West St. Paul Ward 2 City Council forum with Anthony Fernandez and Robyn Gulley

West St. Paul Ward 2 Candidate Forum Live Blog

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Tonight is the Ward 2 candidate forum. These forums were organized by the Women of West St. Paul, Residents of Color Collective, and the WSP Greenway Project. The forum is moderated by Ben Geiger.

You can watch live via Zoom during the broadcast. Or look for the archived forum video to be posted soon on the West St. Paul Candidate Forums Facebook page. Or watch it here:

Who’s Running?

Here’s our 2020 voter’s guide.

Live Blogging

(Most recent updates first)

8:42 p.m. Closing Remarks

Gulley: If elected, I’ll work to make our city more livable and accessible. I’ll do that by engaging our community. I want to bring more art, community gardens, and improve our public spaces.

Fernandez: I think continuity is important. I think policy is important. We have a lot going on, we need to keep that going. We need public and private experience to do that.

8:39 p.m. Question #14: What do you believe West St. Paul have to offer that our neighboring communities do not, and how do or would you promote that?

Fernandez: We’re more diverse. A human rights commission is a way we can work to get the right resources. Affordability is a challenge. We need to add infrastructure. I compare us to Richfield, they’ve done a good job of connecting their city, adding affordable housing and making it all work. People need to embrace our diversity.

Gulley: We have affordable housing and affordable homes, which is unique. We have an engaged community, willing to help. I like that we’re a bit of a hidden secret. But seriously, I think we could do a lot with our social media, like Minneapolis’ #bragminneapolis.

8:35 p.m. Question #13: How can we bring more art to WSP?

Gulley: We need to find our artists here in WSP and then have the resources to help them. We also need to start community gardening.

Fernandez: Some of these blank walls, I’d like to approach business owners and ask about a mural. There’s Springboard for the Arts, it has to be community-led. We saw something at the art park, that’s a prime example. We’re hoping to have art at the Gateway project. It’s needed. We have this kitschy, unique community. We’ve got a vibe here.

Rebuttal:

Gulley: Love to see more murals. Engaging organizations is key.

8:31 p.m. Question #12: Do you question/challenge staff?

Fernandez: I question staff on various things, but it’s not always in the public eye. Televising our Open Council Work Session was important because we give direction to staff there. Staff is questioned all the time.

Gulley: I’m a passionate person, I question everyone about everything. It’s important to hire the right staff. Job of Council is to get community feedback and engage staff on those questions.

8:29 p.m. Question #11: Will you lobby at the capitol?

Gulley: Yes, it’s important to build these relationships. I was actually at the capitol and did testify on behalf of the city.

Fernandez: Just because somebody doesn’t go the capitol and physically sit there doesn’t mean they’re not doing anything. Not efficient for the whole City Council to do that. It’s important to do whatever we can.

Rebuttal:

Gulley: I hear what you’re saying, but it’s important to have people show up and we didn’t have a lot of people there. Respectfully disagree.

Fernandez: “That’s speculative, but OK.”

8:22 p.m. Question #10: What three things can we do for ward 2?

(Going to questions from the chat)

Fernandez: Walkability and bikeability. Pool. We probably need to take it over and do something about it. I don’t want to lose it. We’re seeing damage in parks, I don’t know the answer to it.

Gulley: My answer will sound similar. Walkability and bikeability. Finishing River-to-River Greenway. Affordable housing—making sure it’s safe and affordable. Parks and public spaces. Getting state funding to build a community center.

Rebuttal:

Fernandez: In the last year we changed the sidewalk assessment policy to city-wide, that helps as we add sidewalks. Park dedication funds can help. I’d like to see a pickle ball court somewhere.

Gulley: I agree with treating sidewalks as a city wide issue.

8:18 p.m. Question #9: What is your opinion of West St. Paul’s rental density ordinance?

Gulley: We need to focus on how we protect people and keep them safe. We have a lot of apartments and a lot of them are in poor shape.

Fernandez: [rips a sheet of paper] That’s what he wants to do the ordinance. The worst ordinance on the books. Enacted because people were scared of renters coming in after financial crisis. Creating consternation between homeowners and renters is ridiculous. There’s part of it that’s racially motivated.

8:11 p.m. Question #8: West St. Paul has an active community of volunteers. What will you do as a city council member to connect them with opportunities to improve the city?

Fernandez: There’s a menagerie of things. Before the pandemic wanted to do something with 1010 Dodd. It’s identifying things like that and finding people with expertise and see what we can do. We’re starting to install art. We have buildings that are blank canvases. We need to find our Banksy.

Gulley: We do have great volunteers here. Shout out to Green Thumbs. Want to see supporting community gardens, art—we have talent, we just need to start by having the conversation. I’ve heard from seniors that they need help maintaining homes. We could organize a group of people to help our neighbors stay in their homes.

Rebuttal:

Fernandez: Helping neighbors gets overlooked all the time. It’d be great to have a call in, a little know how goes a long way. We did enact a housing rehab program.

Gulley: I hope whoever gets elected, we’ll be able to do that.

8:07 p.m. Question #7: Recent polls show that public concern about climate change is increasing. Describe some steps you feel the city could and should take to become more environmentally sustainable and resilient.

Gulley: Saw our Council push hard to get Dominium to make the building more environmentally friendly. Unfortunately, they did it at the very last minute. I’d like to see us push for that earlier in the process. This is the most important issue of our generation. We have a great Environmental Committee, but we don’t listen to their recommendations.

Fernandez: The walkability and bikeability is number one. With our bus routes we often don’t have a sidewalk. In terms of developers, it’s not always financially feasible. What we can work on now is connections. Want to ask Gulley when Council didn’t listen to Environmental Committee.

