Category Archives: Twin Cities

West St. Paul’s Black Lives Matter Mural

So my city, West St. Paul, made the New York Times this past week over a Black Lives Matter mural that has to come down for violating city ordinance. Then another Black man was killed by police in Minnesota on Sunday, Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center. Last night we had a metro-wide curfew.

It’s been a week. In the midst of a pandemic. After a summer of already doing this. During a trial where we were already reliving last summer.

I drafted a whole post about the mural controversy. It feels kind of pointless now.

But I’ll say a couple things…

I have rather ragey feelings about Black people killed by police.

I have rather mixed feelings about the mural.

Protest sign: "Matter" is the Minimum
My son and I attended a protest supporting Black Lives Matter at the Minnesota State Capitol in June 2020.
Continue reading West St. Paul’s Black Lives Matter Mural

Vote Lisa Eng-Sarne for West St. Paul Ward 3 City Council

I’ve held off on making endorsements this year in a number of local political races because of my work with West St. Paul Reader. However, I am enthusiastically endorsing Lisa Eng-Sarne for West St. Paul Ward 3 City Council.

The Bullying, Lying Opponent

Given the competition, my endorsement should be no surprise. I wrote extensively about her opponent, David Meisinger, in 2018 and his bullying, intimidating behavior.

He hasn’t changed.

This year he’s making false, misleading statements, implying that he’s the sole ‘law and order,’ pro-police candidate while also suggesting we’re living in “lawless” times with “unchecked crime and disorder.” He’s wrong on both counts. No candidates in West St. Paul have attacked police or even suggested defunding police. And there is no significant spike in crime in West St. Paul.

Anyone supporting him should be asking some serious questions about the statements he makes, his lack of transparency, and his completely inappropriate behavior.

Vote for Lisa Eng-Sarne

But why waste any more time talking about him? Let’s talk about Lisa Eng-Sarne.

Eng-Sarne first ran in 2018 in a four-way primary for the Ward 3 City Council. At the time, I supported Wendy Berry. But I also wrote letters to the editor encouraging people to pick Berry or Eng-Sarne. I could only vote for one, and I ended up with Berry. But I also supported Eng-Sarne when a seat opened up on City Council and someone had to be appointed. So Eng-Sarne has represented my ward on City Council since January 2019, and I’ve been impressed with her work.

Let’s look at why.

Continue reading Vote Lisa Eng-Sarne for West St. Paul Ward 3 City Council

Oh, Minneapolis

What a crap week. It’s bad enough dealing with a pandemic and all the stress and worry that entails. Then police violence and the murder of George Floyd. Then tear gas and more violence and more death and Minneapolis burning. I don’t have the words.

(Speaking of words, people like to quote Martin Luther King Jr. about non-violence, but he also spoke about riots. Some context on those comments is especially helpful.)

Since I don’t have words, two songs come to mind this week.

Let the People Be Free

The first is a protest song by Jayanthi Kyle called “Hand in Hand.” It was written in 2014 and, because of course, the lyrics are still quite relevant:

The day’s gonna come when I won’t march no more
But while my sister ain’t equal & my brother can’t breathe
Hand and hand with my family, we will fill these streets …

Mr. Policeman
I can’t breathe
Lay down your weapons and your badges and listen to me

Jayanthi is also in a chorus group called Give Get Sistet that’s pretty amazing. Nobody is doing performances right now, cuz pandemic, but they’d be an ideal group to bring in right now.

Oh, Minneapolis

The other song I thought of was Ben Kyle’s “Minneapolis.” The lyrics aren’t nearly as applicable, but the mournful “Oh, Minneapolis” captures about how it felt this morning to see images of the city smoldering.

O Minneapolis,
I saw you and Saint Paul kiss
Neath the moonlight in a Mississippi mist
Never saw a thing as beautiful as this
Oh Minneapolis

Rain down, purple rain (I wanna hear the sound)
I wanna feel the royal rain on me
I wanna feel the holy water running like a holy stream
I wanna be baptized in the city in the Mississippi

THanks for Supporting West St. Paul Reader

Back in May I launched West St. Paul Reader. It’s a hyper local news site focused on my town of West St. Paul. It exists thanks to the generous support of a lot of people, from my initial Kickstarter backers to my current Patreon supporters.

It’s been a wild journey, and I’m very grateful for it.

I’ve been writing about West St. Paul here on my personal blog for a while. I think it started in 2014 when we had a hotly contested mayoral election. And it grew from there. It was always a hobby, but it was taking more and more of my time. I write for a living, so that was kind of a problem. I wanted to do something more official and more sustainable. There were stories I just couldn’t tell because it was a hobby. I wanted to do something more.

But I wasn’t sure if it would work. I’ve had a lot of not-so-great ideas over the years that didn’t go anywhere. So I launched a Kickstarter campaign with some trepidation.

It only took five days to hit the initial goal. And it went up from there. That initial boost literally kickstarted West St. Paul Reader. From that initial support I was able to hire a local designer to create a logo, pay a writer to do a post on local taco joints, and hopefully pay some more writers—because it’s important to pay people for their work.

It’s also important to me that West St. Paul Reader is sustainable. I enjoy doing it, but it’s not a hobby. It’s part of my business. It takes a lot of time away from my regular freelance work—and I’ve got bills to pay.

So I’m incredibly grateful to see the ongoing support grow through Patreon. This is a way to support West St. Paul Reader through monthly payments. In return, it helps keep people informed, there are patron-only updates, and other extras.

