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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.
- 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.
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