Women Confront West St. Paul City Council

Last night’s West St. Paul city council meeting was incredible. Women came out in droves and packed the city council chambers—bearing tampons—to protest sexism.

More than 150 residents showed up (is that a record for a West St. Paul city council meeting?) and citizen comments went on for an hour and a half as women berated the sitting council members, detailing stories of harassment, mistreatment and—at best—neglect.

The tensions spilled over after the overt sexism on display at the previous city council meeting on April 23, but as Mayor Jenny Halverson testified (and former council member Darlene Lewis, who served from 2005 to 2012, confirmed), sexism has been an ongoing problem.

The tampons were part of a Pad Drive where feminine hygiene products were donated to a local food shelf (and over $2,600 was raised online), after the mayor and another citizen were harassed.

Many of the woman dressed in green and wore buttons quoting Mayor Halverson, “This will not be forgotten, folks!” Continue reading Women Confront West St. Paul City Council

Sexism in Committee Approvals in West St. Paul?

Last month controversy erupted in West St. Paul over allegations of sexism at city council. The story has received national attention and prompted a major charity effort that’s raised more than $2,000 for a local shelter.

The fireworks focused on the appointment of Samantha Green to the Planning Commission by Mayor Jenny Halverson, an appointment that was denied by the all male city council. I detailed the back and forth on that issue, and women are expected to rally to Halverson and Green at tonight’s council meeting.

I mentioned other committee appointments that didn’t happen that night, noting the four applications and four vacancies on the Environmental Committee, where only one person was appointed, and the 10 applications and three vacancies on the Parks & Recreation Committee, where only two people were appointed.

With tonight’s meeting agenda, we get the minutes from the Open Council Work Session (page 6 & 7) when those appointments were voted on. The council voted by secret ballot, so we don’t know who voted for whom, but it appears not everybody voted and there was a definite slant in who received votes.

There were twice as many male applicants as female applicants, yet men received nine times the votes as the women did.

Only three people—all men—received enough votes (four) to be appointed. Continue reading Sexism in Committee Approvals in West St. Paul?

District 197’s 2018 Bond Referendum: Vote Yes

District 197 has an bond referendum on the ballot May 8. They’re asking for $117 million for additions, renovations, and repairs at all schools.

So how much is this going to cost and what does it mean? Let’s take a look.

How Much Will It Go Up?

For a median value home ($237,200), your taxes will go up $87 per year, or $7 per month.

The district has a handy chart showing how much we’re paying right now:

District 197 tax comparison
Total 2017 school property taxes for a home valued at $200,000.

The proposed bond will increase taxes on a home valued at $200,000 by $77 per year. On this chart, that would raise us to $819, and past Inver Grove Heights by a whopping $20. We’d still be well below most of our neighbors and other metro districts.

It’s not a big increase. Continue reading District 197’s 2018 Bond Referendum: Vote Yes

West St. Paul City Council: Sexism in Appointee Debate?

The West St. Paul City Council meeting on April 23, 2018 was a curious descent into misogyny and sexism. It can be a little hard to follow city council meetings if you’re not aware of the entire history and context. Sometimes it seems our elected officials rely on that fact. You can always watch the video yourself (11:51 in the council video), but I’m going to try to clarify some of what happened.

Here’s the short version: Mayor Jenny Halverson appointed three people to fill vacancies on the Planning Commission. City council has to approve those appointments. In the past, mayoral appointments have mostly been honored, though that hasn’t been the case for Mayor Halverson. Two of Halverson’s appointments were confirmed, and a third was rejected. Two of the council members who voted ‘no,’ (Ed Iago and John Bellows), argued back in 2015 that mayoral appointments need to be honored.

That honor seems to have disappeared in 2018, during the term of West St. Paul’s first ever female mayor, while considering female appointments.

So let’s look at what happened in more detail. Continue reading West St. Paul City Council: Sexism in Appointee Debate?

Run for Public Office in West St. Paul: April 4

I’m organizing a run for public office in West St. Paul event along with some fellow citizens and the League of Women Voters-Dakota County. It’s a nonpartisan, informational meeting to learn more about running for city office, serving on committees, and volunteering with the city.

Mayor Jenny Halverson and a few city council members will be joining us to share their stories of running for public office and answer questions as a part of our moderated panel discussion.

The event is coming up pretty quick—Wednesday, April 4—primarily because the filing period is in May and there’s not a lot of time to decide if you want to run. Of course the event is open to anyone, whether you want to run this year or just some day.

