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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.
We’ve already asked about key issues in West St. Paul, housing, the budget, policing, and sidewalks and trails. This time we’re asking about diversity and inclusion:
Diversity and inclusion have been a priority for the city. How do you think the city has done and what specific action should the city take to continue to improve?
We posed this question to all candidates (with one exception, noted below). Here are their responses:
Candidates for Mayor
Kimetha “KaeJae” Johnson
The city has done well based on the current leadership’s ability to relate to these issues.
In order to truly be successful and have a strong foundation in diversity and inclusion:
West St. Paul needs a leader who understands what this means beyond the definition on paper, who lives, breathes and fights for this daily because my very life depends on it both as a woman and a person of color.
We deserve a leader that believes diversity and inclusion extends further than color and culture but includes communities who don’t have a loud voice, like those with mental health issues, and creates space for different communities to come together—through programs like senior to young that will bring the senior community together with children as young as my granddaughter, who currently is 6 years old, which can increase quality of life for senior by allowing them to share their knowledge, history, and talent with the younger generations. Community programs like these doesn’t have to tap into the budget, we simply just have to engage with the community within the current resources by reviewing what we are already doing and adjusting.
West St. Paul should have a leader who has spent the last 20+ years rooted and grounded in successfully building communities and organization around these very issues throughout the Midwest.
The next step for West St. Paul to take in order to go beyond improvements to leading in this area will be to elect me, Kimetha “KaeJae” Johnson as mayor!
We need to build on what we are currently doing. We have presented several proclamations which support the diversity of our residents. We host events while seeking participation from all. We conduct more than 200 outreaches a year with our police officers. Many of these take place in the areas that represent the most diversity. I will say, it starts with getting as much of our community as possible to come out to our annual listening sessions. We want to hear from everyone.
Candidates for City Council Ward 1
As I stated previously, we need to further prioritize diversity, inclusion, and equity initiatives in our city. We can start by participating in the League of Minnesota Cities GARE (Government Alliance on Race and Equity) program. West St. Paul 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.
COVID-19 has delayed our ability to hold large community gatherings and cost constraints have reduced the frequency of communications (including newsletters, mayor’s State of the City address, etc.). We need to re-establish transparency through stronger and broader communications. When we are able to hold community events again, we need to host some of these events closer to rental and senior care housing. We also need to establish equitable access (walking, biking, wheelchairs, and bus routes) to businesses and services, such as voting locations, that are within walking distance of our larger, multi-tenant communities.
Under the leadership of Mayor Dave Napier, Council has reached consensus on many of the issues coming before us, including unanimous passage of many important proclamations. I think our city, specifically staff and council have done a fantastic job with these issues. As we move forward I will continue to support further efforts for these causes.
Candidates for City Council Ward 2
I am proud to be the first person of color elected to Council in West St. Paul history. As the only Latino on the Council, I have sought to engage the Latino community in a variety of ways including participation of the city in the Cinco de Mayo parade on the West Side in 2018 for the first time ever. I was also a member of the Diversity Committee that brought forth many ideas on how to better improve outreach and diversity at city hall. I have also voted in favor of numerous proclamations in support of underrepresented groups. In light of the murder of George Floyd we need to listen to our community regarding our police department practices and consider possible changes. We should never stop holding our police department accountable and ensuring a culture of respect toward all residents, especially toward minority populations. Politicians alone cannot bring the necessary change nor do they have all the answers. That is why I am calling for the creation of a Human Rights Commission in West St. Paul. Many cities around Minnesota have long established Human Rights Commissions that are charged with improving all aspects of human rights issues. This new commission in our city must be given an operating budget and appointed with a majority of underrepresented groups. We must listen and create from the ground up. That must start with empowering residents to help guide the policy discussion.
We are a diverse community. We are young and old, white, black, and brown, parents and grandparents, owners and renters, able-bodied and disabled. We were born here and we chose here. Our diversity is our strength. There is no one-size-fits all approach to governance or planning. I believe the work of our city government is to create resources and infrastructure that enable each community member to thrive.
We have done a lot to make West St. Paul accessible and inclusive. We have a plan to finish our sidewalks, we have a number of accessible street crossings, we have good public transit routes and bike trails.
But there are ways we can do better!
For example, we have beautiful parks, but I have heard from residents who are concerned about traffic and other safety issues. We have excellent playgrounds, but not a single one that is accessible for our kids with disabilities. We have great public spaces, but are missing a community center and a skate park—spaces that would bring community members together. In the digital realm, we have a city website with lots of information about our community, but it’s only in English, when we have many community members who speak other languages.
These things impact livability, but they also send a signal to community members that their voices are welcome and needed. As a City Councilperson, I will work to tell every member of our community that they belong.
Candidates for City Council Ward 3
I think a lot of strides have been made in the last two years around diversity and inclusion, but this isn’t an issue that fits nicely in a box that we can check off a list. I’m proud of the council for passing proclamations unanimously recognizing Pride (LGBTQIA+) month as well as Black History Month. We also recently were just the sixth city in Minnesota and first suburb to pass a ban on gay conversion therapy for minors. In June 2019, I also helped plan and host the first West St. Paul Pride in the park, along with Council Member Berry, and a handful of dedicated citizens as well. In June 2020, West St. Paul also raised the Pride flag for the first time at city hall, and while some might call this just a symbol, it’s a start to the creation of a more welcoming city hall, and a more welcoming city.
It will take the participation and recognition of every leader, especially at a local level, to understand that there is work to do in battling systemic racism. I have asked that council members all participate in diversity and inclusion training and would look forward to that opportunity in the future. It is critical that we have open dialogue across departments around shortfalls as well as advancements. At a city staff level, there has been an increased focus on diversity in hiring and this prioritization will need to be continued in the coming years. We have come a long way, but this is work that won’t end in our lifetimes.
(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 West St. Paul voter’s guide and 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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