survey.
The issue of coordinated trash in Saint Paul has been especially contentious in the past year. Originally implemented by Mayor Coleman, A petition of over 5000 Saint Paul residents (nearly 2% of the population) was presented to Mayor Carter asking that the city put the question of whether or not municipal trash collection continues on the November ballot.
The city denied the referendum arguing that a referendum to request the city to break its contract with haulers wouldn’t be appropriate. 3 residents then sued the city in pursuit of adding the trash question to the ballot. The Supreme Court of Minnesota recently ordered the City of Saint Paul to put the trash question on the ballot.
As a candidate for city council, what is your vision for how garbage should be collected in the City of Saint Paul?
Regarding the balance of city decisions, democratic ideals, and the public good: Is there anything that potential council members should learn from Saint Paul’s recent implementation of municipal trash? If so, what?
I believe there should be organized trash, but I don’t see this being affordable in the nearby future because the trash consortium has a monopoly, which means the haulers can seek a higher bidding price, less flexibility, and no quality control measures. I believe the city should provide the service themselves.
The recent trash debacle is an example of poor leadership on the current mayor and city council. The taxpayers money has been spent to fight the lawsuit, in addition, Castro’s initial ruling allowed the city to renegotiate the contract before the referendum comes to passage. It ultimately comes down to the city not admitting any fault and/or wrongdoing.
The key aspect for any organized system to be successful, the process needs to be transparent to everyone. Listening sessions doesn’t really equip citizens on how they can influence policies and often they are not given any real power.
What are the root causes behind why the City is not moving the needle on racially equitable outcomes? How will you challenge the status quo to bring equity to communities of color and low income?
The root causes are a combination of poverty, housing, and poor leadership. Most people of color live in high density housing and/or impoverished communities, which poses risk in community safety. Poverty offers an assortment of problems ranging from access to resources, capacity to take care of themselves, and intergenerational trauma. There are other systemic injustices involved. Though my key criticism would be placed on leadership, not empowering the poor to be more involved and take care for the community. If you ask politicians, why are POC not being involved, they will use poverty as the justification/excuse. This problem is that it creates a self-feeding loop, where they give up reaching out to community members.
I did a detailed post explaining how district planning councils can fill the gap in getting community members involved, the context is how can we get community members involved in the district planning council board?
“Who is responsible for citizen inaction? Is it the citizens and/or the organization?
There is responsibility from both parties. However, one of the primary functions of district planning councils is community/citizen engagement. If the organization is “intentionally” inadequate in reaching out to the community, it creates a negative feedback loop leading to inaction indefinitely. For example, the organization will say residents are not interested in being involved, while residents may be unaware that they even exist and/or do meaningful action. Impoverished and/or transitory neighborhoods are more likely inactive, as residents have less leisure and education than their wealthier counterparts, but it should not be wielded as an excuse. This setup tends to strongly benefit the persons in charge because they can stay in power indefinitely and seek more funding, while having no accountability.”
From the words/ethos of Malcolm X, we need to give power back to the people, and have people have the capacity to learn and build their own communities rather than be at the mercy and complicity of government aid. The government can aid in this process.
What is your vision for essential city services such as street repair, plowing, and other public works related municipal services?
Furthermore, the city is responsible for many of the streets in Frogtown. Can you get roundabouts installed in key intersections like they have in Midway?
What is your vision for biking and pedestrian infrastructure on city streets? Regarding mobility, what will you do to support individuals who are differently abled?
A) Our streets need to be in adequate shape to assure that additional costs are not pushed to residents whom incur damages from poor condition of roads. The funding of streets should be more appropriately applied for those actually using the roads
B) Sure, but it’s going to be more difficult in respect to how to fund it. For any funding options, I would want the community engaged and invested in the decision such as beautifying the structure. I was in the meeting held by community members, where we talked city councilmember Dai Thao. Essentially, they cannot do anything because PublicWorks does not have any money to do this work.
C) The infrastructure should obviously be good; the bike paths/lanes should be primarily in locations not competing in areas of heavy traffic; similar to the Greenway in Minneapolis. For differently abled folks, we need to be able to disabled parking as well as just maintain the streets.
Due to increases in property values, property taxes have gone up at a higher rate than the rest of the city in Frogtown. How do you see this effecting the community and what plans do you have to mitigate possible adverse effects of this increase?
