We provide these West St. Paul City Council recaps with your support.
Tonight’s West St. Paul City Council meeting was preempted by an emergency declaration after the police killing of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center. A 7 p.m. curfew went into effect in West St. Paul, so the regular City Council meeting was shortened to approve urgent business and the emergency declaration. The Open Council Work Session (OCWS), did continue as scheduled—with plenty of fireworks.
All other business on the regular agenda was continued to the next City Council meeting on April 26.
The City Council suspended the rules for tonight’s regular meeting and scrapped the agenda, quickly moving to approve the emergency declaration and the consent agenda, which included a few time sensitive items. Then they continued the remainder of the agenda to the next meeting.
The regular meeting lasted less than seven minutes.
Black Lives Matter Mural
While not on the agenda, during OCWS the Council did discuss the brewing controversy over the Black Lives Matter mural that has garnered national headlines in the past week.
Given the emergency declaration and the inability of the Council to fully discuss the issue, Council Member John Justen proposed that the city postpone fines on the mural until the next Council meeting to allow discussion and community input. This would not mean the city is allowing the mural to stay, just that they’re putting off enforcement.
Mayor Dave Napier weighed in saying it’s been five months and it’s a clear violation. He’s willing to discuss the ordinance, but the process should continue in fairness to other residents.
“This is sending a message to people about who we are as a city,” said Gulley, supporting the postponement. “People all over country are watching to see what we do right now.”
Council Member Dick Vitelli was adamantly opposed, raising his voice to argue for enforcement. He talked about his Black grandson, “Every time he leaves the house at night, I think is there going to be some prick cop out there that’s going to screw with him because of the color of his skin?” But he insisted the city can’t look at the message of the sign and must enforce it consistently.
At the mention of Wright’s killing by a police officer who drew her gun instead of her taser, Vitelli defended the police officer: “This poor woman policeman shot that kid by mistake,” Vitelli said, noting that we all make mistakes. “I’m sorry that young man died, but the young man could have complied and not tried to run away.”
“We should consider an extension to get through this trial and the pain our community is going through,” said Council Member Julie Eastman.
Vitelli challenged Eastman, asking her to explain the difference between this case and the anti-abortion signs on Oakdale.
“I’m asking for leniency given this time in our community,” Eastman responded.
Vitelli later called out what he saw as the hypocrisy at the table and read a statement—prepared by his daughter because he wouldn’t be able to keep his composure—noting the “unnecessary and unjust” death of George Floyd: “It has brought to light the far too long history of unfair treatment of Black men by some law enforcement… [This ordinance] is enforced regardless of the words displayed and should not be misunderstood as a city’s way of silencing those who support worthy causes.”
“Pull your pants up, people, and do the right thing,” Vitelli shouted in conclusion.
“I am doing the right thing,” Justen responded.
“On that note, we’re going to move on,” Napier said, before being cut off by Council Members Wendy Berry and Justen who wanted clarification on next steps.
The city attorney clarified that the Council couldn’t take action during a work session, but there were five clear votes to not immediately impose fines and the city manager could give that direction to staff.
So look for continued discussion at the next City Council meeting on April 26.
During the OCWS, the Council discussed a proposed resolution to support the union workers at the West St. Paul AT&T store, which is being closed and reopened without union employees. While the resolution had the support of at least four members, Mayor Napier and Council Member Vitelli were opposed to it. Without unanimous approval it couldn’t be added to the consent agenda, and the emergency declaration left little time to add it to the regular discussion and vote on it. Mayor Napier offered to take it up at the next meeting, but Council Member Gulley, who championed the resolution, said that wouldn’t be helpful because the store will re-open tomorrow with non-union employees.
As a union member since 1972, Vitelli said he supported the union 100% and offered to picket with them, but he could not support the resolution as a council member. “It’s not our fight,” he said.
- New committees: The Council briefly discussed creating two new committees, a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee and a Public Art Committee. While Mayor Napier wanted to be cognizant of potential costs, there was broad approval for continuing the process to explore the creation of both committees.
- Stimulus: Of the $1.9 trillion in the American Rescue Plan Act, it appears the City of West St. Paul will get $2.27 million. Due to limitations on the money, staff are recommending it be used for sewer infrastructure.
- Wage theft: City Council gave approval for Council Member Eastman to join an informal group of area council members on a Wage Theft Steering Committee.
- Strategic initiatives: Another draft of the Council’s 2021 strategic initiatives came up for discussion in OCWS with broad approval.
- City pool: The Council did approve a new contract with the YMCA to operate the city pool this summer. After being closed last year for COVID-19, the pool will likely open on June 12.
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