Three things you may not have known about Jerry Faust: He likes ties that incorporate art by former Grateful Dead singer Jerry Garcia. His grandfather was the mayor of a small town in North Dakota. He didn’t have gray hair when he started his 15-year tenure as mayor of St. Anthony.
As 2019 winds down, Faust is winding down, too. Come Jan. 1, 2020, he’ll be retired, spending time with his wife, Diane, at their home on Silver Lake.
In a recent interview, he said he “never had a grand plan” to be the mayor of St. Anthony. “I just saw things that needed to be done, and I did them.” It’s a lesson he learned from his parents, first in North Dakota, and then later on when the family moved to St. Cloud.
“My family went to North Dakota during the Dust Bowl. We were dirt poor,” he said. “But it didn’t matter. If you were able-bodied and you saw someone who needed help, that’s what you did.” He went to work with his father at an early age, accompanying him on trips around central Minnesota, delivering soda pop. He soon knew the routes so well, he was asked to accompany new drivers on their rounds.
He joined the U.S. Army in 1966, the year the U.S. bombed the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Vietnam. He was awarded several commendations for his service. He rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant colonel after serving in Vietnam, Korea and Germany, a total of 23 years.
After leaving the service, he worked as an assessor for Anoka County.
Faust said he’s always been intrigued by politics. They were often discussed at the dinner table while he was growing up. But, he said, he’s always been non-partisan. “I don’t think any one group has all the answers,” he said.
When he moved to St. Anthony, he was appointed to the city planning commission. In 1995, he ran for city council. His 15-year run as mayor began in 2004.
He credits part of his longevity in office to the people who work in the city’s offices. “I have been surrounded by good people, good council members,” he said. He said the city council legislates the policies, but City Manager Mark Casey and the department heads are charged with implementation. “We leave the tactics up to them,” he said. “They don’t need extra bosses.”
He said he typically spent about 30 hours a week reading, taking calls and answering emails. Without even a desk at city hall, much of his work was done at home.
He represented St. Anthony on the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO), a position he’ll hand off when he retires. “I hunted and fished along the Mississippi River in St. Cloud as a kid. I wouldn’t call myself an environmentalist, but I was taught about conservation. MWMO is putting out very good science, and they’re making it available to other researchers around the country.”
Faust said one of his favorite accomplishments during his tenure was St. Anthony’s infrastructure work. “We took advantage of low interest rates during the 2008 recession and invested in our roads and our water treatment facilities. We dug all the way to the bottom and fixed everything. They should be good for 60 years.”
The low point was the 2016 shooting of Philando Castile. “How do you fix it?” Faust asked. “It was a highly emotional time. I just tried to listen to people. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people [from outside St. Anthony] here that had no business being here.”
Faust was asked how he kept his cool during several contentious city council meetings. Referring to his military experience and his former job as tax assessor, Faust said, “I’ve been shot at.”
He continued, “I worked with the police and fire departments and people in the city offices to keep their morale up. It was important to keep everyone together so they wouldn’t have a long-term negative response.
“As bad as [the situation] was, we were able to get something positive out of it,” he said. As a result of the city’s work in race and equity, St. Anthony has become a model for other cities around the state. The mayor of Pipestone called recently to consult with Faust. “We plan with intention and awareness,” he said.
If he hasn’t always had all the love and affection of the people of St. Anthony, Faust has been recognized by his peers in local government. This past June, in Duluth, he was given the Minnesota League of Cities’ C.C. Ludwig award for outstanding service, considered the organization’s top award.
Still, he said, it’s time to step back. He’ll be 74 shortly after the new year. Although he and Diane each have a son, they have no grandkids. Maybe he’ll hang up those Jerry Garcia ties. Then again, maybe he won’t. He likes bright colors.
Below: Mayor Jerry Faust. (Photo by Cynthia Sowden) Retiring St. Anthony Mayor Jerry Faust and outgoing Council Member Hal Gray, were honored Thursday, Dec. 12 at St. Anthony City Hall council chambers. They were presented plaques from St. Anthony and from the League of Minnesota Cities. (Photo by Carol Jensen