West St. Paul mayor forum with Kimetha "KaeJae" Johnson and Dave Napier

West St. Paul Mayor Candidate Forum Live Blog

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Tonight is the mayor 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 Robert Pilot.

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)

7:11 p.m. Closing Statements

Napier: As a lifelong resident in this city, we’ve invested a lot to make WSP special. We have more to do, but it’s a great place. Our infrastructure is improving. We’re getting the missing link in a regional trail. We need to capitalize on that. We need to make sure our parks are safe. We’ve done so much in the last eight years since I’ve been on council. I want to give a shout out to all the previous councils, all the council members and mayors I’ve worked with. I want to see this through for everyone who has come before me. I believe in WSP and put my heart and soul into it. Let’s celebrate our success by planning our future.

Johnson: It’s 2020, we need to change. The status quo is not acceptable anymore. In the last eight years renters have been ignored, communities of color haven’t been heard, don’t feel safe coming to city hall. We haven’t had anyone who speaks for the unheard communities. We need to be a city that’s dynamic. I’ll show up and be in the community—I’m already there. I’m that leader. I can’t do it by myself, but I can do it with you.

7:07 p.m. Question #16: What will you do to built the city’s sustainability and resilience?

Napier: Need to make sure we get through COVID-19. I think we’ve done a fantastic job keeping things balanced, but it could easily go south on us. We need to make sure we’re financially stable. Resilience is bouncing back from two state of emergencies—I don’t know when WSP has ever had a state of emergency. I believe we came out of it in great shape.

(Almost skipped Johnson)

Johnson: We’ve come out of some hard things, with COVID-19 and George Floyd. We need to bring in shared resources from the community to make sure we’re sustainable. Community gardens, produce market, etc.

7:04 p.m. Question #15: Would you commit to a resolution for the state legislature to pass a Local Option for ranked choice voting?

Johnson: If it’s something the city has agreed to, then yes. I’m a supporter of ranked choice voting. I don’t know if it’s the best fit for the city, we need to hear from the community.

Napier: I wouldn’t be heartbroken if the primaries went away. It would save some resources that the candidates spend. But I don’t know if I’m ready to support it at the state level, but I think the conversation needs to happen there and not at the city.

7:02 p.m. Question #14: If you do not win the election, what will you do for the betterment of the city?

Napier: I can’t sit still, so I’d be involved in something. I could never walk away, so I’d be involved in something in the city. You’d see me a lot.

Johnson: I’d do the same thing I did before I ran for office, and that was getting on the ground with the community and organizing. I’d continue to do that work and bring proposals to the city and continue to move the city forward. I’ll do that work no matter the result.

6:58 p.m. Question #13: Talk about running meetings, especially high-conflict meetings.

Napier: The biggest thing I bring to the table is to stay true to the process. Stick to the agenda. I’m a big believer in bringing people together to walk through issues. We try to work through things in the work sessions and they tend to be very productive. My biggest strength is bringing people together and finding solutions that fit the whole community.

Johnson: I’m the staff director of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, so I have experience running high-conflict meetings. I’m an organizer. Bringing people together is what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years.

Napier: I took a lot of the experience I gained from running the youth hockey program. It’s important to have someone who can create that synergy.

Johnson: I built and delivered a leadership program for 90,000 union members, so I have that experience on a large scale. It’s what I do.

6:56 p.m. Question #12: How would you bring more art to WSP?

Johnson: Continue to work with the communities who are already bringing art. Let’s talk about the artists we have here. We already have it, we just have to bring it out. I love the art park project. Community connections.

Napier: Through our committees. Through the art park project. Maybe out of that comes a committee. Maybe we bring more art to other parks and work with our school district. Minneapolis and St. Paul have art all over the place and we can bring that into our city. As KaeJae said, we have tremendous artists in our city and would probably enjoy being on a committee. I’m all for it.

6:53 p.m. Question #11: When WSP was trying to get funding for Robert Street several council members went to lobby at the capitol. Would you lobby at the capitol?

(We’re going to chat questions now)

Napier: I did it many times, and there are cities lined up and everyone is testifying. It’s critical for us to get out there and fight for that revenue. I was up there half a dozen times over the course of two years for Robert Street. The money is there, you have to go fight for it. I’m willing to do that anytime we need it.

