West St. Paul City Council meeting

City Council Recap: March 22, 2021

We provide these West St. Paul City Council recaps with your support.

The West St. Paul City Council did a lot this week, including officially hiring a new city manager, approving the return of Burger King and a drive thru for Jimmy John’s, approving two of three proposed charter amendments, and clearing the way for pickleball.

With a few residents and applicants in attendance, this was the most heavily attended City Council meeting in a while. That’s not saying much with the COVID-19 limitations in place, but it was nice to see people coming out.

New City Manager Officially Hired

The West St. Paul City Council officially hired Nate Burkett as the new city manager. He’ll start May 3. Previously Burkett worked as the assistant city administrator in Shakopee.

“The conversations you just had are thrilling to me—May can’t come fast enough,” Burkett said after watching the Open Council Work Session. “This council is amazing, everything I’ve seen in this community is amazing—I’m really excited to be a part of this team.”

Drive Thru Approvals

The City Council approved the return of Burger King and a new drive thru for Jimmy John’s. Both projects were approved unanimously by the Planning Commission last week with a few minor conditions and suggestions, including adding a small patio to Burger King and filling in a sidewalk gap on Wentworth (with the new piece going in, Walmart has agreed to fill in their gap between The Winslow and Verizon/Jimmy John’s).

Both projects had a public hearing but no one from the community commented.

Charter Amendments

As expected, the City Council approved two of the three charter amendments put forward by the Charter Commission. These amendments have to pass with unanimous support of the Council and mayor. The Council debated these amendments at a first reading in February:

  • Mayor’s voting power: The charter requires four votes to pass anything, which can create odd situations when members are absent—such as 3-2 and 3-1 votes still failing. This amendment gives the mayor a vote in cases where an absence means three majority votes still fail. This amendment passed.
  • Eligible votes: Another amendment adds language to clarify eligible votes in the cases of vacancy or conflict of interest abstention. This came up after last year’s Wakota vote when three council members recused themselves. This amendment codifies the city attorney’s current position and existing case law so there’s no debate in the future. This amendment passed.
  • Expanding Charter Commission: The final amendment would add two seats to the Charter Commission, expanding it from 11 to 13 members. The Charter Commission used to have the maximum of 15 members, but was reduced to 13 in 2004 and again to 11 in 2012. Those in favor of expansion argued for equity and community interest, while those against it pointed to problems in the past with filling seats. Three members of the Charter Commission spoke in favor of the change, with Charter Commission Chair Aaron Van Moorlehem comparing it to the state’s COVID-19 dials: “In 2004 and 2012, they had to turn the dial down. Now it’s time to turn the dial up again.” Council Member Dick Vitelli was the lone no vote, so this amendment failed.

Prepare for Pickleball

The City Council unanimously approved a Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee recommendation to convert the single tennis court at Emerson Park to two pickleball courts.

The change will happen this year with an already budgeted resurfacing of the court.

Other Items:

  • Food Giveaway: Council Member Julie Eastman noted that the Residents of Color Collective (ROCC) is doing another food giveaway on Saturday, March 27 at three locations in West St. Paul. Their goal is to give away 600 boxes of food.
  • Translation: During the OCWS, Council again discussed the possibility of offering more city documents in Spanish. The costs vary widely, from about $1,000 per year to translate agendas to more than $50,000 per year to translate the entire agenda packets. The Council was more in favor of starting small and doing agendas, newsletters, annual reports, and the website as opposed to the highly detailed agenda packets which can run into hundreds of pages for each meeting.
  • West St. Paul Days: Last year Celebrate West St. Paul shut down, which means no more West St. Paul Days parade. Mayor Dave Napier opened up the conversation during the OCWS for ideas of what the city could do to replace it, proposing a one-day event and parade on Robert Street starting in May 2022. The idea of closing Robert Street drew a mixed reaction, but there was a lot of enthusiasm for moving forward with some kind of city event.
  • Batteries Plus: The Economic Development Authority (EDA) awarded a $10,000 grant to Batteries Plus for exterior improvements after they relocated to former Frame Place location thanks to the Town Center One project.
  • Microblading: The Council approved a proposed ordinance change that will remove cosmetic tattooing (also known as microblading) from restrictions for traditional tattoo establishments, a minor tweak to clean up the code. Council Member John Justen suggested the Council should address relaxing the restrictive tattoo ordinances at some point in the future.
  • Strategic planning: The Council approved a draft report on the recent strategic planning session, which gives a helpful overview of what Council discussed and where their focus will be going forward.
  • Open to Business: The EDA also approved a joint powers agreement that continues the city’s membership in the Open to Business program, which provides business advisory services and access to capital for entrepreneurs and small businesses. The program serves the 11 largest cities in Dakota County and last year served 148 clients, including 11 businesses and individuals in West St. Paul.
  • Food trucks: Council Member Lisa Eng-Sarne commented on the food trucks this past weekend in the MGM Liquor parking lot and noted there’s an upcoming Food Truck Fest on April 25.

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

We’re able to do these City Council recaps thanks to your support.

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