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In West St. Paul municipal election this year there is a race in each ward for City Council and a mayor’s race. We’ve asked the candidates a series of questions to see where they stand on the issues. We’ll share one question and the responses at a time leading up to the election. See our full details on where and how to vote in West St. Paul.
Here’s the first question:
What are the two to three key issues for West St. Paul to address in the next two years?
We posed this question to all candidates (with one exception, noted below). Here are their responses:
Candidates for Mayor
Kimetha “KaeJae” Johnson
The major issue is forming a deeper connection and engagement in all communities within the city. Second issue will be to create stronger ways to support our small businesses while making the community more diverse.
1) Financial Stability: We must adhere to our current debt-relief plan. We have carefully developed a multi-year plan to bring down the debt related to the Robert St. project. Progress is being made and we must not jeopardize it. The financial challenges stemming from the pandemic will have to be continually monitored.
2) Public Safety: We need to provide the resources necessary to maintain the highest level of training for our police officers. It is crucial that we work together with our neighborhood groups to build strength in our community.
3) Economic Development: We must continue to advance our strategic initiatives when it comes to the development of Robert Street, Smith Avenue, Thompson Oaks Property and other potential development sites.
Candidates for City Council Ward 1
We need to further prioritize diversity, inclusion, and equity initiatives in our City. We can start by participating in the League of MN Cities GARE (Government Alliance on Race and Equity) program. WSP should improve diverse and equitable hiring and training, add diversity guidance for business and community partners, and build an inclusive culture that welcomes all of our residents.
By 2022, we will have added 1200+ apartment units. Over 50% of our residents are renters. Renters are the backbone for WSP’s businesses, both as employees and customers. We need to create a Rental Housing Plan that includes updated rental codes, develop tenant protections, and provide owners with resources to help them fund improvements. We need to include renters in our committees, including adding members to Public Safety and Economic Development Authority.
With the effects of COVID and the recession, we face continued, significant challenges. Our business owners, their employees and our neighbors are impacted by job losses, declining incomes, and rising stress levels as we are trying to manage to a new normal. Business and community representatives should be added to our Economic Development Authority. In addition, we should hold business/community discussions 2-3 times/year to hear their ideas. We need to identify the right business projects and partners to create a balanced business portfolio that aligns with our 2040 Comprehensive Plan. We also need to engage and communicate with our residents to keep them informed about opportunities for them and their families.
First, we need to continue to strongly support redevelopment projects in the city and improving the business climate along Robert Street and throughout the city. A strong commercial sector gives the city the opportunity to keep residential taxes in check and also helps in reaching our budget goals.
Second, I believe we need to continue to improve our streets, sidewalks, trails, and parks. It is important that we seek out all possible avenues to help fund these projects to help keep the burden off the taxpayers.
Third, I want to ensure we continue to support our public safety departments and fully fund their operations to keep our residents and businesses safe.
Candidates for City Council Ward 2
Public Safety: I serve as Chair of the West St. Paul Public Safety Committee. We all want to live in a safe community. I support fully funding our Police and Fire Departments. I have voted in favor of budgets that fully fund our police and fire, including the addition of body cameras for our police. Through my work on the Public Safety Committee, we have made progress improving coordination between the Council, residents, and our Police Department. We have addressed problem properties with creative solutions to improve neighborhood safety, such as buying the problem property 210 Logan, rehabilitating it, and selling it to a new owner. I have also attended numerous community outreach events run by our police department such as minority youth outreach programs at Henry Sibley High School. But we have more work to do. I propose we implement a citizen advisory committee that can provide direct citizen driven direction to the Police Chief to ensure residents have a seat at the table.
Infrastructure and Budget: We have made a lot of progress towards stabilizing our budget and cash reserves that is so critical for our ability to bond for future infrastructure improvement projects. The debt from Robert Street means we have limited ability to bond for amenities that we want to see in our community. However, with the implementation of the current financial management plan, our city’s finances are on a strong path to recovery. I fully supported, along with the rest of the Council, the implementation of a pay-go policy for infrastructure projects to ensure our cash position and credit rating of our city continues to be strong and improve. The Robert Street project is completed, but we must ensure we continue to maintain it properly for years to come. We do not want to have a situation where we need to redo Robert Street again before the current debt is paid off. That is why I am in full support of funding maintenance and beautification efforts. Robert Street is the economic engine of our city and it is critical we maintain it in a way that will make our city proud. As to city streets, sidewalks, and trails: I have fully supported numerous projects that have improved our city streets, added new sidewalks connections and trails. I want to ensure that as we grow and add residents that our new development projects are supported by pedestrian infrastructure. Our current Bike-Pedestrian Plan from 2011 needs to be updated. I support working towards an updated Bike-Pedestrian Plan with a consultant in order to align our goals with current design standards, community values, and input, which will then become the policy guide for the coming decade. We update our comprehensive plan every 10 years, we should do the same for our infrastructure plans as well.