Frogtown becomes unaffordable for persons with fixed income. This will simply lead to displacement, increase in rental prices, and eventually gentrification. We need to address why are taxes going up, and how to fund services through other means if necessary.
Saint Paul has more non-profits than average, contributing to a greater number of land parcels within city limits that do not contribute to the tax base. As our city grows, our need for public services grows with it. Do you see a future need to change how we tax non-profits in order to make sure our budget is financially sustainable?
We cannot tax them directly unless we change the federal code, but I get your point. There should be creative ways to do a “right of assessment” for street maintenance as they are effectively using the roads for free. I believe we should work with the non-profits in part of a housing/ service initiative and work with charities in matching funds. We could also approach more coercive methods to get money from them, but it should be appropriate to their capacity to pay i.e. funding
Saint Paul as a city has “strong mayor” format. Because of this, the mayor’s office has a unique ability to set policy for the city. As a council person, when is it appropriate to push back against mayoral policies and when is it appropriate to work with the mayor?
My answer can be quite long, but I think broadly we should apply the principles of local government finance: equity, appropriate funding tools for respective project goals, and most importantly, a transparent process in engaging and informing residents on what is being decided upon. It’s appropriate to work with the mayor if he/she follows the appropriate policy.
What is your vision for community safety in the City of Saint Paul? How does the Saint Paul Police force play into that vision of community safety? How do community policing principles such as requiring beat cops to walk the neighborhood instead of driving around in cars plan into your vision? In what ways does your vision of safety reduce gun violence?
I believe that community safety is a human right. My vision for community safety is neighbors coming together to keep their neighborhood safe and build relationships with each other. We can use open-source crime data to find recent hotpots, and have community members respond/ protect themselves accordingly. I believe we can greatly reduce crime activities to do and give them a sense of belonging in the community. It is important that we built respect with officer, while also holding them accountable. Principally, gun violence will decrease when there is a decrease in gang violence and recruitment. Finally, the requirement of having beat cops will cost additional money, and there would be less officers on active duty. It may be a more appropriate role of the community ambassador to play as beat cops.
Minneapolis and Saint Paul are experiencing a well-documented housing crisis. The problem is large in scope as many people live on our streets, tenants report experiencing unfair treatment from landlords, and people who have lived in neighborhoods for a long time are being forced by market forces to move.
How will you advance tenant protections in Ward 1 and across the city? What is the city’s role in providing for homeless citizens? Can you work to loosen zoning rules so that we can have triplexes, multiple tiny houses on one lot, etc.? How can the city promote affordable housing? How can the city promote market rate housing?
I believe Community Stabilization Project is doing a good job; in informing tenants on their rights; and we can follow Minneapolis lead in decrease tenant screening limitations via ordinance to increase further access to housing. We can loosen zoning laws, but we should be careful on how it is implemented as opportunistic landlords will take advantage. I believe that Ward 1 is the process of becoming gentrified. If we continue to not address community safety and lowering property taxes, community members will leave the neighborhood, opening up for gentrifiers.
The city can provide resources and shelters for the homeless, but we need to acknowledge that we have fixed limited resources to be able to support them adequately. The homeless population has increased after the shut-down of mental health facilities. To reduce costs on the city, the city can implement a fund with other charities. It is important to note; that many poor families are moving toward the inner suburbs because the city is becoming unaffordable. There is plenty more that I can discuss, but will put a pause here.
9) Regarding economic development and jobs, what is your vision for the city’s new Office of Financial Empowerment? Furthermore, how can the city support local businesses in pursuit of the creation of new jobs?
To be honest, I don’t think the program is well-designed, and financial literacy will benefit those that are situationally poor, such as immigrants. Many people in poverty don’t just lack resources, but also experience intergenerational trauma, which can be self-medicated with usage of illegal drugs. As mentioned earlier, we need to decrease spending and that will require allocating resources that help people the most. Financial empowerment, should be taught in high school.
The city can support local businesses by removing outdated policies and encouraging businesses to hire locally, which builds relationships for all parties involved.
St Paul district planning councils receive nearly $1.5 million in public funds. They all operate independently as 501.c3s with minimal oversight from the city. Should St. Paul conduct an evaluation of the effectiveness and accountability of district planning councils? In what ways can the district council system be improved?
I have a detailed article going over this question directly. You can view it here. St. Paul should evaluate all the district councils and see if they satisfy the criteria to receive the designation to be a district council. The funding is based primarily toward community engagement, and one method to see if this is effective is a competitive and diverse board.