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Yesterday West St. Paul Mayor Dave Napier vetoed a City Council push to expand the Planning Commission and require equal ward representation. The changes came up unexpectedly during Monday’s meeting as part of the mayor’s Planning Commission appointment. It’s the mayor’s first ever veto since he began serving as mayor in 2019.
Council Member Julie Eastman made the three-part motion passed on Monday, which approved Napier’s appointment of Liz Gillen to the Planning Commission, but then also directed staff to draft an ordinance to expand the Planning Commission from seven members to nine and make equal ward representation required by law. Napier vetoed the entire motion, which includes his own appointment.
In a letter to City Council, Napier outlined his reasons for the veto, saying he’s not in support of expanding the Planning Commission or requiring equal ward representation. He also noted that the motion was “presented without warning or previous discussion” and that it was included as part of a Planning Commission appointment.
Overturning a Veto
City Council can overturn a veto with five votes. The original motion passed 5-1, with Council Member Dick Vitelli as the lone ‘no’ vote, though Council Members Wendy Berry and Lisa Eng-Sarne hesitated when casting their votes. Eng-Sarne specifically agreed with Vitelli that multiple actions shouldn’t be packaged into a single motion.
A potential veto override will be considered at the next City Council meeting on Monday, September 27.
It’s worth noting that the motion itself would not have expanded the Planning Commission or required equal ward representation. Those elements would have to be passed as an official ordinance, which requires multiple readings and a public hearing. So even if Napier didn’t veto the measure, it still had several hurdles before becoming law. This speaks to Napier’s displeasure with the process, something he voiced during Monday’s meeting, suggesting Council could bring the ward representation issue up during an Open Council Work Session for thorough debate.
The effort to expand the Planning Commission is about making equal ward representation possible, with three members from each of the city’s three wards. Napier’s appointment of Gillen, who lives in ward 3, would have created an imbalance with only one member from ward 1. Napier lives in ward 3 and Eastman lives in ward 1.
While ward representation is required for the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, it hasn’t been required for Planning Commission. The usual argument is that local parks have a bigger impact on neighborhoods and therefore should have equal geographic representation, but the Planning Commission deals with planning across the entire city and equal geographic representation isn’t necessary. It’s also been argued that representation concerns are part of the issues to balance when making appointments and requirements make it harder to find people to serve.
On Monday, Eastman said she’s heard from ward 1 residents concerned about not having a voice.
To further complicate the goal of geographic representation, ward 3 is an ‘L’ shape, which means ward 3 Planning Commission members could live in opposite corners of the city (here’s a map of the current wards). Also, with redistricting happening this year, the Charter Commission will meet later this month to look at required changes to the ward boundaries.
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