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

This week’s West St. Paul City Council meeting didn’t seem to have any major items on the agenda, but there were still several noteworthy items. So let’s do a quick recap of the Feb. 25, 2019 meeting.

Food Drive: South Side vs. West Side

In a bit of friendly competition, the West St. Paul city council has challenged the South St. Paul city council to see who can bring in more food and donations in support of the Neighbors Inc. food shelf. The losing city council will wear the hockey jersey of the winning city’s team at a meeting. So it’s South St. Paul High School Packers vs. Henry Sibley High School Warriors. You can find more details including a list of places to bring food or donations online.

It’s been reported that Neighbors Inc. has lost an $89,000 grant from United Way, so they could definitely use the extra support this year.

New & Improved Mayor?

West St. Paul’s Winter Fun Fest on Saturday received some praise and also criticism—though the critique would be pretty confusing if you didn’t know what happened. Some residents were offended by comments made by South Robert Street Business Association (SRSBA) Vice President John Ramsay when he introduced Mayor Dave Napier as the “new and improved mayor”—a dig on former Mayor Jenny Halverson (there’s some history there).

Ramsay defended the comments on Facebook as personal opinion (he was sure to deny any sexism, but did not deny his criticism). Critics argue that his personal political opinion shouldn’t be expressed on behalf of the SRSBA at a city sponsored event.

Napier was frustrated by Ramsay’s comments and noted that the SRSBA distanced themselves from the comments. But Napier was also quick to defend the SRSBA’s many contributions to the city and said we shouldn’t conflate one person’s personal opinion with an entire organization.

“The city council is trying to build a community that’s strong, and this takes us back a little bit,” Napier said. “But we’re not going to let it. We’re going to move forward.”

The whole thing is an odd throwback to last year’s sexism controversy and just reinforces that the underlying tensions still exist.

Too Little Too Late for the Y

Another citizen commented in support of keeping the YMCA in West St. Paul.

Unfortunately, that’s not up to the city. Not much was said at Monday’s meeting, but during last week’s Neighborhood Meeting more was said about the prospects for the Y.

The YMCA is in a deal with Hyvee, not the City of West St. Paul. While the deal is not officially complete (they hope to have an update in mid-March), it’s very likely the YMCA will sell and move somewhere nearby (they say they’re committed to staying in the service area, which could be West St. Paul, South St. Paul, St. Paul’s West Side, Mendota Heights, Lilydale, or Inver Grove Heights). There’s little the city could do to stop the deal—short of alienating everyone involved, which likely wouldn’t be a good move to try to keep the YMCA.

The reality is the YMCA is looking for money to build a new facility. Both the City of West St. Paul and ISD 197 have worked with the YMCA to try to find some kind of partnership that keeps the YMCA here. Nothing has worked out.

If you want to keep the Y in West St. Paul, it would likely take a big pile of money we don’t have.

Marie Avenue Sidewalks

Another citizen comment (from a citizen of South St. Paul—perhaps a bit of friendly trolling over the food drive?) lamented the lack of sidewalks on Marie Avenue east of Robert Street. The city council agreed in early 2017 and accepted a federal grant to add sidewalks (it passed unanimously after an initial vote failed 3-2 when it needed 4 votes to pass).

So where are the sidewalks? They’re coming this summer. The federal grant, which makes the sidewalks affordable, didn’t pay out until 2019. This is an unfortunate reminder of how slowly the wheels of progress turn.

City Council Representing

New city council members Wendy Berry, Lisa Eng-Sarne, and John Justen have been making their presence known at the state capitol in support of a number of bills that could bring some needed state funds to West St. Paul. Council member Berry even showed up a few minutes late to Monday’s meeting because she was testifying at the capitol with City Manager Ryan Schroeder.

While it’s not entirely new to see our council members engaging with state government, there’s a new energy to the efforts. What’s perhaps most impactful is seeing updates on the council members’ Facebook pages keeping citizens informed. It’s encouraging to see our elected officials engaging like this.

Library Deets

Wentworth Library Branch Manager Murray Wilson gave a presentation about the library, including some fun facts about the Wentworth Library:

  • 217,175 visitors per year.
  • More than 394,000 items loaned (physical items only).
  • 98,883 hours of online/computer access (second highest among county libraries).

He also noted that Dakota County plans to remodel Wentworth in the next four to five years.

After the presentation, Council member Anthony Fernandez commended the library for offering two different apps for digital downloads (a good point), but then stereotyped librarians with a backhanded compliment about Wilson’s presentation (awkward).

Proud West St. Paul Booster

While we’re only two months into Mayor Dave Napier’s first term, it’s already clear that he’s a loud and proud West St. Paul booster. I’m a relatively new city council observer, but it feels like Napier is cheering for West St. Paul with a vigor I haven’t seen before.

“Again, I love saying this—welcome to West St. Paul,” Napier said Monday night to Zhong Qin Zheng, owner of the new Tokyo Sushi restaurant coming to Southview Square hopefully in May.

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