Maplewood candidates address public

Maplewood council candidates Bob Cardinal, Diana Longrie, Bryan Smith and Tou Xiong presented their views at a League of Women Voters forum at Maplewood City Hall Oct. 15. 

The four prevailed in a primary vote to progress to the general election Nov. 3. Two seats are up for vote: Cardinal’s and that of longtime council member Marvin Koppen, who decided not to run.

Moderator Linda McLoon of the Roseville-Maplewood-Falcon Heights LWV chapter set strict ground rules for the participants, with time limits and a ban on personal attacks against other candidates.

Most questions were penned and submitted by audience members at the forum.

In their introductory statements, taken in random order, Smith, 39 and a marketing manager for Tennant, said he feels Maplewood “has started on a great new path of sensible government,” and he’d like to join the council in order to foster high-quality development and redevelopment, attracting businesses that provided full-time jobs. “We need to make Maplewood a great place for business,” he said, with efficient services, easy-to-navigate transportation routes and professional practices in government.

Xiong, 25, described his family’s coming to the U.S. and Maplewood, saying he’s “the son of illiterate former refugees” and described his father’s pride at hanging Xiong’s juris doctorate diploma in their Maplewood home. Xiong portrayed his running for the council as a way to repay the community for the many opportunities he’s had. As a professional community organizer for the city of Minneapolis, he said he’d be an advocate for a professional city council that would “move forward and leave the nonsense aside.”

Bob Cardinal, who’s held his current seat since January 2012, was also mayor from November 1999-December, 2004. He is 63 and is a business broker. Saying he’d door-knocked all over the city, Cardinal said “I’ve talked to everyone about everything.” From his time living and working in the city, he described Maplewood residents as “different from any other community — they’re very proud of their city and are often people who have moved out of St. Paul.” He said voters shouldn’t vote for “a blind date,” apparently referring to Smith and Xiong’s status as non-incumbents and was cut off by the moderator.

Diana Longrie, an attorney and former mayor of Maplewood from 2005-2009, noted she has lived in two houses in the Gladstone neighborhood, one next to the other. “I have lived in Maplewood longer than anywhere else ... I am dedicated to Maplewood and the quality of life we have here.” She said among the issues she hopes to tackle if elected, “We need to permanently protect our parks and preserves and trails” from development.

 

One of the first questions asked was council members’ positions on code enforcement as it affects neighborhoods.

“There are codes and there have been many changes, and I concur with enforcing the codes,” Cardinal said, noting that the council has put into practice better ways to educate the community on codes covering such things as parking cars on lawns and improved enforcement.

Longrie said in her opinion the codes are in place to protect residents’ quality of life and property values. With the use of a dedicated code-enforcement officer, she said, the city can gain compliance without resorting to costly legal cases.

While out campaigning, Smith said he found code enforcement came up often. “It’s critical that we do code enforcement in a consistent way so it does not become a way to get rid of people who don’t look like you,” he said. He added that he’s received complaints by tenants of apartment buildings and townhomes about nonworking bathrooms and other issues that could be pursued through code enforcement.

Xiong said he supports pursuing code enforcement “for many reasons.”

 

A questioner also wanted to know what the candidates thought ought to be done with the Maplewood Community Center, asking specifically if it should be “updated, sold or privately run.”

Cardinal noted that pool operations at the community center are now under the YMCA’s management, noting that program “has been a drain on the city for quite some time.” He suggested the center is basically a public amenity, like a park. “You can think of it as a park. It’s there for the community. What’s the cost of a park?” he asked rhetorically. 

Overall, Cardinal said, “I think we’re heading in the right direction. I don’t think we should sell it.”

Xiong said he’d like to see the city pursue upgrades in order to keep the center available to the public. “It’s something we should embrace ... Maplewood doesn’t have a downtown like other cities, and the Maplewood Community Center is a gathering place.”

Smith said from his understanding the community center needs to be upgraded, in particular the roof. “I think we have an opportunity to be creative ... Could we start a foundation that could help lower-income families to be involved? Is there a way to get more South Maplewood residents involved?” he asked. Although a public-private partnership could help the city keep the center operational, Smith didn’t recommend selling it. “At the end of the day, it is a city asset.”

Longrie said emphatically that the center should not be thought of as a park; it’s operated out of an “enterprise fund” and not the city’s regular budget. The enterprise fund, she said, should come out in the black, “but year after year we don’t.” Longrie said she had a lot of unanswered questions about how the budget and usage numbers add up and suggested that because about half the users of the community center live outside Maplewood the council may want to pursue a joint powers agreement with those cities to run the center.

 

A questioner also wanted to know how Maplewood housing could be made more affordable for homeowners.

