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.
1) 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?
First, I plan to govern in a manner that doesn’t infringe on people’s rights or access to organize on behalf of their community. Second, as an educator and technical assistance trainer within government, I will be the type of city council member that will update the public on current issues the CIty Council will vote on as well as the factors that will go into my own vote. I am in favor of the idea of our new trash system, yet understand the many complications it has caused for multi-unit households and residents on fixed incomes. My vision to resolve our trash issue is to create an accountability system between Waste Management and the City of St. Paul prior to the end of the contract. In the next four years, I will continue to identify areas of adjustments and bring these solutions to my colleagues and the Mayor.
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 have learned the importance of active listening and identifying the root cause of the frustration. The people of Ward 1 are very diverse. We have different life experiences that shape our most pressing needs. I have learned the art of inclusivity and embraced the skill of listening and learning before leading. The people of Ward 1 don’t want handouts and surely don’t need more promises from their elected officials, they want someone who is open-minded, transparent, and committed to prioritizing their concerns.
2) 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 people of Ward 1 are diverse in backgrounds, race, religion, and social-economics. Although we have the richest diversity, we also have the worst racial disparities. The root cause is institutional racism, political and economic disenfranchisement, and special interest. As a city council member, I will govern in a manner that is loyal to people and not special interest. I will bring my lived experience as a person of color impacted by institutional racism and will share this experience to the conversation on housing, public safety, and more. I will govern with three questions at the forefront of my decision making: is it accessible to everyone, who benefits and who doesn’t, and does it address racial disparities?
As an activist, educator, and leader in our 21st century civil rights movement, I bring a type of leadership that is different from all candidates based on my ability to challenge the status quo boldy and aggressively. The people of Ward 1 are tired of politics as usual and deserve leadership that is strong, bold, and authentic. I was inspired to run because there wasn’t anyone on the council that shared my story, voiced the concerns of families in crisis, or saw interest in doing something different. I am running to make a difference in how our city connects people to local democracy.
3) 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?
In the 21st century, many cities around the country are envisioning ways to improve public infrastructure and utilize technology to create more resilient and inclusive of differently abled communities. I will urge our Mayor to develop a comprehensive strategy to modernize and improve mobility in the City of Saint Paul thats inclusive of seniors, people with all abilities, and children. We need safer street signage to decrease car accidents and injuries while people are commuting to their destination. We should also better promote community engagement and highlight opportunities to include artists and designers in the construction of renewed public infrastructure such as sidewalks, bridges, and roundabouts. I will support this vision by researching model pilots and projects in other cities that might be applicable to our Saint Paul community.
Last year, Mayor Carter enforced an one-sided parking ban after record-breaking 40 inches of snow in one month. Our public works department continues to work over-time hours during our winter and battles extreme weather conditions. I will advocate to improve the Public Works Department and evaluate changes to the winter calendar to schedule more snow plows outside of the current winter window between December and March. I will also urge our budget best reflects a stronger investment in better technology to report issues to public works in a more efficient and user-friendly way. I also support community-based initiatives to engage residents in neighborhood clean-ups and further promote programs that empowers residents to take pride in beautifying their neighborhoods.
4) 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?
The City of Saint Paul’s population and jobs are growing while our revenue is not growing at the same rate. Property taxes are increasing because the cost to run our city and continue public services is increasing. Therefore, I will use my skills and relationships with several State Senators and Representatives to lobby the state for an increase in LGA funding to resolve our $50 million budget deficit. I plan to prioritize my first year as city council member to examine the efficiency of our current appropriation of funds before voting to approve another tax levy. I will also have a strong focus on addressing the challenges many residents living in poverty will face and will support our multiple departments especially Financial Empowerment Department to best serve our residents struggling to cover higher cost of living.
5) 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?
I see a great urgency in utilizing a payment in lieu of taxes program. I will also work to strengthen partnerships with our faith based organizations and large non-profit organizations.
6) 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?