Why?

I’m doing this because a lot of people don’t pay any attention to local politics. Yet the local level often has the greatest impact on your daily life. Roads, parks, trash collection, noise, and petty crime—that’s all local politics.

“If you love where you live (or if you hate where you live and want to fix it), you need to run for city council.” -Amanda Litman, Run for Something

Continue reading Run for Public Office in West St. Paul: April 4

Minnesota GOP Votes to Block Gun Safety & Their DFL Challengers

After the Parkland school shooting in Florida I’ve been pretty angry about gun violence. I was fed up after the Las Vegas shooting last fall, and yet again nothing happened.

This time feels different.

But it will only be different if we make it different.

After Sandy Hook I remember thinking, “Surely Congress will do something, so I don’t have to get involved.” Boy was I stupid.

Let’s not be stupid.

Why should the second amendment be more sacred than human life? There are some common sense things we can do to restrict gun use and keep people safe. The idea that we can’t touch guns and that somehow more guns will keep people safe is just wrong.

Gun Safety in Minnesota

Today in Minnesota we had an opportunity to move forward with two simple approaches to gun control, background checks and a red flag law that would temporarily remove guns from dangerous people. Continue reading Minnesota GOP Votes to Block Gun Safety & Their DFL Challengers

You’ve Got This: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators

Three years ago—in 2015—I came up with an idea for a book giving a pep talk to church communicators. Last month we officially launched You’ve Got This: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators by Kelley Hartnett and illustrated by Erica J. Hicks.

The Backstory

In 2015 I was in the middle of reading Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome by Robby Novak and Brad Montague. It’s hard to read that book without smiling and being inspired. It’s just full of such pep.

I’ve worked with church communicators as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks since 2004. If there’s any group in need of a pep talk, it’s church communicators. I read Novak and Montague’s infectious good cheer and thought we need this for church communicators.

So I put a proposal together for a pep talk for church communicators. Continue reading You’ve Got This: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators

Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

It’s fitting that I close Black History Month by reading Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. It’s a quick read: one-page biographies (and fun illustrations) of 40 black women throughout history.

I quasi-intentionally read a fair number of black writers this month, including Luvvie Ajayi’s I’m Judging You, Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti: The Night Masquerade, Marley Dias Gets It Done, Ronald L. Smith’s middle grade Black Panther, They Can’t Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery, and Stride Toward Freedom by Martin Luther King Jr.

All were good, and while King and Lowery were perhaps the best examples of black history I read this month, Harrison’s Little Leaders really gives that broad taste of history that leaves you wanting more. Continue reading Vashti Harrison’s Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

25 Things You Didn’t Know About Billy Graham

The evangelist Billy Graham died today at the age of 99.

My first job out of college was working for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). Once upon a time I had a blog about Billy Graham and tried to write a biography. I still have a box of Billy Graham memorabilia (“Billyobilia”?) from the waning days of the BGEA before it moved to North Carolina.

I’m captivated by Graham’s transition from fiery preacher to loving grandfather. I find his comfort and then estrangement with political power to be both inspiring and troubling.

I am sometimes bothered by the seeming simplicity of Billy Graham’s message or the emotional manipulation of plinky music and a stadium full of peer pressure. But that’s also the inherent contradiction of the gospel. It’s a simple message, but a lifetime journey. It’s the already but not yet.

In short, Billy Graham led a fascinating life.

As part of my research in working on a biography, I put together a list of 25 curious facts about Billy Graham. Since little ever came of that research, it seems worthwhile to share it today. Continue reading 25 Things You Didn’t Know About Billy Graham

Sexual Misconduct in Minnesota Politics: Lindsey Port Speech

You know what’s weird? Discussing sexual misconduct at the dinner table with your kids.

We’ve discussed a lot of politics in the past year or two, not because my family is especially political, but because the issues have demanded it.

It’s hard to describe the moment my son yelled out, “What’s a pussy?” or the face my daughter made when it dawned on her what the President of the United States had said.

Sexual Misconduct in Minnesota

That issue came home for me this fall when State Representative Erin Maye Quade and candidate Lindsey Port came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against two members of the Minnesota legislature. It seemed the flood of #MeToo stories heard around the country were coming home to Minnesota (that feeling would only deepen with the stories about Senator Al Franken and Garrison Keillor).

Lindsey Port’s speech at the Sexual Harassment Task Force Rally (transcript below):

Continue reading Sexual Misconduct in Minnesota Politics: Lindsey Port Speech

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