Xiong said as a city, Maplewood can partner with the county and state to create programs that help people get into and stay in their homes, and pointed out other cities have pursued those partnerships. “It’s not solely a Maplewood issue; other cities similar to Maplewood have worked on this too,” he said.

Smith said, “When looking at housing, we have to have the right mix,” and suggested that in the future, the city may need to examine what it has to offer to millennials. “I’m not sure we have some of the attractions as far as the price points and nearby amenities,” he said. 

Longrie said Maplewood has provided affordable housing in a variety of styles: apartments, townhomes and single-family homes. “It might be affordable initially, but in order to stay in that home ... the council has to balance what they levy for property taxes and the fees they levy — all of those fees add up,” she said.

Cardinal said, “Affordable housing has been addressed ever since I can remember. I don’t think there’s any community in Ramsey County that has done as much for affordable housing.” 

 

Asked what the city could do to ensure its increasingly diverse population is involved in decisionmaking and city initiatives, Smith said in many cases the tone is set by the police department, in its role of reaching out to citizens before problems escalate. He praised Police Chief Paul Schnell for his focus on building bridges and developing relationships with all groups in Maplewood.

Longrie said in her law practice “I have a very diverse clientele; I even have Somali clients who come all the way from Minneapolis.” She said community engagement is critical and that nowadays city staff and police also need to learn how to deal with people with mental illnesses.

Cardinal said in his travels to every neighborhood in Maplewood he’s found “we have a strong, respectful community.” Gauging diversity levels by the local public high schools, he theorized “North is pretty much 50/50 as far as diversity and I imagine Tartan is pretty similar to that ... that’s true for Roseville (Area High School) as well.” He said from his role on the council he’s aware that the city has very diverse commissions, with “all kinds of Africans who would be considered immigrants or minorities.”

Xiong said the city needs to let new groups know “we value their input and include them in the process of making decisions.” While out doorknocking he encountered people who’d never had anyone from the city knock on their door, and suggested the city should coordinate some kind of outreach. 

 

Asked about “the strengths and weaknesses of the current council,” Cardinal said, “It’s not a ‘protest’ council. The council functions well and there’s a balance between three females and two males ... and a mix of people who’ve been around a long time and people who’ve been (on the council) a shorter time.”

Smith said, “What I really commend this council on is the sensible approach, the calm, professional approach.” He also said the council “has turned the corner” and is planning strategically and long-term. A weakness he suggested he could help fill is reaching out to businesses to attract them to locate in the city.

Longrie said she saw “a general agreement on how to budget the money and spend the money — there doesn’t seem to be a lot of discussion on that.” She advocated transparency and added, “I think we could have more citizen involvement at the council meetings,” indicating people in the audience should be free to get up to speak at the meetings whether they’re signed up to speak on an agenda item or not.

Xiong said he’s found the council has “been responsive and able to adjust to reconsider an issue when they found that wasn’t the issue the individual or family was concerned about.”

A questioner wanted to know how the candidates proposed the city should attract and retain businesses. Longrie answered that there are 750 businesses in the city and council members should go out to “meet one-on-one with your business owners in the community and find out what’s on their minds.” She also recommended focusing redevelopment efforts on transportation corridors.

Cardinal said when perusing Maplewood-based job openings on an employment website, he saw multiple listings for 3M, TCF and HealthEast. “It’s a tough time right now” as businesses emerge from the recession, he said, but they’ve found Maplewood a good place to be.

Xiong said the city, from council to staffers, should have “a mindset of welcome,” meaning “We’re open for their business no matter what they look like or where they come from.” He said his three sisters are small-business owners, and he understands the intersection of business’ and cities’ needs and how to navigate it smoothly.

Smith said the city has three roles: championing, facilitating and partnering with business. “We have a government that’s helpful and predictable, and that’s what business needs: predictability,” he said. A city that supports education and has an educated citizenry and provides up-to-date infrastructure are also key, he said.

 

Asked their positions on light rail/rapid transit, candidates agreed broadly that Maplewood needs it, but not along a currently-proposed route, following the Bruce Vento Trail. 

Xiong said “I am supportive of the Rush Line Corridor, but talking to folks, the Bruce Vento Trail is not a location I would be an advocate of.”

Cardinal said the route should be aligned where there’s commerce and traffic that would benefit from it, adding “I take credit for naming the Bruce Vento Trail and I will not tarnish that.”

Longrie volunteered, “The correct route is Highway 61,” noting that economic development tends to spring up along such transit routes.

Smith said he was “100 percent in favor of light-rail transit coming through Maplewood” but not on the Vento route.

 

Visit webstream.ctv15.org/viewer.php?streamid=1559 To watch the candidate forum in its entirety. The “League of Women Voters Forum” video is archived on the city’s website.

 

Rate this article: 
No votes yet
Comment Here