West St. Paul mayoral forum looks at more than just city policies

Hannah Burlingame

Review staff

 

The League of Women Voters Dakota County held a forum Oct. 12 for the West St. Paul mayoral candidates.

Dave Napier and Anthony Fernandez, both current city council members, answered questions for nearly 90 minutes at City Hall on topics ranging from development to housing, to engagement with the community. There were also questions included that are not often asked at forums, touching on the charges of sexism that came to light on the council earlier this year.

 

Inclusivity and 

resident involvement 

The candidates were asked what they would do to include under-represented communities in the city, in terms of outreach and the makeup of city staff and committees. 

Napier said there is a diverse population in West St. Paul that needs to be celebrated.

“I believe it is important to recognize that when we’re holding events, when we’re filling employment opportunities at the city or when we’re ... bringing in volunteers for commissions,” he said. 

Specifically, Napier said he would continue outreach with the school district aimed at communities in order to make them more involved and feel comfortable being involved in the city. 

Fernandez said one of his top priorities if he becomes mayor is to develop a diversity committee that specifically deals with inclusion in the city. Before he moved to the city, Fernandez said he lived in St. Paul, in what he described as one of the most diverse areas of the city.

“My father is from Mexico, so I know a little bit about diversity in my own household,” he said.

The topic is something Fernandez said he’s worked on during his time as a council member, which has included being part of the Cinco de Mayo parade. 

The candidates were also asked what specific ideas they have on how the city could engage more volunteers, encourage neighbors to help neighbors and work to build a community that helps all.

Fernandez said one of the points in his five-point plan is opening the lines of communication. He said he proposes having monthly or bi-monthly meetings at City Hall or other places in the community to get resident feedback. 

He added he would like to start a community garden by AJ’s Garage and install public artwork in the city.

“We have so many people in this community that have various tools,” Fernandez said. “We need vibrancy.”

Napier said volunteers are critical. A volunteer program in collaboration with other cities was started in the area, which he said was a creative way to bring someone on board that focuses on volunteers. 

“I will capitalize on the involvement in the community that has happened in the last three months,” Napier said. “People are excited. They want to be a part of our city.”

He added he would have open forums, similar to the events that took place in the past in every city ward, and get resident feedback. 

 

Working together

Both Napier and Fernandez have time left on their council terms, so the loser of the race for mayor will have to work with whoever wins. The two were asked how they would  help the person who wins to bring the city together.  

Fernandez said one of the neat things about the race is he’s learned more about Napier. He said going forward, if he were to lose, he thinks he could be a key asset to the new mayor. 

“I would hope that would go both ways,” he said, adding he has spent a lifetime working with people he may not have considered friends, but when they get together to work on things, a relationship about getting work done is formed. 

Napier said during his time at Dodge Nature Center, he “battled” against a co-worker for the executive director position. The other person got the job. 

Napier said he went on and told that person all the ideas he had, adding sometimes pride has to be swallowed to do what’s best for the community.  

He said he has no problem stepping up to do things he thinks are important for the city, even if he’s not mayor.

 

Learning from the past

The candidates were asked what the biggest mistake in their political careers was, and how they corrected it and learned from it.

Napier said during his first year on the council, he had no experience in local politics. He said he made a vote on something that he hadn’t researched deeply enough. 

“Once it was done, I realized and really looked into it and said, ‘You know what? I would have went a different way if I had researched it more,’” Napier said.

While he couldn’t do anything to make it better, he learned to be prepared. He said every decision made has an impact on the city, and every vote needs to be taken seriously. As mayor, he said he would make sure everyone is “doing their homework” and is prepared for every meeting. 

Fernandez said he makes mistakes every day — “I think the most important thing when you do make a mistake is to acknowledge it and learn from it.”

He added what he teaches himself and his daughter is that once a mistake is made, look at it, identify it and sometimes move on from it. 

Fernandez said it’s important to listen to all sides of a situation, which is something he strives for every day in his personal and political lives.

 

Harassment

Another question dealt with the alleged sexism that surfaced on the council earlier this year. Fernandez and Napier were asked what they have done, and would do, to make sure women are treated equally and how they would address the recent string of harassment, which has included screws being put in residents’ tires.

Fernandez said the harassment is appalling — “That stuff is garbage and it does not belong.”

He said healthy communities have differences of opinion, pointing out there are times he may not agree with everyone on the council, but that’s important. 

Fernandez said the diversity committee he would start would address a lot of issues, because more opportunities to speak up would be given to “all walks of life” in the community.

Napier said he’s been embarrassed and all the leaders of the community should be embarrassed with what’s been happening. He said a productive and healthy environment needs to be created.

“That hasn’t been the case and the results have trickled down,” Napier said. “If we’re not strong leaders and we don’t communicate well, and we don’t look at what’s in the best interest of our city, it trickles down and it’s affected.”

Napier said positive things in the city need to be built. If a common vision for the city existed and everyone could work toward it, Napier said he thinks a lot more could be accomplished. 

 

The full forum can be viewed at www.townsquare.tv. Election Day is Nov. 6. For more information about voting, go to www.sos.state.mn.us/elections-voting.

 

-Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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