West St. Paul City Council meeting

City Council Recap: Oct. 12, 2020

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The West St. Paul City Council learned about a ground breaking new mental health program for firefighters, officially expanded the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Network, and addressed a brewing controversy over anti-abortion signs.

Anti-Abortion Signs & Free Speech

The West St. Paul home with race-centered, anti-abortion signs that drew protests last week came up during citizen comments. Earlier in the day the city shared the city attorney’s analysis of the issue and recommendation that there was nothing the city could do given free speech issues. The citizen noted that the analysis said the city couldn’t do anything but did not preclude the City Council from speaking personally on the issue and challenged the Council to do so.

All present Council Members (Anthony Fernandez and Dick Vitelli were absent) spoke out against the signs.

“I’m not comfortable with anything that targets a specific group and brings up historic trauma,” said Council Member Wendy Berry. “We just have to do what we can do, which is treat people with kindness.”

Council Member John Justen said the group advertised on the signs has ties to white supremacist groups, which he found deeply disturbing (he later clarified that he was not accusing the home owner of being connected with white supremacist groups).

“It’s unfortunate that these signs are up and they are hurtful to people of color,” said Council Member Lisa Eng-Sarne. “I prefer that we share messages of love and acceptance and joy, and these signs don’t portray those things.”

First Responder Mental Health

South Metro Fire Chief Mark Juelfs gave a presentation on the department’s new mental health program, PAR 360. The stats were sobering:

  • First responders attempt suicide at a rate six to 10 times the general population.
  • Firefighters also have twice the rate of alcoholism, four times the rate of post-traumatic stress, 18 times the rate of anxiety, and eight times the rate of depression.
  • Half of all firefighters think about killing themselves.
  • 92% of firefighters view seeking help as a sign of weakness.

Developed by Dr. Margaret Gavian, the PAR 360 program serves as first responders for first responders. They provide emergency response, consultation, and training. The program offers a screening tool, resources, vetted providers, resiliency training, bi-annual mental health check-ups, family training, and more.

Paired with the nationally recognized program providing the West St. Paul Police Department with mental health checks, this is an incredible boost to our emergency personnel. (We went into more detail on PAR 360 in a separate post.)

Beyond the Yellow Ribbon

West St. Paul’s Beyond the Yellow Ribbon is officially expanding to include Lilydale, Mendota, and Mendota Heights and becoming the Northern Dakota County Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Network.

The group serves veterans, active duty, and reserve service members and their families with whatever they may need. Anyone looking for help can call 651-259-2614.

West St. Paul’s National Guard unit is currently deployed, so there are plenty of needs for the families left behind.

Other Notes:

  • Rental license: A single-family home at 180 Oakview Road with too many unrelated tenants got a temporary reprieve. The Council approved the rental license but the property will need to come into compliance by next year. This case has prompted a few aspects of the code to come under review, including the ordinance definition of unrelated (“not related by blood or marriage”) and the maximum number of unrelated people allowed in one unit (currently three).
  • One more grantee: Sola Salon is added to last month’s small business grant recipients after initially being excluded due an error on the city’s part.
  • More grants: The Council approved a resolution in favor of the Town Center One development project applying for a $250,000 county grant that, if awarded, will decrease the length of the TIF.
  • Extension: The Council gave More Space Storage a 12-month extension for their development plans for a storage facility at 1665 Oakdale. With COVID-19 and now winter coming on, they haven’t been able to get the project started, but hope to in the spring. Last month More Space withdrew their request for a $25,000 business subsidy grant.
  • Strategic initiatives: During the Open Council Work Session (OCWS) the COuncil reviewed their strategic initiatives to break them down and discuss further and see what they could accomplish in the next few months.
  • West St. Paul Days: Council Member Bob Pace noted that Celebrate West St. Paul Days has shut down, which means no more parade, royalty or other events as part of the annual West St. Paul Days—unless someone steps up to take over. Pace encouraged anyone interested to contact him and he’d connect them to the right people.

City Council meetings are currently held on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 6:30 p.m. You can also watch these meetings online: OCWS and regular City Council.

You can support West St. Paul Reader to keep these City Council recaps coming.