I plan to take a both/and approach to discussing high-tension city plan on police funding, major road construction, major development projects or concerns on how funds are being used. The city of Saint Paul also doesn’t have an auditing process, so I plan on evaluating the use of our tax dollars and creating a mechanism that measures the effeciency of the dollars spent to run our city. I am excited to get uber focus on creating solutions and working with our Mayor to put the people of Ward 1 first.
7) 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?
As a survivor of gun violence, I have a deep commitment to advocating for policies that will reduce the number of gun crimes in our community. We must work to expand the Community Ambassador program which connects young people with caring adults and provides grief and mental health counseling services for victims of crime. We also need to increase our investment in community leadership to address concerns at a grassroots level. The person closest to the problem is closest to the solution. We must value input from those directly impacted and center their voice in the work to end violence. We can not arrest ourselves out of cycles of trauma and generational poverty. We must take a holistic approach to safety and invest in equitable practices and policies that promote healthy ways to resolve conflict and provide support to families in tragic times. I plan to support advocacy groups and faith-based organizations that have a long-term commitment and relationship-based approach to addressing violence.
8) 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?
There are many people and organizations that are building the movement we need to advance tenant protections and I stand in support of these groups and plan to leverage my authority at city hall to recognize and help support their efforts through co-governance and lobbying at the capitol.
I am proudly endorsed by Minnesota AG Keith Ellison and will promote the need to hold our landlords accountable and host community engagement sessions on tenant privacy and protection rights inside of Ward 1.
What is the city’s role in providing for homeless citizens?
I believe the city can do more to build and preserve our homeless shelters. Our city can also create policies, practices, and initiatives to remove the stigma of the homeless as well as decriminalizing homelessness amongst communities of color. The city can do more and I anticipate on championing this cause to address homelessness in a humane and restorative approach.
Can you work to loosen zoning rules so that we can have triplexes, multiple tiny houses on one lot, etc.?
This is an issue that many coalitions and homeowners are organizing to make happen. I am a strong supporter of more housing that is safe, sustainable, and affordable. I believe we should incentive landlords to keep their rents cost down after major renovations.
How can the city promote affordable housing? How can the city promote market rate housing?
Lived experience is the best type of experience when addressing our issue with affordable housing. Ward 1 needs the type of leadership that is directly impacted and has agency and influence. I am the only candidate who has experienced how our policy decisions here in Saint Paul are displacing low income families of color. During the implementation of the Green Line, inequitable policies and practices enacted and enforced by the City of Saint Paul pushed my mother, three brothers and myself, at age 16, out of our home and into a life of poverty for many years. Ten years after that experience, I am running to work with public entities as well as private and community organizations to uplift concerns and voices and bring about equitable action for families.
The need for deeply affordable housing requires an aggressive and comprehensive approach. We need to require a percentage of newly constructed housing be attainable to those at or below 50 percent of area median income AMI, along with deeper affordability being at 30 percent of area median income, by using federal funding and aid from a diverse set of partners. As city council member, I will take a more comprehensive approach to protecting our affordable housing and integrating our city departments to ensure stronger housing rights for all.
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 creation of new jobs?
I had the pleasure to connect with a few of the new employees working in the Office of Financial Empowerment and support the Mayor’s vision on helping families with financial literacy, savings, and credit scores. This type of city services is the foundation to helping residents grow out of poverty and on a pathway to generational wealth building. I envision these services supporting families become home-owners and being stakeholders in our housing stock. I envision these services creating more opportunities for participants to secure employment in the city and fulfilling our many vacant positions. This is a vision that will regenerate the local economy we need to fully fund the city we deserve.
10) 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?
As city council member, I will establish a consistent relationship with our coalition of housing stakeholders, community district councils, and renters/homeowners to ensure an equitable and inclusive process of transparency. It’s time to maximize on the funding we already have and ensure funding such as CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) to reach our low-income homeowners to stabilize our homes and our community. As a renter, I will continue to be a resident-centered voice that will advocate for our residents needs and work aggressively to identify barriers to affordable housing and bridge the resources and tools to expand access for our most under-resourced communities.
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