With the election of council member Dave Napier to mayor, West St. Paul will have an open city council seat. According to state law and city charter, the mayor and council can appoint a replacement to serve out the remainder of Napier’s term (ends in 2020).
West St. Paul is currently accepting applications for this position. The newly elected council and mayor will consider the applicants and vote for a new city council member. Unlike normal city business, the mayor gets a vote in this process and there is no veto.
These appointment situations are always a little odd because we the people don’t get to elect our representative. We have a voice in the process through our other elected representatives, but it kind of side-steps democracy. (As an example of this democracy side-step: Of the six elected representatives voting to pick my new representative, only two of them actually represent me; the other four were elected by the people of wards 1 and 2.)
It’s democracy adjacent.
The council gets to fill the vacancy and they can do it in whatever way they see fit. They’re accepting applications, which is more than they’re required to do (and it’s a pretty detailed application—10 required questions plus a required resume and optional cover letter).
But it’s not a transparent process. We don’t get to see who the applications are or hear from them in any way and then lobby our representatives on city council (Update: Well I guess now we do. See below). Anybody could apply (even people who should never hold public office again), and the council can pick whoever they want for whatever reason they want.
Now realistically I trust the council to do a good job. It’s set up this way to avoid the expense of a special election and promptly fill the seat (I assume). This is simply how vacancies are filled. (The same thing happened with Minnesota’s U.S. Senate seat when Governor Mark Dayton appointed Tina Smith.)
But it’s still a weird situation (though not uncommon; I think it’s happened six or seven times in the last 20 years here in West St. Paul).
Democracy Requires Participation
While this could be an appointment that goes through quietly with little public input, I think it’s important for citizens to speak into this process. If West St. Paul has learned anything in the last year, it’s the importance of speaking up (heck, even the last month has shown us the importance of speaking up).
If you live in ward 3 and have thought about serving on council, you should consider applying.
You should also consider contacting the newly elected council and them know who you support.
What’s challenging about that is there’s no public campaign. You don’t know who wants the job unless they say something, so it’s hard to know who to support.
Like I said, it’s a weird situation. But it is what it is, and we should still participate.
As for me, I’m supporting Lisa Eng-Sarne. She ran in the primary and has made it clear she’s applying for the position.
She’s the only person I know of who is applying, which could make it potentially awkward for me to endorse her and then have others come forward who want the job (Update: Again, see below for the list of applicants). However, in addition to all her qualifications and experience (which I detail below), she’s already campaigned for the job.
Eng-Sarne already endured scrutiny and answered questions from the public. You may remember that Eng-Sarne was the only candidate to show up to the first-ever primary candidate forum (one candidate did have a death in the family and had a statement read in her absence), an event that gave us a glimpse of the kind of turnout we should have expected in November. Not every candidate who ran in the last election was willing to answer to the public—and I think that’s important. I’d be hard pressed to support someone else for the job unless they invited that same opportunity for public scrutiny.
So, if you support Eng-Sarne as well, I’d encourage you to contact the newly elected city council and let them know.
Supporting Lisa Eng-Sarne
Here’s the letter I sent to the council in support of Eng-Sarne:
Dear Mayor-Elect & Council Members,
I’m writing in support of appointing Lisa Eng-Sarne to the open ward 3 seat on city council.
I’m a ward 3 resident and while I supported Wendy Berry in the primary, I was also impressed with Eng-Sarne. I wrote several letters to the editor supporting both Berry and Eng-Sarne, but ultimately we only had one vote, and I chose Berry.
Eng-Sarne was a formidable candidate in the primary, managing to capture 20% of the vote against two well-known candidates. As a first-time candidate, she came within 108 votes (6%) of beating a former two-time mayor. Eng-Sarne’s 345 votes in the primary would have been enough for her to advance to the general election in both recent primaries in 2016 and 2012. Certainly turnout was way up in 2018, but Eng-Sarne was a part of generating that turnout with her active and visible campaign.
One of the benefits of appointing Eng-Sarne to this open seat is that she went through a campaign and faced some of the rigor and vetting that candidates inevitably face. Unlike other candidates, she showed up to the first ever primary forum and willingly answered questions from the public. By appointing Eng-Sarne, you’ll be appointing someone ward 3 already knows.
I bring up the 2018 primary campaign because I think it shows Eng-Sarne’s effort and commitment in the community. We can see that same effort and engagement in everything she does, both personally and professionally.
Eng-Sarne worked in the state legislature for five years with the late Senator Jim Metzen. She knows what it’s like to correspond with constituents and handle questions and concerns from the public. It also means she knows how government works and will bring invaluable experience to West St. Paul.
In addition to this previous government experience, she’s also been heavily involved with the Minnesota RollerGirls. Now it’s easy to dismiss this as a novelty (though watch her in the rink and you’ll see she’s a force to be reckoned with), but the RollerGirls are a lot more than an amateur sport. More than mere athletes, the women run the entire league. They’re in charge of marketing, promotion, finances, and more. Also, Eng-Sarne provided more than muscle to her team—she brought leadership, serving as captain for her home team and the All Star Team, leading to multiple championships.
Eng-Sarne has attended an Eco-District Summit, advocated for sexual assault survivors, and has led multiple charity efforts (including recently organizing a supper for people who are homeless and housed in West St. Paul through Matrix).
And let’s not forget her day job, overseeing $1 million in projects for 10 different clients as a project manager.
Lisa Eng-Sarne does her homework, she works incredibly hard, and she gets things done. I think she will make an incredible city council member and I would be proud to be represented by her in ward 3.
I hope you’ll consider appointing Eng-Sarne to the open council seat. Thank you for your consideration.
Kevin D. Hendricks
Update: Process & Applicants (Jan. 2, 2019)
We’ve got an update on how this whole thing will go.
First, the newly elected city council voted tonight on a process for how to name the appointment. They opted for a sub-committee of three council members (Dick Vitelli, Bob Pace, and Wendy Berry) that will interview the applicants and bring a recommendation to the full council. Then the full council can vote on that recommendation. It will likely happen at one of the next two meetings in January.
Second, the city released the names of the six applicants today:
- Lisa Eng-Sarne
- Maria Franzmeier
- Elyse Levine Less
- Matthew Muenchow
- Jade Pennig
- Amanda Tinsley
As I predicted, some potential awkwardness now that other names are in the mix and I’ve already backed Eng-Sarne. However, I stand by that endorsement, for the reasons I stated above.
Of the other applicants, I only know Maria Franzmeier and Jade Pennig. Franzmeier serves on the Planning Commission and Pennig has volunteered a lot with the city (her handiwork is all over the recent website redesign).
All I know about the other candidates is what I’ve Googled. If my Googling is accurate, Elyse Levine Less is the executive director of Tobacco Free Alliance Minnesota, Matthew Muenchow seems to be in banking, and Amanda Tinsley works for the Minnesota House and was the 2016 campaign manager for Rep. Regina Barr (and hey, Tinsley is a fellow Bethel alum).
It’s hard to say much one way or the other about the candidates I Googled, though I can say I’d be happy with either Franzmeier or Pennig in the position. But the same concerns I raised above still apply and make me support Eng-Sarne over them. I think public vetting is important, and we’ve had that opportunity with Eng-Sarne.
Update: Appointed (Jan. 15, 2019)
On Jan. 14, 2019, the West St. Paul city council unanimously appointed Lisa Eng-Sarne to fill the empty city council seat for Ward 3, completing the term through 2020.