6 comments

  1. I am wondering if John Justin wanted to site his source on his white supremacy accusation pushed toward Abolish Human Abortion, or if he is just doing a drive-by? It would be a huge concern of mine if AHA were in any way inclined toward racism of any sort. In fact, my signs are gone when John sites a credible source for his above mentioned comments. If John can’t I will shop Robert and get some new lights for my signs.
    I would like to comment quickly to professing Christians reading this. It is crazy to me that we have “Christian churches” all over this town and we vote in people with a blatant disregard for human life. People that not only approve of abortion, but actively endorse it, and in the name of love and acceptance, are you kidding me! Blow the dust off your grandmas bibles and stand for truth, and stop lying to yourselves and others. If you don’t see a disconnect between claiming to be a Christian, and actually voting for a party that has been on the wrong side of History both on the slavery issue and now the life issue? Please do yourself a favor and ask yourself if you really believe? Do you really believe that you will stand and give an account before the God of the Universe? Or is that one of the parts that you and other false teachers choose not to believe? The lie has never changed.. “Did God really say?” I’m telling you as just a simple man that can read, yes He did!
    To anyone else who has been nice enough to hang on to hear what the “Nut job with the signs” has to say. I say this. I want to shine light, on the fact that once we, “WE THE PEOPLE” of this United States turned a blind eye too, and many endorsed the idea that people can be property. In fact the Virginia Supreme Court said so in 1858. I thank God that truth prevailed. Now the US Supreme Court says in 1973 unborn babies are not included in the 14th amendment as they have never been recognized by the law as people. Please don’t be deceived, don’t be a science denier. An unborn child has its very own DNA, heart beat, etc. It is a human being by any reasonable standard. No, of course it can’t live on it’s own, neither can your one year old. Or God forbid the poor old grandma of one of you that follows that logic to it’s end.
    I can’t in good conscience, be silent. By the way, I’m not at all interested in telling you what to do with your body. Please feel free to do what you will, with your body, I mean that whole heartedly. If you want to cut off your toes or add to your breasts, or whatever you want to do I couldn’t care less what you do with your body. It’s taking the life of another human being that “triggers me”. I know that many or even most will disregard me as ‘The Nut Job with The signs”, I also understand that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. Atheism is a temporary condition, you will find that your sincerely held beliefs don’t jive with truth. My hope is that you reconsider, look at the evidence, don’t trust me, I know I DON’T NEED TO SAY THAT, but please stop endorsing the lawful killing of children in the name of love and acceptance.

  2. John, thanks for the response. I guess I set myself up for that ha.. I should have known you would search The Nation or maybe the Huff Post to find your straw man opinion piece.
    No John, you seem to be getting truth and opinion all mixed up in your head.
    I’m trying to stick with facts and truth here. Fact… 38 % of abortions in the US are had by 12 to 13% of the black population. It is also a know fact that Margarite Sanggur placed her first abortion clinics in minority communities with the intention of eliminating said minorities.. Hillary Clinton can be seen praising Margarite Sanggur on YouTube for all she had done.. fact Obama reinstituted third term abortion his first day in office it was important to him that we be able to kill babies right up until birth. Fact the Republican party was formed as the anti slavery party and fought to free the slaves and ultimately did. Again, thank God for that. So John, I don’t know what you believe or your party affiliation? I do know that if your concerned about white supremacy start looking left.. and sure if you want I can dig up some opinion pieces to back me up… Unfortunately I can find real facts to back up my claims. Have a good day John
    .

  3. Hm. I, too, was alarmed by the allegation that AHA had (to quote Councilman Justen at the meeting) “potential close ties to white supremacist organizations”. So I researched the subject on Wednesday morning.

    That article from The Nation, which Councilmember Justen cited just above, appears to be the most popular public source for the allegation that AHA has “potential close ties to white supremacist organizations.” Ward 1 City Council candidate Julie Eastman also posted the Nation article (approvingly) on the West St. Paul Neighbors page in a recent discussion about Mr. Ingebritson’s lawn signs.

    The first claim The Nation makes is that AHA’s logo “resembles… swastikas.” The source for this claim was a 2019 paper in Signs. The claim in that paper turned out to be sourced, not to anyone involved with AHA, but to a community member at the Daily Kos who made a 2012 forum post asking whether the logo resembled Nazi symbols. Despite their intense antipathy for AHA, the consensus of the forum was that, no, it did not resemble Nazi symbols, and the poster was seeing things.

    Finally, an AHA admin showed up in the thread to unequivocally reject Nazism, racism, and any connection between the AHA logo and Nazis. After a comment-thread argument broke out, AHA officially blogged about the incident, once again rejecting the doctrine of white supremacy unequivocally and categorically (before turning to its usual “beat” of promoting unborn rights).

    The same article in The Nation went on to claim that AHA’s comparison of American abortion to the Jewish Holocaust is a dog-whistle “signal” to anti-Semites, but the source cited by The Nation provides no support for the claim that AHA is engaged in this. It does show that Eric Rudolph, the abortion clinic/Olympics bomber, was a Holocaust denier, and cites further evidence that several people who have engaged in criminal anti-abortion activity (ranging from threats to murder) were anti-Semitic. But AHA does not appear to be part of the criminal fringe of the anti-abortion movement. AHA appears to just be those pro-life kids that were a feature of every early-2000s Internet forum with a politics thread, but grown up now and running a poster company.