When an email notification of a new patron comes through, I’ve pumped my first in the air or run a victory lap around my office. It’s exciting because it means this thing is working.

And that has meant some strange and wonderful things. Such as:

For a total of 83 posts.

So to everyone who has made West St. Paul Reader happen, thank you.

If you want to join the team and support West St. Paul Reader you can become a patron.

Last Day for West St. Paul Reader Kickstarter Campaign

Today is the final day of my Kickstarter campaign for West St. Paul Reader. It’s a new site to help inform people about what’s going on in West St. Paul.

The Kickstarter campaign hit the initial goal in less than five days and the site launched. Since then, we’ve been working toward stretch goals and knocking them down.

The campaign ends at midnight tonight (Central Time), so it’s your last chance to back West St. Paul Reader and help us keep people informed.

I’ve been talking about this non-stop for the past month. I’m incredibly grateful for all the support, but I’ll be happy to stop flogging it and just talk about what’s happening.

Like the West St. Paul water tower.

This comment really underscores what West St. Paul Reader is all about:

“Until today, I’ve never seen a photo of the inside of a water tower! Thanks, West St. Paul Reader!”

Matt Pennig

So do me a favor and back the project. Thanks.

West St. Paul Reader Progress

Two weeks ago I launched a Kickstarter campaign to start the West St. Paul Reader. Five days into the campaign we hit the goal and West St. Paul Reader became a reality with the first official post.

I’m super grateful for all the people who have stepped up to help this project. It’s so encouraging to see this kind of support.

But it’s not over.

We’re still working to hit stretch goals and make West St. Paul Reader even better.

Let’s talk about why you should support it.

The Rewards

First up, let’s talk about what you can get out of the deal—the rewards. One of the fun things about any Kickstarter project is all the creative rewards you get for backing the project.

This one is a little different because the campaign is to start a website, so there’s not a product you get as a reward. Everyone gets the rewards of the site being live. But we’ve still got some fun rewards that can make it worth your while:

  • West St. Paul coupon book: The most popular reward by far has been our coupon book. You get $350 in value for $25. See the full list of participating West St. Paul businesses and their deals.
  • Mayor meetup: West St. Paul Mayor Dave Napier has graciously agreed to attend a private meetup with a select group of backers. This is a fun little insider option to hang out with the mayor. Only seven slots left!
  • Lunch & tour: For the big spenders I’m offering a chance to hang out with me—we’ll do lunch and take a tour of West St. Paul highlights. I’m not exactly sure what that tour will be yet, but I’m thinking we’ll hit some lesser known sites, hit a few historic locales and show off some hidden gems of West St. Paul. This one also includes a subscription to Zebra Cat Zebra, the bi-monthly zine of local artist Carolyn Swiszcz. Only six slots left!
  • Businesses: For the business community, I’m offering a big sponsorship opportunity. They can get a six-month banner ad and a sponsored post on West St. Paul Reader for $300. That sponsored post can be a great way to connect with vocal locals and boost your SEO. Only nine slots left!
  • Local art: For just $5, backers can get a handwritten thank you postcard featuring artwork by Carolyn Swiszcz (known for the famous West St. Paul song).

The Hyperlocal News Angle

While rewards are great, I think the bigger picture angle of offering hyperlocal news is worth considering.

Writing about my community is something that excites me. I’ve been doing it for five years now, slowly getting closer and closer to the idea of launching a dedicated site.

Why a West St. Paul Site?

I kept rejecting the idea of a West St. Paul blog, deciding I didn’t want to commit to another time suck. But as time went on and I kept writing about West St. Paul more and more on my personal blog, I couldn’t get away from this idea.

I’ve connected with a lot of people by writing about West St. Paul. When I went door knocking for campaigns last year, I was surprised by how often people already knew me. They’d seen my writing about West St. Paul, and it connected.

Let’s face it: It’s hard to know what’s going on in your community.

We’re a town of 20,000 people in a metro area of more than 3 million. Local media doesn’t pay much attention to us. And why should they? If you want to know who’s running for city council or why some road construction project is a big deal, it was really hard to find answers.

West St. Paul has an incredibly active Facebook group, but for all the benefit it brings, it’s often full of so much snark and noise that it’s hard to get straight answers.

So there’s interest, and there’s need, and I’ve got the passion.

The Benefit of Hyperlocal

What’s so interesting about West St. Paul Reader is the potential of hyperlocal news. I think when people can be informed about their community, they’re more likely to engage. When they engage with what’s going on, they’re more likely to connect with their neighbors.

Being informed, engaged, connected—that all creates a sense of pride in your community. You feel like you belong.

That’s definitely the spirit of West St. Paul, but it’s been so much stronger lately when people have been learning about what’s going on, engaging in volunteer and community efforts, and connecting with each other.

Just ask how many people have attended city council meetings for the first time in the past year.

West St. Paul Stories

So what stories are we telling? West St. Paul Reader has been live for 10 days, but here are some of the local stories we’ve already told:

Support West St. Paul Reader

It’s been fun sharing these stories, and we’re just getting started.

But to keep it up, we need support. Please support the Kickstarter campaign, get some of those great rewards, and enable this hyperlocal effort to keep going.

Our next stretch goal is for guest columnists (because this project should be more than me). As of right now, we need another $910 to hit that goal. It’s a big ask, and definitely a stretch, but I think we can do it. We’ve got 17 more days to go.

Thanks to everyone who has made this happen.

Help Launch West St. Paul Reader

Update: West St. Paul Reader went live on May 14, 2019.

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.

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.

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