With 2020 nearly behind us (yay!), I’m looking back on some positive accomplishments during this pandemic year. Last time I looked at my book Better Politics, Please. This time I wanted to look at the “Community Cairn” public art project in West St. Paul.Continue reading 2020 Accomplishments: Art Park
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
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:
- Attending four-and-a-half-hour meetings.
- Stopping while running errands so I can take pictures.
- Getting a tour of the inside of the water tower.
- Meeting lots of interesting people.
- Researching some really arcane local election history.
- Advocating for my community.
- And answering lots of questions.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Debating Basketball: The West St. Paul city council will consider whether to return basketball hoops to two parks in the city after they were removed more than a decade ago.
- Student Turned Teacher: We talk with Garlough teacher Rodrigo Sanchez, who attended the school as a fourth grade student and has now returned as a third grade teacher.
- West St. Paul Days 2019: We offered a rundown of events for the annual West St. Paul celebration, including some history.
- City Council Recap: We shared a recap of the May 13 city council meeting, which included the anniversary of Women of West St. Paul and a citizen upset about the city response to a problem property.
- Questions: We’ve also provided short, simple answers to a number of questions, including when will the tunnel open, what’s going on in Thompson Park, when will FoodSmith open, and, the most popular, is West St. Paul getting a Kohl’s?
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.
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.
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:
- Original and reproduced artwork from West St. Paul’s Carolyn Swiszcz (of the “West St. Paul Song” and Zebra Cat Zebra fame).
- A coupon book featuring deals and discounts from a bunch of West St. Paul businesses.
- A meetup with Mayor Dave Napier.
- And a bunch more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
A relatively quick and uneventful city council meeting tonight in West St. Paul. Here’s the recap:
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.
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.
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.