Robert Street a focus for West St. Paul candidates


Jenny Halverson

Dave Meisinger

Pat Armon

Anthony Fernandez

Dave Napier

Bob Pace

John Justen

John Ramsay

There are six candidates running for three seats on the West St. Paul City Council. Each ward has one seat up for election this year. 
Mayor Dave Meisinger's term is expiring at the end of 2016, and he is being challenged by current council member Jenny Halverson in the mayoral race.
Incumbent Pat Armon of Ward 1 is running against Robert Street storeowner Bob Pace. 
Ward 2 is an open seat due to Halverson running for mayor. Planning commissioner and realtor Anthony Fernandez is facing music storeowner John Justen in the Ward 2 race. 
In Ward 3 incumbent Dave Napier is up against construction contractor John Ramsay.
The Review asked the candidates what skills and experiences they think they'd bring to West St. Paul city government, what they think are the top challenges facing the city, and what issue or project they'd prioritize if elected. They answered via email. 

Mayor
Jenny Halverson, 40, lives in West St. Paul with her husband Chris. She is an active community leader and volunteer, and serves on the city council. She had earned her juris doctor degree from Hamline University School of Law.
Halverson said she is a lifelong resident, active community leader and volunteer, and parent of three children who all attend area schools. She has several generations of family living in the city. 
"My endorsements from many West St. Paul residents, community leaders and labor [unions] are a testament to my commitment serving as a resident advocate and effective leader, working together to make West St. Paul thrive," Halverson said.
She said the city needs to reflect the people of West St. Paul: "Strong. Resilient. Vibrant." Halverson said to be effective leaders, officials must work together to improve the strength and vibrancy of neighborhoods, and grow the tax base. She said the there is currently a lack of a comprehensive and unified vision to inform decisions on behalf of the city.
"It is critical that we develop this vision and accompanying policy in order to protect and capitalize on the investments of our taxpayers," Halverson said.
If elected as mayor, she said a priority would be the aging infrastructure and housing stock that "needs a responsible long-term vision." As mayor, her first priority would "be leading the effort to bring voices of our residents, businesses and elected officials together to develop policy to make West St. Paul thrive."

Dave Meisinger, 49, has been mayor since 2015, and previously served as mayor from 2001 to 2003. Meisinger is the owner/operator of D.T Meisinger Development Inc. He has a bachelor's degree in construction management from Mankato State University. 
Meisinger said he is the only candidate with 27 years of business experience, management experience and construction experience.
"With the $45 million Robert Street construction not yet done, the rebuild of our city streets, the upgrades at our parks and talk of spending millions more to construct a new city hall, my experience is not only needed but a must to ensure that we get maximum value for our tax dollar from all this construction," Meisinger said.
He said on two occasions his council colleagues have chosen him to be the president of the city's Economic Development Authority.
The biggest challenge facing the city is property-tax stability. Meisinger said with the instability over the last few years, residents and businesses are unable to make sound financial decisions. Another priority is repairing infrastructure. 
If re-elected, Meisinger said his priority would be the completion of the Robert Street Project. To date, he said the project is $7 million over budget "due to poor budgeting, planning and oversight by the previous council." Meisinger also said he will ensure that the quality of work completed meets specified requirements and that the city ends up with a new road, "not a patched/repaired one as we had."

Ward 1
Pat Armon, 50, is running for reelection in Ward 1. He has held the seat for four years. Armon lives in West St. Paul with his wife Laurie and works for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. He received his bachelor's degree in government, and communication and media from St. John's University.
Besides serving on the city council, Armon has also served on the parks and recreation, charter, and economic development advisory committees. He said the first years of his political experience involved many big decisions including deciding to make parks a priority over a new city hall, implementing ways to collect more residents' opinions and proceeding with the Robert Street Project. 
"My skills gained through decision-making while in these roles along with my vast community service experience are assets I can return to the council," Armon said.
He said the city's aging infrastructure is an important challenge that must be faced, but the city is well positioned as a first-ring suburb to deal with it successfully. He said the city council needs to make wise decisions with bonding capacity and local government aid to make the right repairs. Armon added the city needs to continue to lobby the state to pay for more of the Robert Street project costs.
If re-elected, Armon said a priority is maintaining the level of police and fire department services the city has been afforded. He said he is well positioned to make this happen, as he is the vice president of the South Metro Fire Board.