    In short, the only way AHA is tied to the white supremacy movement is if it is expressly lying to all its supporters and opponents alike, since it clearly condemned white supremacy and all that goes along with it in _precisely_ the incident that was used as the source for this weird, and apparently non-factual, claim. It is possible they are lying (the chilling words of Andrew Anglin’s style guide, heroically unearthed by Ashley Feinberg for HuffPo, are never far from my mind), but I have not seen any evidence for it, nor has anyone in this thread presented any.

    I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I am concerned by the apparently quick leap from, “I disagree with Organization X” to “I should accept at face value and publicly repeat these unsubstantiated claims that Organization X is tied to white supremacy.” I hope everyone, particularly Councilman Justen and candidate Eastman, can understand why I would feel that way. I’m not connected to AHA in any way, but I’m politically right-of-center and, like a near-plurality of Americans, pro-life. I abhor white supremacy (and, before you ask, President Trump as well)… but a hit piece in a hard-left outlet like The Nation could lie about me or a some organization I *am* part of, and apparently there’s some risk that their claim would be accepted at face value.

    ***

    Jason, since you’re here, a quick word from a neighbor:

    I’m not convinced that your signs are an effective way to win over hearts and minds. Even if your arguments are sound, it paints the people you’re trying to persuade into a corner. They are forced to either:

    (a) reject you and everything you stand for in furious protest, or

    (b) accept that they — and likely many of their friends and family — are the moral equivalent of slave-owners, who are (in our culture) literally the worst monsters there are, short of maybe Nazis. There is no worse insult you can level.

    Very few people have the stomach to seriously contemplate option (b). That would require a supernatural degree of self-honesty. That goes double when they didn’t ask for a conversation about abortion, but are just suddenly confronted by it on the drive home from school with their kids. They naturally feel insulted, disgusted, and offended.

    So, instead, they choose (a), and get angry at you. The result is that they end up even more entrenched in their positions than they were when they started out. You end up even further away from the goal of abortion abolition than you were in the first place. The quality or truth of your arguments never comes up — the conversation ends before the arguments begin. Worse, their brain now has a habit of rejecting claims like yours, making it harder for them to consider them in the future, even under more favorable circumstances. Road-to-Damascus instant conversions on abortion do happen, of course… but they do not happen very often, and signs like these don’t seem to increase the odds.

    Of course, AHA will respond that Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison never shied away from telling the truth about what America was doing to slaves. Yet I would remind AHA that intense abolitionist rhetoric played a role in polarizing the South, which brought about secession, then Civil War. It was very, very lucky for all of us that the North won that war.

    Certainly, share your message, but, simply from a tactical perspective, I suggest considering some of the gauzier, more positive versions of that message. Like the Pro-Life Across America “cute baby” billboards or the solid “#LoveThemBoth: Pro-Woman / Pro-Life” message. To make a military metaphor, you can’t successfully charge an entrenched position without softening it up first, and I think these signs are a direct charge at a hardened battle line. Even if you’re right, you’ll lose, and the defenseless innocents you’re fighting for can’t afford vain defeats.

    So, while I acknowledge and will defend your First Amendment right to say what you are saying, I question the wisdom of doing so, particularly in this manner. Even if every word your signs and pamphlet said were absolutely right and true, is it helping or hurting the cause to say it, here and now to this audience in this way?

    (I’m also not sure where you’re getting the “Obama reinstituted third-trimester abortion his first day in office” claim. The only abortion-related policy Obama instituted that I can think of on Day One is his repeal of the Mexico City Policy — which did likely increase abortions worldwide, but didn’t have anything particularly to do with third-trimester abortion.)

    (I’m also VERY skeptical that the strongest arguments against abortion rights are to be found in the Bible, given the content of Numbers chapter 5 — not to mention the relative rarity of Bible-believing Christians in West Saint Paul. As with Councilman Justen’s white supremacy claims, I’m open to being corrected on both these points.)

    Thanks for reading. Sorry (to both you and Councilmember Justen) that this got long.

  4. Just me, a woman with a uterus, chiming in to a thread written by men debating a topic that will never have any bodily impact on them to say that forcing a woman to carry a fetus against her will is torture. You can give all justifications you want. But you should be honest about the implications. You’re saying you support torturing women and endangering their lives. I’m not being hyperbolic. Educate yourself. Spend some time on pregnancy and postpartum support websites. Do some research on the higher maternal death rates among the Black women you purportedly care about. Obviously you will never understand what it is actually like to carry or birth a baby, since you are incapable of doing that and have the luxury of not having to worry about your body being in any way inconvenienced by the possibility of pregnancy. But no one with a uterus has that luxury.

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