Falcon Heights council candidates talk policing, what the city does next

ELECTION 2017


The past year and a half has been tumultuous and soul-searching for many in Falcon Heights, and this fall’s city council election could be an indicator of what residents want the city to do next.

Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer during a routine traffic stop on Larpenteur Avenue July 6, 2016. 

Though the officer was from the St. Anthony Police Department, which will provide police service in the city through the end of the year, the Falcon Heights City Council became the target of many calls for justice and reform related to the killing.

During packed council meetings following Castile’s death, residents and others dared the council to act decisively in response to the killing. The city’s elected officials took a slower and steadier approach.

St. Anthony forced the end of the two-decades long police contract between the cities and the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department will police the city in the new year.

Falcon Heights convened an Inclusion and Policing Task Force to nail down its values when it comes to policing and how it can be a more inclusive place. The task force presented its findings and recommendations to the city council earlier this year.

There are two seats up for election on the Falcon Heights City Council this fall. Incumbent Tony Fischer is seeking re-election after his first, partial two-year term, while three-term incumbent Pamela Harris is not.

There are six other candidates: Tom Brace, Ronald Dixon, Melanie Leehy, Mark Miazga, Paula Mielke and Michael Wade.

The candidates were asked via email why they are running, what skills and experiences they would bring to office, what they think are the top challenges facing the city, and what issues or projects they would prioritize if elected.

Election Day is Nov. 7.

 


Brace, 72, works part time as the state coordinator for the National Fire Sprinkler Association. He was the state fire marshal for Minnesota and Washington state for a combined 26 years and is an urban/political geography doctoral candidate at the University of Washington. He’s married to his wife Gunta.

Brace said he has a decade’s worth of experience in the nonprofit sector, is the former president of two national/international fire service organizations, was chair of the Falcon Heights Planning Commission and oversaw the fire inspection of every building on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

Brace said he’s running because it’s “time for a change in the manner that the present city council does business.” With the upcoming change in police departments, he said residents have “great expectations and concerns,” adding, “my public safety background can help provide some badly needed leadership.”

The top challenges facing the city, according to Brace, are public safety expectations, potential tax increases related to the policing change and memorializing the site were Castile was killed. If elected, he said he would use his experience in public safety to help guide the city in the “difficult days ahead,” and would prioritize reaching out to the University of Minnesota and the State Fair to discuss mutual concerns and new partnerships.

 


Dixon, 23, is a revenue examiner at the Minnesota Department of Revenue where he helps people with income, property and withholding tax questions. He is also a union steward and on the executive board for AFSCME Local 3141 and is married to his wife Kathryn Knutson. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and communication studies from the University of Minnesota.

Dixon said his studies and experience at the Department of Revenue, helping people with their tax questions, has prepared him for the city council. Additionally, he considers himself a “policy wonk” and said he has the “passion and energy to fight for the needs of my neighbors.”

He said he is running because he wants to improve the lives of his neighbors and make the city an even better place to live. As a young person, Dixon also said he felt compelled to run to represent millennials, “who are impacted the most by the decisions of policymakers.”

The biggest challenge facing the city, Dixon said, is putting in place a progressive police contract with the sheriff’s office that will improve relations between residents and the police, while enacting other requirements to make sure a tragedy like the killing of Castile never happens again. He said he would prioritize passing a $15 minimum wage in the city, putting in place a collaborative organics recycling program, passing progressive budgets and making Falcon Heights a sanctuary city.

 


Fischer, 43, works for the Metropolitan Council as a highway planning analyst. He has a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota in applied economics and is married to his wife Cristina Castro.

With two years of experience on the city council, including “the turmoil since Philando Castile was killed,” Fischer also said he’d bring patience, financial analysis and listening skills to the council.

Fischer said he is running because he “would like to help make 1,000 small but thoughtful decisions that help make Falcon Heights an even better place to live, work and play.” He said he would bring facts, knowledge and caring to every issue, while listening to community members to solve problems, leaving the world a better place for the next generation.

The biggest challenges facing the city include responsible budgeting, Fischer said, while addressing the needs of the city’s parks, including Community Park. He said the city also needs to carry forward the momentum of the Inclusion and Policing Task Force, “to make sure some good comes out of the tragedy.”

