April 26, 2021 West St. Paul City Council meeting

City Council Recap: April 26, 2021

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

This week’s West St. Paul City Council meeting included the long-awaited conclusion to the mural debate, a pro-union resolution that will likely draw a veto, a heated moment during citizen comments, and goodbyes to two well-respected city staff members.

Mural Debate

The City Council discussed the ongoing mural debate after West St. Paul made international headlines when a resident complained on social media about the city enforcing ordinances over a Black Lives Matter fence. This prompted heated debate at the last Council meeting, where they decided to stay the fine until they could hear public comment and have adequate time to discuss it. Then a former mayor put up a Blue Lives Matter fence.

City Attorney Kori Land reviewed the ordinance and offered further clarification on what is and isn’t allowed.

While the issue was not a public hearing, Mayor Dave Napier did allow for in-person public comments, but no one spoke. Every Council Member noted that they heard overwhelming support to keep the fence and sign ordinance as is.

“Many neighbors supported protecting the fence,” Council Member Robyn Gulley said, but doing so would require allowing any speech. “Do you want that? The answer was a resounding no. By and large, even the folks who really, really, really wanted to find a way preserve the fence, did not want us to do away with the sign and fence ordinance.”

There were multiple suggestions to review the sign ordinance and code enforcement policy, with the potential to have the Planning Commission and/or a forthcoming Public Art Committee review potential tweaks, such as loosening restrictions on sculpture and making the ordinance less confusing.

“It’s been a really challenging couple of weeks,” said Council Member Lisa Eng-Sarne. “You want to represent your constituents well. You want West St. Paul to look like a responsible and good and not racist city—the policy is not racist, we’re enforcing it across the board. I think one of the main takeaways for me is that people want more art in this town. That is one overwhelmingly true thing I heard in this conversation, but as long as we can do that within code.”

In a compromise move, the Council voted unanimously to give the Black Lives Matter fence one more week to come down before reinstating fines. The Blue Lives Matter fence has already received a notice and will get the typical 30 days to comply.

Union Resolution

The Council considered a resolution supporting union workers at the West St. Paul AT&T store, initially proposed by Council Member Gulley. Previously the item came up at a work session but didn’t have unanimous support and Mayor Napier wouldn’t put it on the agenda due to time limitations from the emergency declaration.

“I’m not in favor of this,” Napier said. “Our attorney has reservations, the city manager has reservations. … They’re making a business decision and we’re stepping in to basically disagree with their business decision. I don’t think that’s the best place for us to be.”

Gulley pushed back with examples of cities that had made similar resolutions, including Seattle, a suburb of Detroit, and Hudson, N.Y.

“I would argue that a resolution is not actively getting into someone’s business,” said Council Member John Justen. “It’s a statement of belief, of purpose from the Council, one that I agree with. I don’t—and maybe I’m being foolish on this—I don’t imagine businesses leaving West St. Paul in droves because of this resolution. And I don’t imagine businesses choosing not to come here because of this resolution. I think that’s an unrealistic look at what this ceremonial but important statement will do.”

The Council ultimately passed the resolution on a 4-1 vote, making a slight tweak to the resolution language to note assertions instead of assumed fact. Council Member Eng-Sarne was the lone no vote, saying she’d heard too many reservations to support it. Council Member Dick Vitelli was also opposed to the resolution, but he’d left the meeting earlier stating that his position hadn’t changed (Vitelli had driven down from Grand Rapids where he was watching grandchildren for the meeting and had to drive back that night).

Mayor Napier said after the meeting that he would veto the resolution. This would be Napier’s first veto. (April 30, 2021 Update: Napier went ahead and signed the resolution and did not veto it.)

No Mow May

With time to spare during the Open Council Work Session (OCWS), the Council discussed the possibility of promoting No Mow May throughout the city.