Economic Development: I have served as Vice President of the West St. Paul Economic Development Authority (EDA) since 2017. During my time as EDA Vice President I have supported a wide variety of redevelopment projects that have improved our city’s tax base and overall business climate. I was a strong advocate and supporter of the HyVee project that will begin construction this Fall. In addition, the EDA has supported many business improvement grant requests across the city. I am proud to have voted in support of the many redevelopment projects in town since 2017 such as Dunkin’ Donuts, FoodSmith, 252 Marie apartments, Thompson Oaks redevelopment, Sola Salons Studio, and Southview Square improvements. I look forward to continuing the redevelopment momentum we have made along Robert Street, including proposed plans for Town Center 1 and Signal Hills. I also voted in favor of our 2040 Comprehensive Plan, the Robert Street Renaissance Plan Update, and the Smith-Dodd Small Area Plan and subsequent overlay district. These plans were created by planning professionals, developed through an extensive community input process, and supported by staff, our planning commission, and unanimously by our City Council. These plans provide a strong backbone and guide to improving West St. Paul into the future and I will continue to ensure they will be followed. In my next term as your representative on the City Council and EDA, I will continue to support and seek ways to draw new small local businesses and further connect with our business community and members of the South Robert Street Business Association. I propose we implement monthly local issues meeting between the city, local government representatives and the business community to better connect our city to the business community.
The three key issues that we need to address in West St. Paul are inclusion, accessibility, and livability.
We have an incredibly diverse city, but we have a lot of room to grow when it comes to bringing everyone into conversations about our future. This year’s recognition of Pride Month and Black History Month and the banning of conversion therapy were all big steps for our city. But there is so much more that we can and need to do. When I am elected to City Council, I will immediately push for us to break down language barriers that impede participation. In particular, at the very least, every City Council meeting, the city website, and all official communications from the City should be available in Spanish. I will also push for our city to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday and I will help to organize community meetings and events that bring more voices to the table.
Accessibility is another place where we have room to grow in West St. Paul. Walkability is important to our whole community. But for thousands of residents with limited mobility, reliable sidewalks, ramps, and safe public transit are lifelines. I am a passionate advocate for seniors and people with disabilities and I will do everything I can to support infrastructure that empowers everyone to be independent and active in our community. In addition to sidewalks, ramps, and transit, our kids with disabilities have waited long enough for an accessible playground and I will make bringing one to our community a priority.
Finally, I will prioritize livability here in West St. Paul. That means supporting community gardens, public art installations, pollinator-friendly landscaping, and boulevard trees. We are a creative, innovative, thoughtful, and engaged community. We have great people with great ideas. Our work is to bring new voices in, empower them, and support them bringing these ideas to life.
Candidates for City Council Ward 3
Some of the most important issues to address in the next two years are items that may not be the most glamorous to discuss, but are the bread and butter of what keeps a city running at its best! First and foremost, we have to prioritize maintaining high-quality and efficient city services for citizens and businesses in West St. Paul. We will continue to look at areas where we can streamline and create partnerships with neighboring cities to create more efficiencies in service.
Another key issue is the repair and improvement of aging infrastructure—this means our roads, sidewalks, and wastewater systems. The successful passage of our local option sales tax has helped us utilize a pay-as-you-go model for street improvements, allowing us to press on with important repairs in a way that decreases the impact on the city budget. It’s important to continue making these improvements and seeking outside funding, while maintaining an affordable community to live in. I also include sidewalks in this prioritization but will include more in my response to a future question.
We also must continue to make improvements in the way we engage our community members that will foster greater inclusion of all citizens, participation in the process of local government, and consensus-building. I will do this by being an active and engaged council member to everyone in Ward 3. Generating engagement isn’t necessarily about planning the best meeting with the best cookies (at five different time slots) to bring everyone to the table, but about being available to your constituents, being willing and ready to go to them, and creating meaningful relationships that make engagement a natural part of our roles—and I have the ability to do this well!
(no campaign site)
[Per a request from David Meisinger in 2018 threatening to report me to the police for harassment if I ever contact him again, I did not ask Meisinger this question and therefore have no response to share.]
Vote on November 3
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. The West St. Paul city website has details on where and how to vote. You can also vote early with an absentee ballot, either by mail or by stopping at the Dakota County offices. See our full details on where and how to vote in West St. Paul.
See our 2020 election coverage for more on where the candidates stand.
Thank you to the candidates for taking the time to respond to my questions.
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