Anne Smith says 12 years is enough


Anne Smith

Lake Elmo City Council member reflects on political career 

With the new year, Lake Elmo residents saw a change in their city council lineup. Christine Nelson was sworn in Jan. 3, and Anne Smith finished her final term on the Lake Elmo City Council at the end of 2016. 

Smith, 53, chose not to run for re-election this past fall, she said, in order to spend more time with her family. Her three children who were 5, 3 and 1 when she was first elected, are now 17, 15 and 13, with Smith completing her third, four-year term on the council.

Smith’s recent years on the council were marked by tumultuous times in Lake Elmo city government: city staff turned over at a high rate and she was censured by the council for her treatment of city employees. Still, Smith focuses on what she sees as the highlights of her political career, and what’s to come.

She says she now attends all of her children’s sporting events, and is “having a blast” with her children in her new-found free time. 

“I devoted 12 years of my life and my family life to helping out the city of Lake Elmo,” she says. “I never realized how much time I was away from my kids because I was so focused on doing right for the people in Lake Elmo.”

Smith first ran for election in 2004. She won, and started her first term in January 2005. 

“The reason I ran was, interestingly enough, I had an issue that happened in my neighborbood and when I went to City Hall I was concerned about the way that the situation was handled,” she explains. “Dean Johnston actually convinced me to run and mentored me the whole first four years I was on the council.”

At the time he convinced Smith to run, Johnston was a city council member — by the time Smith was sworn in, he’d been elected mayor.

“We ended up becoming great friends and he gave me a lot of great advice, and he still does today,” she says.

 

Times of change

Lake Elmo was on the brink of change when Smith and the rest of the then-new city council picked up the threads left behind by the previous council.

Just a few months before Smith started her first term, Lake Elmo had lost its court case against the Metropolitan Council’s growth mandate, and Smith says the council’s first task in 2005 was to create its 2030 Comprehensive Plan, which was to guide the city’s development or the next 25 years.

Smith explains the city council at that time strived to craft the plan to meet the goals of the Met Council, while still allowing Lake Elmo to control where the growth would happen and what the end result would look like.

“That was a big deal to Lake Elmo residents because they had just lost in court, the case to not have to put in any development,” she says.

Many of the projects Smith was involved in during her 12-year political career began with the 2030 Comprehensive Plan. According to Smith, she ran two more times after her initial term because after the plan was written, she wanted to see through many of those projects.

“A lot happens in 12 years, let me tell you,” she says.

She explains she took her role in the community very seriously and spent hundreds of hours pouring over documents so she could cast informed votes on behalf of residents. 

“When you are a small city of 6,000 people, and you’re told that you have to grow to 24,000, you have to implement policies that are going to make your city a better place to live,” she says.

 

Water and housing

Some of the projects she is most proud of include getting a sewer system downtown, passing a conservation easement for Sunfish Lake Park, promoting trail connectivity throughout the city and selling Tartan Park to be used as a new golf community. 

She is also very proud of the work she has done to combat pollution in Lake Elmo and ensure current and future residents have clean drinking water. This was accomplished through a series of projects including adding a water treatment system near a pollution site downtown, adding a three-layer liner to the city dump and building new water towers in the north part of the city, away from contaminated sites.

“I learned a lot,” Smith says. “I learned a lot about sewer, about water, about pollution, because, of course, we have long suffered ground water contamination issues. I learned a lot about septic systems. It was really a good learning experience and I enjoyed it for most of my 12 years.”

Downtown senior housing is a project especially close to Smith’s heart. 

While Smith served on the council she also worked part time as a realtor, specializing in transitioning Lake Elmo seniors to housing that meets their needs. This work led her to discover that there were no options to relocate seniors within Lake Elmo.

Now, she says, a senior facility is being built downtown not far from City Hall. She says this will allow senior Lake Elmo residents who want to sell their homes to have a choice to remain in Lake Elmo instead of being forced to relocate outside city limits.

“That’s a big deal and was always a big deal to the people that live in Lake Elmo. A lot of these families have been here for 100 years. They are the true settlers of Lake Elmo, and to have to move out of their homes and have no place to go inside Lake Elmo was hard for them, and so having that senior housing, to me, is probably one of the great accomplishments,” Smith said.

She added that in addition to spending more time with her family, she also plans to spend more time doing her realty work for Metro Homes Market.

 

Love for Lake Elmo

Two of Smith’s favorite parts of Lake Elmo are the parks, which have seen many upgrades over the past 12 years, and the residents, many of whom became Smith’s friends through her work on the council and in the realty business.

She says she loves that within any neighborhood there is a dedicated park, and that they all have unique features and are maintained well by the city’s public works department.

“We have an ice skating rink downtown — probably the best ice skating rink in the east metro. That’s how well it’s managed. People come to skate there from all over. Our parks are a gem, truly a gem,” she says.

She adds in her time as a council member she had the opportunity to get to know many residents, what they want from their city government and how to “do right by them,” which she says is something she always tried to do.

“I feel like I stood up for them. I think most residents, when they called me, I was probably one of the only council members that actually would go to their homes and visit with them and really try to understand by putting myself in their shoes what they were experiencing. I made a lot of friends in the city of Lake Elmo,” she says.

Despite her stepping away from the council, Smith reflects fondly on her time spent there.

Though she says she’s done with politics — that part of her life is over — Smith says she’s not going away. “I want those people in Lake Elmo to know that I gave 12 years to them because I really believe that Lake Elmo is a great place, and I still live here and I’m still going to live here.”

 

Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com.

 

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