Candidates for Columbia Heights mayor and two City Council seats will gather at Columbia Heights City Hall on September 20 to participate in a public forum. The forum starts at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers. The Northeaster met with each to review their views about Columbia Heights. All expressed their love for the city, and the desire to listen to and serve their neighbors.
Nelle Bing grew up in St. Paul, but she’s become accustomed to Columbia Heights’ small-town vibe. She and her husband moved to Columbia Heights four years ago. Her four-year-old daughter, Juliette, attends a Spanish immersion Pre-K program at Sheridan Elementary.
“We’ve laid our stakes in Columbia Heights,” she said. “We purchased our first home here and it felt like our family was grounded. When Juliette gets older, she’ll look back and say, ‘Columbia Heights is my hometown.’” She feels people her age (32) are underrepresented in the Heights.
Armed with a degree in business administration and accounting, she’s ready to tackle the challenges of city hall. It’s a background she says will help her in understanding and communicating about the city’s finances. “I understand what operates at the city level.”
One of her passions is the parks. “Columbia Heights has 15 parks in 3.5 square miles. These parks are perfectly placed throughout the city. They’re underutilized. We have opportunities to use Lomianki and Sullivan Lake. Events there would pull in people from other neighborhoods that might not show up for something at Huset or Circle Terrace.”
Pedestrian safety is another key interest. “We are a throughway from downtown to the highways,” she said. “It’s more than just sidewalks. It might be a speed trailer, flashing stop signs that tell when a car is approaching.”
She said the mayor’s term should be four years. “A two-year term for mayor does not give them a chance to get integrated into getting to know the city departments, city workers. Running for a position is work. You start planning your run a year ahead of the election. For a mayor or council member to prepare to run, get elected and then turn around and prepare to run again seems a little frivolous to me. Council members have four-year terms, why not the mayor?”
Bing said she is still researching her position on who the police force should report to, but is leaning toward the city manager.
Thoughts on improving the city: “As Columbia Heights continues to grow, houses are getting snatched up,” she said. “We need to make sure we have affordable housing. The city needs to continue to invest in the school district. I would also like to see more investment in Central and University Avenues. Most residents go out of Columbia Heights for jobs. It would be wonderful to see more opportunities for jobs in Columbia Heights.”
These days, former flight attendant Kay “Kt” Jacobs has her eyes focused on an earth-bound goal, a seat on the Columbia Heights City Council. Jacobs, who retired two years ago after a 16-year career with Northwest and Delta Airlines, served as master executive chair of the flight attendants’ employee assistance program. That assignment led her to spend a great deal of time in Washington, DC, where she met with elected representatives and demonstrated on behalf of her constituents. Her civic experience was limited by her job – she was home only three days a week – but she gained a substantial background in management and volunteer service. She is self-employed as a substance abuse counselor.
Her work experience has given her “the ability to multitask and to look for the best solution for a problem,” she said. “I have been able to work with a lot of different people and personalities.”
A 24-year resident of Columbia Heights, Jacobs wants to see improvements along the “lower” end of the Central Ave. business corridor and wants to find new ways to bring businesses into Columbia Heights to lower the tax burden on residents.
“I think there’s been too much special-interest activity among members of the council instead of listening to the community at large,” she said.
On changing the mayoral term: “I am against the changes. Voters have far more control over an ineffective mayor with a 2-year term; there is no recent or documented history of mayoral abuse or improprieties to justify the change. When asking the few proponents that I have encountered what the basis of their support was, I have not received any reason for the support beyond a reference to an inadequate learning curve upon taking office.…You do not change a city’s constitution because of a personal dislike of any specific elected official. Those decisions are made at the poll when you cast your vote for a candidate.”
On changing the oversight of the police department, Jacobs said inappropriate action of an elected mayor can currently be terminated by the vote of the people in less than a two-year period, far more efficiently than getting rid of a city manager. “Maintaining the oversight with the mayor keeps the power with the voters, not with a contract and union-protected city employee.”
John Murzyn, Jr.
When John Murzyn, Jr., retired in 2014 after 38 years of service with the City of Columbia Heights, he thought he’d pursue his hobby of fixing old cars. Instead, he ran for City Council. “The city was always good to me,” he said. “This way, I can give back.”
A Columbia Heights native, he graduated from Columbia Heights High School in 1974 and began working in the Public Works department shortly afterward. He served as foreman of the sewer and water team for 14 years before retiring. It gave him an intricate knowledge of the city’s infrastructure that he finds helpful when the council considers purchasing equipment or needs to make street improvements. “When you’ve walked in the footsteps and done it, you know what the streets and alleys need and what equipment works best. I feel my experience helps the residents because we don’t buy something we don’t need.”
Asked about the proposed charter amendment to place the Police Department under the supervision of the city manager, he said, “I think it should be up to the people. The council shouldn’t make a decision like that.” In similar fashion, he also believes the people should decide whether the mayor should serve a two- or four-year term.
“Columbia Heights is such a diversified city, you can’t be blind to one person and open up to another. You’ve got to talk to them, listen to them and try to help them as best you can. I take one person at a time.”
His priority for Columbia Heights is the completion of the Hy-Vee store. “I’m lost without a grocery store,” he said. His next priority is to hold the city’s property taxes as low as possible. “The city, county and school taxes really hit a lot of people hard last year,” he said. “I want everybody to live comfortably and have a good life in Columbia Heights.”
Nick Novitsky is well aware that he sits on the City Council by appointment and not by election. That’s something he wants to change on Nov. 6.
He lost the previous election by 124 votes, but after Donna Schmitt was elected mayor, he interviewed and was selected from a field of 17 candidates to fill her council seat. “It’s never out of my mind, that I was not elected,” he said. He hopes his door-knocking campaign gives him greater recognition.
A Columbia Heights resident since he was two years old, Novitsky is an active member of the community. He’s president of the Lions Club, an athletic booster, head of the Jamboree committee and host of the Twin Cities Walk for Apraxia, a neurological disease that affects children. (The Walk will take place at Sullivan Lake on September 22.)
“I’ve been involved in a lot of things my whole life and I feel like I’m making a difference,” he said. As a council member, he wants to keep the taxes in line and bring the community together. “Whenever I commit to do something, I go at it full-heartedly. I have no personal agenda, but to listen to residents and make the changes in the city that will bring everyone together.”
He sees jobs and housing as big issues for the city. “I am for affordable housing; I’m not for the TIF financing, that’s well documented. The school referendum seems to be the biggest divide in the city. People have to learn how to have discussions again and at the end of the discussion, we’re all still friends.
“I believe the mayor’s term should stay at two years. It gives the voters a chance to change the majority every election cycle. If the residents don’t like what the council has been doing, three of us can be changed. That keeps the most power with the people.” He believes the Police Department should report to the mayor, for accountability to the people as well.
He’d also like to see more businesses in the Heights. “We’re heavily residential. We need businesses to increase the tax base. Residents are taxed out.”
He attributes the Heights’ success as a city to volunteerism, citing higher attendance at various events, and getting people to sit down and talk about something in which they have common ground. “Focus on food and children, and you’ll get to know your neighbor.”
Note: Mayoral candidates will be examined in a future edition.