Help Launch West St. Paul Reader

I’ve been blogging about West St. Paul since 2014. I’ve shared a lot of interesting things and met a lot of amazing people.

I like to be informed about my community. When you know what’s going on, you feel like you belong.

Now it’s time to take it to another level.

New West St. Paul Site

I’m launching a West St. Paul blog to help busy people know what’s going on. It will be called the West St. Paul Reader, and it will allow me to do a lot more:

  • Hear from new voices.
  • Tell new stories.
  • Build a community to sustain this effort.

I’ve thought about doing this for a while, but I kept resisting it. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. This personal blog is pretty limiting, and a focused site opens up a lot of doors.

Because I can’t do this by myself.

The Experiment

So I’m starting an experiment to launch this blog and see what works.

I’m launching a Kickstarter project to invite people to help make this idea a reality. There are a ton of fun, West St. Paul-centric rewards at various levels:

People often come up and talk to me about the things I write about West St. Paul. I know there’s a lot of interest out there, so let’s see if we can make writing about West St. Paul a more regular and consistent thing.

My goal is to create a dedicated source of info for what’s happening in West St. Paul. I want people to know what’s happening in their community and feel like they belong.

Thanks

I’ll be talking more about this (of course), as the project moves forward. I’ve got 30 days to hit that initial goal of $1,000, and then there are a bunch of stretch goals I’m excited to reach. This project opens the door to so many fun things—honestly, I’m a little giddy to see how it unfolds.

I hope you’ll consider supporting it.

And thank you. Seriously, thank you. There are so many people who have been gracious and encouraging and excited. People talk about how scary it is to chase a dream—to step out and make it happen. I’m a freelancer, so I know that feeling pretty well. But this dream was a new kind of scary. I couldn’t have done it without support.

I’m incredibly grateful. Thank you.

Crap Week

Last week was a crap week.

Being a writer, I process through writing. But I’ve had a hard time processing this week. I’ve wanted to talk about it, but I’m not sure how. It’s actually made me withdraw from social media (which is probably an OK thing).

But sometimes I’ve learned it’s just easier to get things off your chest, even if you don’t have the right words to say.

So yeah, crap week:

  • Last Monday night, my cousin injured two police officers, killed my uncle, and then took his own life. I traveled to attend my uncle’s funeral, offering what little support I could to my parents, grandparents, cousins, and extended family. It was an emotionally overwhelming few days, and I’m just the out-of-town nephew. My uncle, Tom Madden, was quiet, liked the simple life, and did right by people. He served on the school board for over 20 years, an inspiring example of public service. As his son wrote, “He was always there no matter what.” There’s a lot more to say about Tom, but I just haven’t had the time and space to fully process it.
  • Saturday morning I heard the news that progressive Christian writer Rachel Held Evans had died suddenly after a series of seizures and a medically induced coma. While I didn’t personally know Rachel (though I think we emailed at some point), I’ve read all her books. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again was one of my favorite books so far this year. The Why Christian conference she co-organized was incredibly inspiring to me. Her voice will be deeply missed.
  • In the midst of all that, I heard the news that Tessie Sylvester died. Her story gained national attention in 2017 when her husband died from complications of ALS the same day she was diagnosed with inoperable stage four cancer. She leaves behind two boys and a mountain of caring family. I didn’t directly know Tessie either, but her sister served as the mayor of West St. Paul, and her strength and resolve during this trying time was a sight to behold. After a funeral later this week, there will be a celebration of Tessie’s life at an arcade on Saturday (she said to “make it fun!”). You can support the family through this memorial fund.

So like I said, a crap week.

I don’t know what to say in the face of all that.

I keep coming back to these words from the Book of Common Prayer. They’ve often struck me in a certain way, and I shared them with my mom on Monday night when no one knew whether my uncle was alive or not:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

West St. Paul City Council Recap: April 22, 2019

A lot of business on the agenda for tonight’s meeting, but nothing very involved or controversial.

A few highlights:

  • Pad Drive: Women of West St. Paul is hosting a pad drive fundraiser at Dunham’s on May 11. $5 and a feminine product to get in the door (or just $10). All donations go to Neighbor’s Inc.
  • Senior Center: You can eat at Baker’s Square on May 2 and 20% of your bill will go to the Thompson Park Senior Center. You need a flier to get the donation, which you can pick up at city hall or from the senior center.
  • Shred: Saturday’s free shred event was so successful people were turned away. Look for another shred event on June 26.
  • Food Drive: The spring food drive raised more than 84,000 pounds of food for Neighbors Inc.—and the cross-town rivalry resulted in the South St. Paul city council donning Sibley hockey jerseys.
  • New Police Officers: Two new police officers were sworn in tonight, a semi-formal ceremony instituted by Police Chief Bud Shaver who recalled his rushed ceremony in a hallway more than 30 years ago. Shaver will be retiring next month. (In addition to sharing pie with his new officers, Shaver also took a pie in the face as part of another fundraising challenge.)
  • New Firetrucks: South Metro Fire will be getting new firetrucks. Fun fact: Fire engines serve on the frontline for 10 years and serve another 10 years in reserve. So South Metro will be retiring two 20-year-old fire engines.
  • Marie & Oakdale Trails: With the help of a $1 million federal grant, new trails will be going in on Marie and Oakdale. Initially passed in 2017, construction is expected to begin in June and be done by the fall.