Rebuttal:

Gulley: Members of the committee have said they don’t feel listened to. They’ve proposed change and it hasn’t gone anywhere. As for financial question, if not now, when?

8:03 p.m. Question #6: It is very likely that there will be a decrease in state local government aid, or LGA. How would you deal with a revenue shortfall? Would you increase taxes or would you cut programs?

Fernandez: That’s the challenge, you need something specific to look at because it depends. It’s tough to say without specifics. We’re going to have to make tough decisions.

Gulley: It is hard to answer without specifics. We have seen cuts to local aid. We need to work with our representatives on the state level.

Rebuttal:

Fernandez: We’ll have to do more with less. That’s why I propose things like the quarterly local issues meeting. We have large organizations in our city and haven’t tapped into them. Maybe that’s smaller items on our list that we can keep from cutting. We haven’t done a good job asking.

7:57 p.m. – Question #5: There is a movement in a lot of cities to restructure their police budgets, such as redirecting some resources to community support rather than punitive enforcement. Do you think the city should change the way it approaches and funds law enforcement, and why?

Gulley: Starts by giving credit to West St. Paul Police Department. Highlights relationship building happening with Night to Unite. But notes some community members don’t have that same relationship and don’t always feel safe. Wants to learn from community and other cities what we can do better. Also need to work on the state level.

Fernandez: No change. Currently our police are cutting edge. We already send social workers out. We’ll get better at it, but we’re already doing what they’re talking about nationally. We’re the most over-worked police department in Dakota County. Nobody’s perfect, but we’re open to change, open to listening. Wants to know if Gulley wants to change budget, his answer is no.

Rebuttal:

Gulley: Don’t need to change the police budget. We do need more resources for mental health. We had a hostage situation on our block, the police took the person into custody safely, that was encouraging to see. But I do have friends who have concerns. There’s always room for improvement.

Fernandez: Social workers and psychologists long term will require a budget change.

7:51 p.m. – Question #4: What creative ideas do you have on how West St. Paul can attract more diverse businesses (and minimize redundant businesses) going forward? How can we be more proactive in encouraging individuals or companies to move or start those businesses in West St. Paul?

Fernandez: This is hard because it’s market-driven. Need to work with local businesses and have a quarterly meeting. Getting people together is how you encourage more small business. We can’t force people to open businesses here, but we can provide opportunities and tools.

Gulley: COVID-19 has been hard on business, but we do have a lot of thriving business here. Highlights home-based businesses on her block. We are limited in what we can do, but we can support. There were grants available, but not for home-based businesses. It starts with engaging the stakeholders. Would like to see a small business committee.

Rebuttal:

Fernandez: That’s what a quarterly business meeting would do.

Gulley: I’m glad we agree on that. Background as organizer would help with that.

7:46 p.m. – Question #3: What, specifically, have you done or what will you be commit to doing if elected, to personally reach out to, build relationships, and involve renters, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other marginalized groups in your ward and/or in West St. Paul overall? How will you go about it?

Gulley: Nothing about us without us. We have a responsibility to engage our whole community. Gone to every door in ward 2 and plans to do it again. Leaves cell phone and email, encourages people to call. City website could be multi-lingual. Could do more work on social media to raise city’s profile. More community meetings and surveys.

Fernandez: Create policy and create opportunity. Wants to start a human rights commission, brings those groups together and talk about what’s hindering their lives. Need to talk about what to do and put plans and budget behind it.

Rebuttal:

Gulley: Highlights the way she brings these groups together: Spent years working on marriage equality. Done a lot of voter registration in apartment buildings. Worked alongside people with disabilities.

7:40 p.m. – Question #2: Tax increment financing, or TIF, has been a controversial topic in the city of late. What criteria would or do you use to determine if it’s appropriate to grant to a project, and how would this affect your decision on future developments.

Fernandez: Not even at 3% for TIF. Most cities are 5-15% across the metro. We have room for expansion. Looks at quality of the companies.

Gulley: Like Council Member John Justen, been concerned about the TIF projects. Concerned about Dominium’s human rights and labor record, contrary to what Fernandez says. They have a record of not being great. Concerned about size and length of TIF. Who benefits and who decides? What she’s heard from community is that it won’t benefit and they weren’t heard. Building trades said we were overpaying and being taken advantage of. While these are projects we need, we need a more holistic approach.

Rebuttal:

Fernandez: Giving TIF and building a community center are two different things. TIF is how things happen. Not sure how long we want to sit with Kmart in blight. Hears the opposite from residents, they’re happy something is happening.

7:35 p.m. – Question #1: What prompted you to run for West St. Paul city council?

Gulley: Been an organizer for a long time. Decided to run because of the Dominium project and our Council’s discussion of repealing prevailing wage ordinance.

Fernandez: So much opportunity this city needed to embrace. Still need to do that with projects like the Dominium project. Need lots of connections in the city, from sidewalks to roads.

Rebuttals: Gulley says we disagree and she’s heard from residents that they didn’t get a voice. Fernandez says the project is happening and is good for community and it’s unfortunate Gulley is against it.

7:33 p.m. – Opening Statements

Anthony Fernandez: (Nice Zoom background) Running to keep the momentum moving forward. Brings a unique perspective as a former Planning Commission member.

Robyn Gulley: Love living in WSP. Feel lucky to raise kids here. Union family, believes strong unions make strong communities. Make our great community even better.

7:15 p.m. – The forum starts at 7:30 p.m. You can watch live via Zoom during the broadcast. We’ll share what we can as it happens, so keep refreshing to see more.

More:

See our 2020 voter’s guide and full 2020 election coverage for more.

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