Johnson: Absolutely. There’s power in numbers. Collective voice, showing up. That’s what you’re supposed to do. There’s no other way to do it.

6:48 p.m. Question #10: What is the most important challenge facing WSP and what do you plan to do about it?

Johnson: Outside of COVID-19, it’s racial issues. We’re quiet about it. We need to have those conversations. We need to create a racial justice committee. When you walk into city hall it should be inviting. We can talk about COVID-19, that’s a big issue, but how are we helping the businesses who are afraid to come into city hall.

Napier: COVID-19 has been a challenge and it’s not over yet. I don’t want to see more businesses closing. Our biggest challenge is to keep moving the city forward and keep taxes low. We need to keep our finances at a stable level while growing. We have aging infrastructure we need to deal with. If money doesn’t come from the state to pay for these projects, we’ll have to pay for them somehow. We have to pay off the debt on Robert Street—we’ve dropped our debt by $7.5 million in my year and a half in office.

Johnson: I agree about taking care of the budget. But you can’t do any of that without deeper connections in the community. Whatever you do with the budget won’t help people on the ground.

Napier: All I can say is we’re doing a lot and working hard at it.

6:42 p.m. Question #9: How can the city improve access to affordable housing?

Napier: We work closely with Dakota County. They’re well-versed on affordable housing. They’re currently working on a project on Annapolis and Robert. We’re running out of space, so maybe we need some grant programs.

Johnson: We have to be willing to close the gaps in equality. We need to look at the renter density ordinance. The city’s understanding of affordability doesn’t match with reality. We need programs to help renters move from apartments into homes. (Refers to the sponsored post here about her community policy ideas.)

Napier: I agree with KaeJae on that. Any time you can get people from renting to homes, that’s awesome. Dakota County has programs that do that. Half our population is renters, we’re doing a good job.

Johnson: We do have 50% renters, but that’s not a good thing when half of renters are struggling. We have them, but what are we doing to help them? If you want to make this city diverse and inclusive, we have to stop looking in one direction. We better start taking care of the renters we have because more are coming.

6:40 p.m. Question #8: Is spending on parks/trails coming at the expense of community safety?

Johnson: It shouldn’t come at the expense of public safety if we’re doing it right. We need walkability. We need more sidewalks. We should be surveying the community to make sure we’re meeting needs.

Napier: That is not the case. The police need the resources and I’ll make sure they have it. But it doesn’t come at the expense of our sidewalks. New suburbs have sidewalks built in from the beginning, but we don’t have that. If you look at the north end there’s sidewalk, but they were never done fully in the city and we need to do that. We’ve been trying to catch up, but it’s expensive so it goes slowly. We have a plan to get it done within 10 years. Sidewalks and trails build strong communities.

6:34 p.m. Question #7: Should the city manager be the only one with power to hire/fire the police chief? Should we have a citizen oversight board?

Napier: That’s how our charter is set up. Should we look at changing? I’m always interested in looking at change. I think it’s a good system, but doesn’t mean we can’t have oversight. I think the city manager needs to build their own team. If that team isn’t doing what the citizens want, then the Council needs to address it. A citizen’s oversight committee is a great idea.

Johnson: The current chief is doing a great job. That’s not something we need to change. But I will advocate for a citizen oversight committee, but it has to include everyone: People of color, renters, homeowners, people who understand mental health issues. We have to make sure it represents West St. Paul.

Rebuttal:

Napier: We have a public safety committee that meets right now. We could expand that into an advisory committee where we can have all communities represented. You can get a lot of important work done that way.

Johnson: We also have to make sure the police department looks like the city. It needs to be more diverse.

6:30 p.m. Question #6: How will you ensure communities of color and other marginalized groups to not fear the police?

Napier: We as leaders constantly have to be educated. So maybe we develop a Council training session. I’m all on board on trying to do more.

Johnson: I’ll work closely with the city manager and police department because it’s personal to me. There’s a program called PAL, Police Athletic League, that we should bring to West St. Paul to build relationships between kids and officers so they don’t fear the police. We need to implement those programs now. Instead of being in the park, be in the community room at apartments. We need to stop asking people to come to us, we need to go to them.

