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Last night’s West St. Paul city council meeting had over 40 people in attendance and was the second longest council meeting in the last year. The length and public interest was primarily due to a lengthy citizen comments session and an unofficial public hearing over returning basketball hoops to Haskell and Oakdale Parks.
Basketball Hoops Return
After more than an hour and 15 minutes of discussion and testimony from 18 residents, the city council voted 4-1 to return basketball hoops to Haskell and Oakdale Parks on a trial basis.
We already detailed the history and issues involved in the basketball debate, and the discussion didn’t stray far from those particulars. In 2005 and 2006 problems including gangs and drug use prompted the removal of hoops in Haskell and Oakdale Parks. Residents who lived near the parks and remembered the problems of more than a decade ago were adamantly opposed to bringing back the hoops. Other residents, including some who also live near the parks, argued that things have changed in the decade since.
While neighbors gave compelling testimony about the problems of more than a decade ago, none gave evidence that those same problems would return today. Police calls on parks in the rest of the city don’t show anything close to the problems of 2005.
Perhaps the most indelible story came from Council member Lisa Eng-Sarne who recounted visiting the parks and talking to parents. One parent told her a story of a child playing basketball in the parks and shooting the ball at an empty hoop.
With Council member Anthony Fernandez absent, the measure needed four out of five votes to pass.
Council member Dick Vitelli reiterated his stance against hoops, arguing that the parks are too secluded (the Haskell court is about 350 feet from the street; the Southview and St. Michael’s courts are about 300 feet from the street) and too small to support basketball (Haskell is 4 acres, Oakdale is 1.5 acres; Emerson, which has full-court basketball, is 1 acre). Vitelli also argued that we haven’t budgeted for this expense (the backboards and signs will cost approximately $2,800).
Council members Wendy Berry, John Justen, and Lisa Eng-Sarne all argued in favor of the hoops. They acknowledged the issues neighbors faced in the past, but also expressed trust and hope in the community.
The vote came down to Council member Bob Pace, who in the past expressed his refusal to support the hoops. He acknowledged Fernandez’s absence and that the measure would pass if Fernandez were present. Pace did argue for coming up with a plan to deal with any issues and define when the problems become so bad that the hoops need to be removed again. This issue was not addressed, but presumably could be taken up by the council (or the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee) in the future.
Ultimately Pace voted yes, and the measure passed.
- Police Problems: During citizen comments, a woman detailed a complaint with how the West St. Paul Police Department handled an assault against her son. She says her son has a concussion and no charges have been filed. The woman reported recording the encounter with the officer, where he covered his name and badge number. Mayor Dave Napier promised to get to the bottom of it and directed City Manager Ryan Schroeder to connect with her. Two other residents spoke up for the woman, though the first was interrupted by Council member Dick Vitelli, who asked the mayor if we should allow this to continue. Mayor Napier defended the right of citizens to speak and allowed the resident to continue. This is the second council meeting in a row where a resident has complained about police response.
- The Next Police Chief: With the retirement of West St. Paul Police Chief Bud Shaver last week, a resident detailed the hiring practices of Mendota Heights, Farmington, and Inver Grove Heights, cities that have all recently hired police chiefs. Police Lt. Brian Sturgeon is serving as interim chief. According to the South-West Review, “City Manager Ryan Schroeder said West St. Paul is currently putting together a process to find a permanent chief, which will begin in June.”
- Supporting Veterans: Council member Pace applauded the work of the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Network, which supports service members, military families, and veterans.
- Greenthumbs: A resident praised the work of the West St. Paul Greenthumbs, a garden group that has recently flourished and some members have volunteered planting donated flowers in the park signs around the city.
- Safe Parking: Council member Eng-Sarne noted that the parking lot in Southview Square has been repainted to address some of the issues and thanked residents for bringing it to the attention of the city.
- Thompson Park: There will be a celebration to mark the completion of the Thompson Lake Restoration on June 9 at Thompson Park. It will be part of the annual Take a Kid Fishing event.
- Good Eats: The Farmer’s Market will open June 14 at Signal Hills. It will take place Fridays through the summer from 8 a.m. to noon.
Fun fact: At 2 hours, 24 minutes, this meeting was the second longest meeting in the last year. The longest meeting in the last year was Nov. 26, 2018 at 3 hours, 46 minutes, when the Garlough site plan, HyVee, and Wentworth reconstruction all dominated the agenda. And no, the famous May 14, 2018 meeting when 150 people showed up to speak out against sexism is not the longest. That meeting clocked in at 2 hours, 7 minutes—a time kept short mainly by a light agenda.
City council meetings are open to the public and generally held on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 6:30 p.m. (this meeting was held on Tuesday due to the Memorial Day holiday on Monday). You can also watch this meeting online.