West St. Paul city council meeting

City Council Recap: June 10, 2019

Last night’s West St. Paul city council meeting had a relatively light agenda. The biggest issues of the evening were sales tax and the process for hiring a new police chief.

Sales Tax

Last November West St. Paul voters approved a half-cent sales tax. The legislature and Governor Tim Walz signed off, giving West St. Paul the go ahead to start charging a sales tax.

Council passed the first reading tonight and it comes back on June 24 for a second reading and public hearing. If all is approved (and it should be), the sales tax will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

The tax is expected to generate $1.3 million per year and can last for 20 years or until $28 million is generated, whichever comes first.

The money will go to pay for street improvements without incurring debt, allowing West St. Paul to pay down the debt from the Robert Street project. This revenue is a massive step forward in helping the city address financial issues and avoid large property tax levy increases each year.

New Police Chief Hiring Process

The other major issue that came up at city council was the process for hiring a new police chief. Former Police Chief Bud Shaver retired in May after serving in the West St. Paul Police Department since 1988 and as chief since 2005.

During the Open Council Work Session (OCWS), City Manager Ryan Schroeder outlined the issue for council. It’s important to note that as a charter city, the sole responsibility and power to hire lies with the city manager. There is no requirement for input or approval from council or the community. Whether or not to accept input or approval from anyone is entirely up to the city manager.

Schroeder outlined several possibilities, including a full internal/external search, hiring internally, and simply hiring the interim chief. He also outlined a process to get community input, including online surveys and in-person focus groups.

City council members offered their input, with most expressing their confidence in the police force and in Schroeder. However, there was an even split with three council members (Wendy Berry, Lisa Eng-Sarne, and John Justen) talking about hearing concerns from constituents about recent issues and wanting transparency in the process—and the three other members (Anthony Fernandez, Bob Pace, and Dick Vitelli) claiming not to have heard anything from the public about issues with the police.

At the previous two city council meetings residents expressed complaints with the police department during citizen comments. There’s also been an ongoing issue with targeted vandalism and harassment and victims have been frustrated with the police response. Locally and nationally there has also been an ongoing conversation about the use of force by police—a somewhat tangential issue, but an important leadership consideration.

While the process for hiring a new police chief was not on the agenda for the official city council meeting, five people addressed the issue during citizen comments. They called for a transparent process, public input, and a chief that reflects the community.

If you’d like to give input into the process for hiring the new police chief, you can contact City Manager Ryan Schroeder.

Other Notes

  • One person’s treasure: The city is removing the word “junk” from an ordinance banning unsheltered storage.
  • Bike rodeo: Council member Lisa Eng-Sarne reminded the community that the Bike Rodeo is this Saturday, June 15.
  • State of the City: Mayor Dave Napier will deliver the State of the City address at Dodge Nature Center on Thursday, June 27 at 8:30 a.m.

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. You can also watch this meeting online.

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