If re-elected, Fischer said he would prioritize the city’s budget. “Paying careful attention to all the things that make up our budget not only keeps our taxes in check, especially important after the anticipated large 2018 increase, but also is part of making sure the budget priorities reflect our values,” he said.

 


Leehy, 53, has associate’s degrees from Hennepin County Technical College, North Central University and Christ for the Nations Institute, in banking occupations, cross cultural communications and practical theology. 

She is the founder and president of the nonprofit Mobilizing And Releasing Caring Hearts, Inc., and runs MARCH Services as a senior living consultant and administrative concierge. She’s married to her husband John.

With 11 years of “consistent service and leadership in Falcon Heights,” Leehy was co-chair of the Inclusion and Policing Task Force and chair of the city’s Community Engagement Commission. She said she also has 36 years of experience in the nonprofit, education and corporate sectors. Leehy said she is running because her “proven service and proven leadership will provide the strength and courage that our city needs in this hour.” She said the city must make people of diverse backgrounds feel not only comfortable as guests, but as residents.

The top challenge facing the city is implementing the inclusion recommendations from the task force, Leehy said. “We owe this to the community conversation participants who helped shape these recommendations, as well as all of our residents,” she said. “We must not be about just making policies, but taking action.”

On priorities, Leehy said, “We didn’t choose the tragedy of Philando Castile being killed by a police officer in our city. But this surfaced a need for us to collectively do our best to bring transformation.”

 


Miazga, 48, is a research coordinator for the University of Minnesota Office of Measurement Services. He has a juris doctorate from the Hamline University School of Law, having studied law and public policy, and is married to his wife Linda Starr.

Miazga said he has professional, public service and legislative leadership experience at the local and county level and collaborative legislative advocacy experience at the state and national level. He said he has experience building partnerships, making decisions, creating budgets and carrying out data collection, analysis and research.

He said he is running because he “[has] a strong commitment to public service and the need for good data to inform decisions.” Miazga said his experience as chair of the city’s Environment Commission and serving on St. Paul’s Capital Improvement Committee also informed his decision. 

The top challenges facing Falcon Heights, he said, are engaging the community as police service switches to Ramsey County, balancing infrastructure needs against property taxes while finding outside funding when possible, and addressing other resident concerns, like traffic, trash hauling and parks needs.

If elected, Miazga said he would prioritize implementing the recommendations of the Police and Inclusion Task Force while maintaining the city’s reputation for providing public services at a reasonable cost.

 


Mielke, 57, owns an upholstery shop; previously, she had a 30-year career in public relations. She has a master’s of business communications from the University of St. Thomas and is married to her husband Bruce.

Mielke said she has experience in communications planning and implementation, including crisis communications, and leadership. “I see what needs to be done, rally people together and get things done,” she said.

Mielke said she is running because she’s “passionate about Falcon Heights, my home since 1990.” She said she serves on the Ramsey County Library Board, was on the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission and was the Falcon Heights Elementary PTA president, developing its main fundraiser and lifting the ban on students biking to school. 

“Shortly after Philando was killed I brought together other residents to form Falcon Heights We Can Do Better,” she said. “We advocated for changes in policing, including forming a citizens’ task force.”

The top challenges facing the city, Mielke said, include transitioning to a new police department, implementing the Police and Inclusion Task Force recommendations and managing the city’s budget, while also revitalizing parks and addressing the need for affordable housing.

“More than anything, I want to listen to residents, let them know they were heard and be their voice,” Mielke said of her top priority, if elected.

 


Wade, 42, graduated from Bartlett High School in Anchorage, Alaska. He is divorced.

He said he has experience in publishing, speaking, finance, labor and business. He said he is running “To bring the voice of the silenced and unheard. To bring together the people to make one community and restore humanity.”

The top challenges facing Falcon Heights, Wade said, are inclusion, policing and moral civility. If elected, he said he would prioritize implementing the Police and Inclusion Task Force recommendations.

 

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813.



 

Rate this article: 
No votes yet
Comment Here