Roseville candidates paint cheerful portrait of city at forum

The state of Roseville is pretty good — that’s the impression one had walking out of the Oct. 4 candidate forum at City Hall as told by the city’s council and mayoral candidates.

There’s still room for improvement, though — a secondary conclusion that was gleaned from the League of Women Voters Roseville Area-organized event — and the six candidates offered up enough varied solutions to the city’s issues to give voters some real options come Election Day on Nov. 6.

Incumbent Mayor Dan Roe is seeking a third term in the position he’s held for the last eight years. He’s being challenged by current council member Tammy McGehee, an eight-year council veteran herself.

Roe introduced himself and indicated he’s running on his record. Elected in the throes of the Great Recession, he said he helped lead a city with stagnant development and underfunded priorities to a state of dependable funding and progress, in terms of parks, development and community.

“I’m proud of how much we have accomplished together,” he said.

McGehee, on the other hand, framed her run on what’s yet to come.

“I believe we have made some good progress, but we’ve also fallen short,” she said, stressing the need for the city to have a fiscally and environmentally responsible plan for its future, while underscoring community engagement, a topic she’d return to, again and again, as the lynchpin in making good planning possible.

Council incumbent Bob Willmus is running for his third term, while Jim Bull, Wayne Groff and Dannah Thompson round out the race for two council seats.

Introducing himself, Willmus touted his Roseville roots and community involvement, as well as specific recent council accomplishments he spearheaded like the Tobacco 21 ordinance the council passed in June, which raised the tobacco product purchase age in the city from 18 to 21 years old.

Bull, a member of the city Planning Commission, beekeeper, Army veteran and management consultant, framed himself as an adroit manager and nonpartisan, a point that was aimed at Groff, who is endorsed by the Roseville DFL, though neither he nor Bull said it that plainly during the forum. Said Bull, “My guiding principle in life is do the right things for the right reasons.”

Groff, also a Planning Commission member, ran unsuccessfully for the city council in a three-way 2016 race for two seats, with the same party endorsement that time around. A former member of the city Human Rights, Inclusion and Engagement Commission, Groff opened the forum talking about engagement work with the Karen immigrant community during work on the city’s new Unity Park in southeast Roseville.

Thompson, who said she moved to the city two years ago “after being priced out of my Minneapolis apartment,” said she would work towards a more equitable city. “As a council member I will be the voice of the community,” she said, making sure to represent the often underrepresented in city government: people of color, the elderly and renters.

 

Affordable housing

Forum moderator Florence Sprague — impartial because she said she lives in Maplewood — guided all six candidates through the same questions. She asked first about the city’s role in affordable housing, an important topic for the Roseville League.

McGehee seemingly spoke directly to the many seniors in the room when she discussed limited-time subsidies the city can put in place for affordable units, indicating they’re not a solution because someone who is 65 could move into a place they can afford, but the subsidy could expire when they’re 80, prompting a jump in their rent and forcing them to move. She floated the idea of rent control and land trusts, the latter of which would give the city greater control over development.

Roe said everyone who wants to live in Roseville should be able to, and pointed out that when it comes to affordable housing plans, the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. “People who are looking for affordable housing need a place to live now,” he said, noting the council might not always be able to back exactly what it wants.

Minimizing the role the city should take in affordable housing, Bull argued it’s difficult to ask residents to fund housing for others. 

Groff pointed out that Roseville’s median household income of $63,000 is below the region’s as a whole, and said affordable housing should be near jobs. He recommended clustering high-density units near Rosedale Center, the city’s service hub.

Building on Groff’s point about the city’s median income, Thompson said she backed a $15 minimum wage as well as building affordable housing in the Rice Street and Larpenteur Avenue area.

Willmus pushed the idea of workforce housing, making sure teachers, police officers and firefighters can afford a place to live in the city, and showed an interest in getting more multi-family properties built as well.

 

Diversity

Asked how the city should deal with the challenge of diversity, Willmus said it was important to include people from a range of backgrounds in city government, saying he wants to get “people who don’t look like me” onto city advisory commissions.

