West St. Paul City Council meeting

City Council Recap: Feb. 10, 2020

Thanks to Cherokee Service for their support.

After the last West St. Paul City Council meeting’s record attendance and three-and-a-half-hour length, this week’s meeting was shorter and calmer (well, a little calmer). Tonight’s accomplishments included a housing rehab program and a proclamation for Black History Month.

Black History Month

For perhaps the first time ever, the West St. Paul City Council recognized Black History Month. The proclamation read in part:

“Black Americans have played significant roles in the history of economic, cultural, spiritual and political development while working tirelessly to maintain and promote their culture and history … much of the city of West St. Paul’s honor, strength and stature can be attributed to the diversity of cultures and traditions that are celebrated by the residents of this city.”

Black History Month proclamation

Council Member Wendy Berry, who advocated for the proclamation, said, “It’s central to understand that black oppression still exists today, and I think celebrating Black History Month should continue to remind us that black lives matter.”

For more on Black History Month, the Dakota County Library has a series of events exploring black history, culture, music, and more—including several specifically focused on black history in Minnesota. There’s also an event this week at our Wentworth Library on spoken word and hip-hop culture, featuring artist Frank Sentwali.

You can also explore black history in West St. Paul with our feature on the late Jerry Cotton, the first black sheriff’s deputy in Dakota County.

Housing Rehab

West St. Paul is launching a pilot housing rehab program with NeighborWorks. With only $50,000 budgeted for home improvement loans, it’s a small first step. The program will target a small area in the north end of ward one, limit loans to certain exterior and systems improvements, and cap loan amounts with a minimum of $5,000 and a maximum of $15,000.

The low-interest loan program is designed to compliment existing county programs, which have lower income requirements.

Complaints

While this week’s Council meeting was calmer than the last one—when an estimated 350 people packed city hall—there were still some tense moments as residents complained about harassment at the last meeting and a lack of city response.

Council Members Lisa Eng-Sarne and Wendy Berry both said that staff is addressing potential safety issues. Mayor Dave Napier defended his handling of the meeting and encouraged anyone concerned to contact him. He also expressed his support for the work of Women of West St. Paul.

Council Member Dick Vitelli defended the mayor’s handling of the meeting and last week’s vote. He later added that he wanted to hear about issues with the police department, stating:

“I personally have never, ever, ever heard of anyone who has a problem with the police department.”

Council Member Dick Vitelli

Recent examples when concerns with the police department were raised include:

  • Last May, on two separate occasions, female residents came to the City Council with their concerns about the police department.
  • During the 2019 police chief hiring process, the city created a 137-page report summarizing community feedback—which included concerns that “people have felt officers were disrespectful and alienating” and “many marginalize[d] citizens have felt they have not received the same treatment as conventional groups.”
  • In 2018, a rash of screws in tires that primarily targeted women resulted in frustration with the police department’s response.

People may disagree with the validity of issues raised, but it’s inaccurate to say there have been no problems with the West St. Paul Police Department.

A male resident then challenged Vitelli, saying that if you don’t hear concerns, it might be because people don’t trust you with their stories.

Other Notes:

  • Appointments: Mayor Dave Napier reappointed Morgan Kavanaugh and Dan McPhillips to the Planning Commission. (To learn more about what Planning Commission does, see our interview with Kavanaugh.)
  • Public Safety Committee: The Open Council Work Session (OCWS) reviewed the work of the Public Safety Committee, a sub-committee composed of three council members and staff. Their work included recommendations for sidewalk/crosswalk priority, the housing rehab program, and a parking restriction on Kathleen Avenue (recommended by a resident at a recent City Council meeting). Much of the discussion focused on the scope of the committee and went in circles around whether a “public safety” committee should include housing issues and whether or not the entire council should have input or if it’s more helpful to have a smaller group tackle specific issues.
  • Carrie Street: During the debate over the Thompson Oaks apartments, residents raised concerns about traffic on Carrie Street. The Public Safety Committee addressed these concerns and reported back during the OCWS, recommending no action at this time. Current low traffic counts on Carrie Street and projections after development in the area don’t warrant any action now, though they want to reassess after the development is complete.

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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