What is No Mow May? You’re not alone in wondering, as Council Member Vitelli exclaimed, “Will somebody educate me and the rest of the City of West St. Paul on what the hell we’re talking about?” No Mow May is a state-wide effort to encourage letting lawns grow during the month of May to support pollinator habitat. Here’s a West St. Paul relator supporting no mow lawns.

Education would be key to any effort in order to minimize staff time responding to complaints, as West St. Paul code does cap grass height at eight inches. Look for a potential resolution at the next meeting.

Last Meeting for Two City Staff Members

This was the last meeting for City Manager Ryan Schroeder, who is retiring. Schroeder came to West St. Paul in 2017 and received high praise from the entire Council for mapping out a financial path forward after the city incurred heavy debt for Robert Street.

New City Manager Nate Burkett will start May 3.

City Clerk Shirley Buecksler also announced that she’d be leaving in early May. She’s taking a city clerk position in Mantorville to be closer to family. The City Council also praised Buecksler’s thoroughness and dedication to election integrity.

Heated Citizen Comments

A heated moment came during citizen comments when Daryl Morrison complained about the police response to the racial harassment he’s experienced. Those incidents of racial graffiti came up last spring and again in January when he spoke at a City Council meeting. Since then Morrison brought in the extremist group the New Black Panther Party for protection (Morrison denies the extremist tag, though the Southern Poverty Law Center calls the New Black Panthers—not to be confused with the original Black Panthers—a “virulently racist and antisemitic organization whose leaders have encouraged violence against whites, Jews and law enforcement officers”). Morrison allegedly threatened one of his neighbors that he suspected of being behind the racist graffiti. That resulted in a restraining order and Morrison being removed from his West St. Paul apartment.

Morrison, who says he suffers from anxiety and PTSD, outlined a number of issues and raised his voice before getting into a back and forth with Mayor Dave Napier. Morrison said he wasn’t being heard and threatened to keep coming back until he receives justice.

West St. Paul Police and the FBI continue to investigate the original harassment issue, but currently don’t have enough evidence to press charges. The police department did connect Morrison with Dakota County services and brought in several third parties in an attempt to mediate the situation.

Other Items:

  • Nancy Raddatz: The City Council honored longtime resident Nancy Raddatz, who passed away on March 27. She started Raddatz Dance Studio back in 1948 and this year will launch their 73rd year in business.
  • Ice arena: The Sibley Area Youth Hockey Association (SAYHA) gave an update on their plans to upgrade the ice arena with dry land training space and permanent locker rooms. The Sibley Hockey Boosters donated $120,000 to the project.
  • Park improvements: The Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee presented their recommendations for improvements over the next decade. One big improvement is a potential skate park at the Sports Complex, though it’s not slated until 2030.
  • Reappointment: After all the committee appointment drama earlier this year, former Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee members Dave Lynch and Robert Gausman were reappointed.
  • More liquor stores: A liquor store is considering moving to Doddway Center, which would require a zoning change. The Council was amenable to the idea, so that will come forward with more details in the future.
  • Welcoming tattoo shops: With the changing perception of tattoo shops over recent decades, City Council is considering relaxing some of the restrictive code around tattoo shops. Current restrictions limit tattoo shops to a very small section of town, plus the code only allows two body art licenses. We mentioned tattoo shops in our recent weird ordinances post. Look for proposed changes in a future meeting.
  • Microblading: A proposed ordinance to remove microblading from restrictions for traditional tattoo establishments was passed unanimously with no comment during the public hearing.
  • Mental health for fire fighters: Council Member Wendy Berry noted the one-year anniversary of South Metro Fire’s trailblazing PAR 360 program. It’s now being rolled out to four or five additional fire departments.
  • Water challenge: This is also your last chance to take part in the Wyland National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation. It only takes a few minutes and currently West St. Paul is just cracking the top 10 nationally. Last year we finished third.
  • Food drive: Look for another Residents of Color Collective (ROCC) food drive on May 15.

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 and City Council meetings online.

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

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