Tax Day: Impact of the 2017 Tax Cut

It’s April 15, which is tax day here in the U.S. Federal and state income taxes have to be filed by today. It’s also the first chance we can see the actual impact of the tax cut Republicans passed in late 2017.

So did you pay more or less on your 2018 taxes? 

There’s been a lot of political rhetoric surrounding these tax cuts—that I think turns out to be wrong on both sides—as well as plenty of skewed perceptions.

Let’s look at the reality. Continue reading Tax Day: Impact of the 2017 Tax Cut

West St. Paul City Council Recap: April 8, 2019

It was a pretty light city council meeting this week, so we’ve got a short recap.

  • Pedestrian safety: Ken Paulman recently wrote about a missed opportunity to improve pedestrian safety at Smith and Dodd, and he shared those findings with the council. It’s an interesting read and can introduce you to the term “sneckdown.”
  • Road repair: Another resident expressed frustration over cracks appearing in Charlton after it was just recently resurfaced. That’s actually expected because the road wasn’t fully reconstructed, it just received a mill and overlay—a bandaid solution that can stretch the life of the road another 10 to 12 years before a full reconstruction is needed. Why isn’t public works doing full reconstructions? Cost. If you want perfectly smooth roads, you have to pay for them. Given the current tax increases in West St. Paul, it seems like we’re doing the best we can with what we have.
  • New restaurant: Hamburgeusas El Gordo is coming to West St. Paul at 1731 S. Robert Street (the old Rib Shack location). They hope to open this spring, though no exact date is known yet.
  • Food drive: Final totals aren’t available, but the food drive has been a tremendous success—and definitely a community effort. Neighbors Inc. serves more than 500 families every month, so thank you to the many volunteers and donors who made this happen.
  • Continued debate: The Open Council Work Session (OCWS) opened a debate on the Inflow/Infiltration (I/I) ordinance changes that didn’t past last meeting. Rather than debating the specific changes, the council mostly discussed the need for an I/I ordinance at all. It’s a convoluted debate with lots of questions and few clear answers. And this discussion didn’t resolve any of them, so look for this to be an ongoing conversation.

Fine Forgiveness Week at Dakota County Library: April 6-13, 2019

Library fines may seem like a minor annoyance, but when those fines add up you can be blocked from using the library.  The blocking threshold is $25 for adults and $10 for kids. That can lock people out of vital resources. And the people with the greatest difficulty paying fines are the ones most in need of the library’s free resources.

23,000 people are currently blocked in the Dakota County Library system. 

That’s a lot of people shut out of books, resources, and internet access.

Thankfully there’s a solution. For the week of April 6-13, 2019, Dakota County Libraries are hosting Fine Forgiveness Week. Simply use your library account online or in-person during the week and your fines will be waived.  Continue reading Fine Forgiveness Week at Dakota County Library: April 6-13, 2019

Council Member Lisa Eng-Sarne’s Last Roller Derby Bout

Recently appointed West St. Paul city council member Lisa Eng-Sarne hangs up her roller-skates after 11 years of playing in the Minnesota RollerGirls roller derby league.

Known on the track as “Diamond Rough,” Eng-Sarne’s last game will be Saturday, March 30.  Grab some tickets and check this one out.

If you’ve never seen roller derby before, it’s pretty epic. The rules… well, I still can’t explain them, but basically two teams muscle their way around a flat track while trying to slow the other team down. Points are earned, elbows fly—it’s all pretty wild. Continue reading Council Member Lisa Eng-Sarne’s Last Roller Derby Bout

West St. Paul City Council Recap: March 25, 2019

Last night’s West St. Paul city council meeting was mostly routine business and well-deserved city boosting. But it also included a seemingly benign change that turned contentious. It resulted in the first non-unanimous votes in Mayor Dave Napier’s new tenure.

