St. Paul City Council adds 2 new members, prepares to take on big issues

 

By Frederick Melo
fmelo@pioneerpress.com

Posted:   01/05/2016

Before an audience of hundreds, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman on Tuesday helped swear in the St. Paul City Council's two newest members, Rebecca Noecker and Jane Prince.

With three of seven members now women, the council has more female members than at any time since the mid-1990s. Ward 5 council member Amy Brendmoen was re-elected in November to a second term.

The inauguration took place at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, where the council was feted by the Capital City Wind Ensemble, a 24-member band composed of city and Ramsey County employees and retirees.

Noecker fills the Ward 2 seat that had been held by Dave Thune, on and off, since 1990.

Prince fills the Ward 7 seat that had been occupied by Kathy Lantry, who stepped down 10 months early to accept a position as director of public works. Former St. Paul Police Chief William Finney completed Lantry's unexpired term.

"To my colleagues on the council, I say good luck," Coleman said to widespread laughter during his remarks to council members and guests.

On a more serious note, the mayor -- himself a former council member -- said that St. Paul cannot move forward without addressing the pressing issues of racial disparities in educational outcome and economic opportunity.

Council president Russ Stark also emphasized the role he and his colleagues have in improving the city.

"As council members, we are the most accessible layer of government," Stark said.

There will be little time for the old and new council members to learn to work together before diving into potentially divisive issues.

On Wednesday, the city's Housing and Redevelopment Authority will challenge the Heritage Preservation Commission's decision to block the demolition of four homes in the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood, including 737 Plum St., 700 E. Fourth St., 767 E. Fourth St. and 275 Bates Ave.

The council meeting agenda includes a final hearing on a proposal to bar flavored tobacco products from convenience stores, and a vote on determining public uses, such as school access, to the downtown Palace Theatre, which is undergoing renovation as a performing arts space.

Looking further out, the new council will face fundamental questions about a proposed Major League Soccer stadium at University and Snelling avenues; public subsidy for private development through tax-increment financing districts; public transit corridors such as West Seventh Street; and future residential and commercial development at the former Ford Motor Co. plant in Highland Park.

The new council will host its first regular meeting at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, to be followed by public hearings at 5:30 p.m.

Pointing to a recent cable franchise agreement with Comcast and a council decision to offer tax-free land for the soccer stadium, a coalition of longtime St. Paul activists will host a public forum Thursday calling for greater transparency and accountability in city government.

The St. Paul Strong event is organized by historic preservationist John Mannillo and will be moderated by schoolteacher and labor organizer Roy Magnuson.

The forum is at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Mai Village, 394 W. University Ave.

In a written statement, organizers said council members Noecker, Prince, Dan Bostrom and Dai Thao have agreed to participate.

Frederick Melo can be reached at 651-228-2172. Follow him at twitter.com/FrederickMelo.