Bob Pace, 52, lives in the city with his wife Pattie and is the owner of Paces Tire and Services Center, located on South Robert Street. He is a graduate of Dakota county Technical College.
Pace said if elected, he would bring his experience of owning and operating a successful business in West St. Paul for 40 years to the office.
"I will bring a commonsense approach to the city's current and future issues," Pace said.
A challenge facing the city is the continued redevelopment of Robert Street,  and its existing and future businesses as well as all other commercial properties in the city, he stated.
Pace said another challenge is to be fiscally responsible with residents' money. 
If elected, Pace said he would prioritize trying to hold down spending and strengthening the commercial tax base, "so that we can reduce the burden on residential taxes." He also favors spending "money on trails, parks and other infrastructure only when the money is available instead of spending and then raise taxes to pay for it."

Ward 2
Anthony Fernandez, 37, lives with his wife Jessica and is the owner/broker of Anthony James Real Estate. He is a graduate of Richfield High School.
Fernandez currently sits on the West St. Paul Planning Commission, and previously served on the St. Paul Planning and Zoning Commission. He said his real estate business brings him in contact with people every day, and he knows what attracts them to a community.
"I have a strong background in development and have served on numerous boards. I believe in transparency and community input," Fernandez said.
West St. Paul has a diverse population and needs to continue spending tax dollars wisely, Fernandez said. If elected, he would make sure the city is held accountable and strive to expand its tax base.
"We must always fund our needs first, but as our tax base broadens we can expand on our wants," Fernandez said, adding that Robert Street development is a priority for him. The mayor and council need to work together to put together a plan that will attract and retain new businesses as well as keep existing businesses alive and vibrant, he said.

John Justen, 43, lives in the city with his wife Kali Freeman and is the owner of Eclipse Music store on Thompson Avenue. 
Justen earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy with a concentration in formal logic. He attended both Carleton College and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
Justen described himself as "a proud homeowner in the 40 Acres neighborhood, a devoted husband and father, and a second generation owner of Eclipse music," an independent guitar store with roots in the city for over 35 years. 
He said, "I'm running for office because I love this city and I'm thankful for the opportunities that this city has provided for my family," Justen said.
As a small-business owner, Justen said he has the unique ability to promote the city to other small-business owners.
Justen said a challenge facing the city is capitalizing on the city's investment on Robert Street. He said the council needs to move past the disagreements that have plagued the process until now and aggressively move forward on defining the vision for Robert Street.
If elected, Justen said he will prioritize capitalizing on the redevelopment of Robert Street, which can be done by supporting small-business investments, enhancing walkability and bicycle access, and maintaining, projecting and expanding vital green space.

Ward 3
Dave Napier, 54, resides in West St. Paul with his wife Suzie and is seeking a second term. He is the buildings and grounds director at Dodge Nature Center. He completed some course work at St. Paul Technical College and Inver Hills Community College for general studies and business management.
Napier said he has served the community over 20 years in various organizations including: West St. Paul City Council; West St. Paul Economic Development Authority; West St. Paul Kiwanis Club; Sibley Area Youth Hockey and Hockey Booster Club, and West St. Paul Youth Athletic Association.
Napier said the city needs an elected body that can work together to develop a shared vision for the city.
"We must have the residents and local business owners involved through open houses, community surveys and business networking organizations. I am committed to continuing the strategic planning process," Napier said.
If re-elected, Napier said he will prioritize seeking additional state funding for the Robert Street reconstruction project. He will also continue to put a high priority on assuring the streets and city parks are safe, attractive, accessible and functional. 
"I believe in West St. Paul and everything it has to offer," Napier said.

John Ramsay, 66, lives in the city with his wife Judy and is the owner of Kodiak Development LLC, a construction contracting company in West St. Paul. 
Ramsay said he is a lifelong resident of the city and has spent 45 years in the construction industry. He is a previous member of the West St. Paul City Development Advisory Board and board member of the South Robert Street Business Association. 
Ramsay said there needs to be no more over-spending. 
"Watching West St. Paul grow for over 60 years, it has become abundantly clear to me that a balance between both business and residents is in need," Ramsay said.
He said the city requires management that has a business friendly approach that also supports its residents. He said the council should not include projects in the city budget that aren't conducive to both parties. 
Ramsay said a priority is creating a family and business friendly environment for West St. Paul.
"'Connecting our community' is what will move our city in the right direction," Ramsay said.

Election day is Nov. 8. To find your polling place visit, http://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us.
Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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