6:26 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?

Johnson: We’ve been doing a great job under the current chief. We don’t change, we add to it. We need a defined racial justice program. We need to be training officers on how to interact on a daily basis with people of color. Use of force is a big thing, but daily interactions are important. I showed up at a meeting and didn’t feel welcome, based on the language and how they talked to us.

Napier: Shouldn’t change the way we’re funding it. Our police are doing a phenomenal job. We’re 20,000 people and we do 200 outreaches. We should look at how we’re reaching out to different communities. We’re all on board. Our officers are always training and we’re focused on mental health. We can always get better.

6:21 p.m. Question #4: 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?

Napier: We do a good job right now as a city. We have 200 outreaches with our community officers. We need to keep having neighbor meetings. The townhalls are important. We need to do a better job of making them feel welcoming. Have translators. Get them into the renting areas and let them know they’re welcome. We need the Council to get involved with that as well. Cops in the Park has been well received.

Johnson: I’m a member of all those groups. I’ve been in unheard communities all my life. I founded Residents of Color Collective and we’ve been out in the community doing events. We did 10 school and supply drives. Before I started running for office, I started doorknocking and talking to people. This is personal. I haven’t seen current leadership show up. In eight years you still don’t have a renters program.

Rebuttal:

Napier: We have a program. 200 outreaches. A lot of those are in the areas you’re talking about. We’re doing it, and I believe we’re doing a fantastic job. We can do more and I’m board with that.

Johnson: If there’s a program in the city they need to show up. They told me they gave up on us because we weren’t showing up. We have to stop being comfortable. This country is changing and WSP needs to change as well. Stop making excuses.

6:17 p.m. Question #3: 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?

Johnson: First we have to be inviting. We have to welcome diverse communities. We have to stop looking at corporations. We can start programs to work together with organizations and the community and the city. We need to talk about shared space. We need to start talking to the hard working people in the community—we’re not doing it.

Napier: It’s simple. We can create the zoning and the welcoming environment, which we have. When you bring people in, businesses want to be a part of that. We have a welcoming environment for all businesses, we have to make sure taxes stay low to work for businesses. I think we’re doing a great job and we already have a lot of diverse businesses. We have to keep focused, but we’re doing good.

6:12 p.m. Question #2: What changes will be needed with more residents in multi-family developments?

Napier: Make sure our infrastructure is in great shape. We were way behind several years ago. Keep parks in great shape. Goal is to have parks people feel safe in and really attract residents.

Johnson: Need to address the rental density ordinance. We have to rethink the restrictions on single family homes and help move renters from complexes to homes. It gives people who can’t afford to buy a home a chance to rent a home. We should talk about keeping parks beautiful, engaging volunteers and engaging homeowners and renters. We have to come together.

Rebuttal:

Napier: I think the rental density ordinance is an important piece. Some renters aren’t good and we’ve had some problems. Sometimes it’s a problem with the landlords. If we’re going to change the rental density ordinance, we’ll need to be tougher on landlords who aren’t local.

Johnson: If we’re going to have that conversation, not all homeowners are good either. We’ve got to make sure everyone has an opportunity.

6:08 p.m. Question #1: 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?

Johnson: No need to cut programs right now. Focus on healing the community right now and help small businesses. Shouldn’t be looking at increasing taxes right now either.

Napier: A few years ago the city pulled LGA funds out of the regular budget, so the city didn’t rely on it for operations. We may need to prioritize capital improvements. It’s important to not raise taxes. Keep financial stability.

No rebuttals.

6:00 p.m. – Opening Statements

Johnson: “Never be afraid to make noise and get in trouble, good trouble.” -John Lewis
She’s running to give representation to people who haven’t been represented (she is the first black candidate in West St. Paul). “I’ll show up for everyone.”

Napier: Joined Council in 2012 because of my passion for the community. History of leadership. Highlights local leadership. Declining economic development when he came in, and it’s been on the way up since. Wants to see it through.

5:45 p.m. – The forum starts at 6 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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