City Boosting

  • The food drive in support of Neighbors Inc. continues, and all indications are that West St. Paul is crushing neighboring South St. Paul. You can get details about where and how to donate at WSPFoodDrive.com.
  • Mayor Napier and Council member Lisa Eng-Sarne were among the many volunteers who joined the effort to fill sandbags in South St. Paul as the Mississippi River rises.
  • The West St. Paul Days organizers gave an update about this year’s events, which are coming in May, including a combined City Hall open house and festival at Harmon Park.
  • Mayor Napier honored former council member and city manager Tom Hoban, who passed away recently with a proclamation for his long list of service to the city.
  • A report on the city’s shared volunteer program highlighted that it’s saved the city $78,000. The program also boasts 470 volunteers in West St. Paul.

Continue reading West St. Paul City Council Recap: March 25, 2019

West St. Paul City Council Recap: March 11, 2019

A relatively quick and uneventful city council meeting tonight in West St. Paul. Here’s the recap:

Food Drive

The South St. Paul vs. West St. Paul food drive beef continues, but it’s all in support of Neighbors Inc. Mayor Dave Napier taunted South St. Paul, saying he just picked up some Henry Sibley Warriors jerseys, ready for the South St. Paul city council to wear when they lose. You can get all the details at WSPFoodDrive.com.

A food local businesses are offering special incentives for bringing in donations, such as a free day pass from the YMCA. You can find the listing on the WSPFoodDrive site.

Survey Results

A survey was conducted at the recent West St. Paul Neighborhood Meetings, along with participation online, and the results are now available (the report also includes results from 2017 and 2018).

One of the most interesting (and obvious) results of the survey is the proportion of people who took it online and their corresponding ages. While the 65 and over crowd was easily the largest age range in all three in-person meetings, three younger age brackets them in the online survey. The online responses even beat the in-person responses in sheer numbers (158 responses online, 147 in person).

Council member Lisa Eng-Sarne encouraged residents to keep contacting the city council, noting that it’s never to late to give input.

Passing of Tom Hoban

Mayor Napier noted the passing Tom Hoban, former West St. Paul city manager (1972-1985) and city council member (1962-1966; 1968). Napier noted that Hoban had been his mentor (“we always met at Perkins”) and taught him how to bring people together.

The funeral is on Thursday, March 14 at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church. Napier noted that the city would prepare a proclamation at a future council meeting.

New Firefighters

Four new firefighters were welcomed to the South Metro Fire Department. Mayor Napier also gave a heartfelt thanks to retiring Fire Chief Mike Pott, who has served with South Metro (which was the WSP Fire Department before that) for 36 years.

Act on Alzheimer’s Team

Claudia Egelhoff from Act on Alzheimer’s gave a presentation about their group’s effort to help address dementia in West St. Paul. The group started in 2017 when a citizen approached Mayor Jenny Halverson. The community has rallied in response, with participation from nearly every major organization in the city.

  • There’s a brochure making the case for why businesses should care: “70% of people with dementia live at home and shop in their own community.”
  • The group has accomplished a lot in two years—including raising $2,500 for the Alzheimer’s Association, training 200 community members in West St. Paul, and sending 300 info packets to local businesses.
  • Here’s a list of dementia resources.

Winter Storms Having a Spring Impact

We had record snowfall in February, and we’re starting to see the impacts:

  • Council member John Justen encouraged residents to shovel out any blocked storm drains to alleviate the flooding that’s bound to come this week with rising temperatures and—that’s right—rain.
  • Council member Dick Vitelli noted that the city is nearly out of salt and will be using a mixture of sand and salt from here on out. So if you see a lot of sand out on the roads, that’s why.

Livingston Street Improvements

The city council awarded a bid for the reconstruction of Livingstone Avenue from Mendota to Wentworth. The bid came in nearly $1 million $550,000 lower than the estimate, so that’s some good news.

Temporary No Parking

At a recent city council meeting a resident suggested during citizen comments that the city should allow for temporary no parking zones. They gave the example of moving and needing to park a moving truck in front of their house and wanting to save that parking spot. Having dumpster delivered is another common example—what do you do if cars are parked in front of your house and there’s no where to put the dumpster?

The city had an ordinance to allow for that dumpster, but nothing to ensure that cars weren’t parking there when it was delivered.

The idea also expanded to allow for temporary parking for special events in areas where parking isn’t permitted.

Overall it’s good to see the city responding to citizen suggestions. Mayor Napier encouraged citizens to read over the new ordinance (plain English explanation and the actual ordinance) and give the council feedback. This was a first reading of the proposed ordinance. Next will be a second reading and a public hearing.

Celebrating 2 Women on the West St. Paul City Council

2019 saw some milestones in the West St. Paul city council. Townsquare TV took notice:

Women Of Ward 3

Meet two councilmembers who made history in West St. Paul.

Posted by Town Square Television on Thursday, February 21, 2019

Continue reading Celebrating 2 Women on the West St. Paul City Council

A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.