Thompson said outreach was of utmost importance — for instance, she was at a loss for what to do when she first moved to Roseville — and she agreed with Willmus about the need to get diverse people involved with city politics and voting.

Bringing up a lesson learned on the human rights commission, Groff recounted parks outreach work where a bounce house was critical to bringing children to a city event with their parents in tow. This brought older immigrant people who might have been intimidated by language barriers, had their kids not been motivated to play.

Bull agreed that the city’s demographics have changed greatly even since the turn of the century — more than 60 languages are now spoken in the city’s schools, he noted — and said he would work to be out in the community, if elected, as much as possible.

“I reject the premise of the question that diversity is a challenge,” said Roe, stressing the need to set aside differences while mentioning that he’s proposed events for the city’s annual festival, Rosefest, that would celebrate diversity.

McGehee echoed Roe: “Diversity and the richness in the community is to be celebrated and not seen as a challenge.” She floated the idea of teaming the city’s volunteer coordinator with folks who would go and welcome in person new residents to the community.

 

Policing

With a recent presentation to the council by Roseville Police Chief Rick Mathwig on increasing reported crime in the city since 2010 as a backdrop, the candidates discussed how they would support law enforcement.

Though many candidates noted the need for residents and the community as a whole to band together to prevent crimes of opportunity — make sure to lock doors on your home and vehicle, alert a neighbor if they’ve left their garage door open — Bull said he would support the city in hiring more police officers.

Roe was more cautious about hiring than Bull, though he did mention the importance of maintaining local control over policing, a jab at and a reference to McGehee’s October 2016 suggestion that the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office could take over policing the city from the Roseville Police Department as a cost-saving move.

McGehee referenced a phrase from Mathwig’s presentation, “We can’t arrest ourselves out of crime.” She said other retailers could take a lead from the city’s Walmart, which has upped its in-house security measures. Theft at the city’s many retailers was a driver of the increase in reported crime. “It might behoove us to put more pressure on our retail facilities that have the most calls for service,” she said, with Rosedale squarely in her sights.

Seizing on a secondary part of Sprague’s question regarding mental health issues and policing, Willmus said he was looking for ways in the 2019 city budget to fund a mental health liaison officer, a yearly request of Mathwig’s. He also said he was looking at ways Ramsey County could do more for the city with respect to mental health services. 

Thompson argued the city should work to solve the root causes of crime, to “look at why people are committing crimes and stealing.” She said equal opportunity for all would deter crime, while again arguing for a $15 minimum wage.

Groff called for the possibility of hiring a social worker in lieu of a mental health liaison officer, but said he’d be open to both.

 

Traffic and favorite things

With a shortened time limit on answers Sprague closed the forum with a question about what the city can do about traffic congestion and other travel inconveniences like long waits at stoplights.

Groff pointed out there’s only so much control the city has when it comes to transportation, and touted his work on a circulator bus route for seniors and others the council is helping to fund. Thompson said “I know the light on Snelling gives me headaches,” adding she’d work for better transit since she walks a mile to her bus stop to start her daily commute.

“We need to work with our partners,” said Willmus, meaning Ramsey County and the Metropolitan Council. He added that an overall transportation goal is “trying to get people out of cars.” McGehee brought up private companies using their vehicles to move people, and the importance of keeping drivers frustrated by congestion on the major arteries off residential streets.

Roe said more highway lanes aren’t a solution — he’d only support MnPASS lane additions on Highway 36 — while Bull advocated for more hours of transit service and more novel approaches to moving people such as rental bikes and scooters, which have recently landed in Roseville’s big city neighbors, Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Though opinions varied and a handful of veiled barbs were exchanged, a cheery view of the city ran throughout the candidate forum. In a lightning round, each candidate was asked for their favorite thing about Roseville.

“Just the community,” said Thompson; Groff said “The ease of living here.” “It’s really the whole experience of life we have here in Roseville,” said Bull; “The best thing about Roseville really is the people of Roseville,” Roe said, with a hat tip to Thompson.

McGehee said, “It’s all about the neighborhood,” while Willmus said, “It’s about the schools.”

Video of the Roseville City Council and mayoral candidate forum is available to view at www.ctvnorthsuburbs.org.

 

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

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