Just 18 votes separated them. But in the end, those 18 votes were what Jan Jenson needed to retain his seat on the St. Anthony City Council. The Northeaster contacted Jenson and his opponent, Nancy Robinett, for their reflections on the race. Jenson’s emailed answers were longer than we had room for in print. In the article below, the answers are in their entirety.
Were you surprised by the results?
Robinett: Yes. I was hoping to win. It took a couple of days for the information to sink in. I had great grassroots support, and a lot of volunteers – more than for any other candidate.
Jenson: No, I was not surprised and assumed it would be a close race. This past year and a half, we’ve seen very active civic engagement during City Council Meetings where citizens are asking how best to respond for the long-term good. I feel involvement in our local government is an important aspect of our democratic process and where voices can be heard. This will be a way we can drive a positive change.
What about the voter turnout?
Robinett: I appreciate the process, and the turnout. It was really an active election. The people of St. Anthony really cared about this election and I am very grateful.
Jenson: I expected the turnout to be larger than it was.
Did the closing of the Lowry Grove trailer park and the shooting of Philando Castile have an impact on the campaign?
Robinett: They were big issues, certainly; I heard a lot about them. But the empty WalMart store was just as big an issue. People wanted to know if there was something that could be done about that site. They’re very frustrated with it. I took a proactive approach and said yes. I don’t have a solution right now, but I want to be proactive about finding one. I also heard a lot about wanting a woman on the council. In my opinion, the campaign reflected the progressive wing of St. Anthony.
Jenson: Yes, both the Lowry Grove closing and the shooting of Philando Castile had a significant impact on the election.
Lowry Grove was privately owned. The owner decided to sell the property, the sale was contested and the courts ruled in favor of the buyer. Through this process the city had no legal right to stop the sale. It is the City Council’s responsibility to ensure the development complies with the Comprehensive Plan within the following requirements: a) Has a provision of affordable housing, b) Compatibility with surrounding land uses in scale, height and use c) Provides adequate public infrastructure to manage water, sewer, runoff, streets and access, d) Protecting the surrounding community. e) There is a fair and open public process to allow community discourse and discussion on the proposal.
St. Anthony citizens have actively voiced their desires of an acceptable appearance, density and setback as it relates to the neighborhood, which is driving the proposal.
Throughout the nation, the number of police shootings has shaken us and resulted in significant public concern. In July 2016, the shooting of Philando Castile pressed us to face this tragic reality here in our own community. I believe we will be forever changed by this incident and am committed to be part of the process as we examine and digest how and where we can implement corrective active toward racial equity.
The Council has identified the following strategic initiatives whereby we can identity areas for change and improvement along with a method to measure progress.
Beginning in January 2017, we joined the cohort on Government Alliance on Race and Equity, the GARE Program. We will receive resources and training curriculum in an effort to advance racial equity within our community. I am committed to promote the outcome of this important initiative.
St. Anthony Village has reached out to the US Department of Justice, requesting to be involved and participate in the Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance Program. It’s purpose is to improve trust between agencies and communities they serve by providing a means to organizational transformation with a comprehensive assessment and resulting in public report that identifies improvement.
Upon completion of this project, this will enable the police department to engage in a complete overhaul of our current St. Anthony Village Police Department Principles and Practices Manual. This will exhibit cultural competencies to facilitate positive interactions and implement fair and impartial policing practices with members of the community.
We have implemented the police body camera policy.
I have personally pursued several race and equity initiatives including attending three Wilder Foundation seminars and four Government Alliance on Race and Equity seminars. I participated in an anti-biased training through the City, conducted by the Race and Equity Minnesota Network, which was discovered by St. Anthony – New Brighton Family Services Collaborative. I’ve read two books dealing with Race and Equity: “Blink,” by Malcolm Gladwell and “A Good Time for Truth,” by Sun Yung Shin and followed up by attending three book review seminars. I will continue these actions in an effort to ensure we are an inclusive community.
What other issues came up during the campaign?
Jenson: Many St. Anthony residents are concerned with our high property taxes; as we are one of the higher property taxed communities in the metro. The city is committed to continue to be frugal with taxpayer dollars.
Does the closeness of the race give you a different perspective on the St. Anthony electorate? Do you feel as though you have a new mandate?
Jenson: I recognize the closeness of this election and truly want to reach out and serve all of St. Anthony residents.
There seems to be quite a bit of pubic distrust of the St. Anthony City Council. How will you go about mending fences?
Jenson: I want to encourage citizens to get involved in civic meetings and organizations. This would improve transparency as we meet, communicate and work together toward building trust. In this way, we will further enhance and improve the effectiveness of our social and economic infrastructure.
Let’s not forget the positive accomplishments made in the last two years. A $10,000,000 advanced oxidation plant was installed in our community that removes 1,4-Dioxane from our drinking water. This was paid for by the Department of Army. Parents and students can enjoy the completed 37th Avenue sidewalk; Safe Routes to School project. The dredging of Mirror Lake for flood mitigation will prevent flooding in surrounding properties. Of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency program GreenStep 29 Best Practices, St. Anthony Village is one of 5 cities of 852 cities that reached Level 5: the highest rating possible, thus far. We built and managed the regional storm water facility that reclaims 40% of the city’s storm water before it goes into the Mississippi. We purchased 25% of our city’s building energy by joining the Hennepin County Community Solar Garden project. We were one of 852 cities to achieve the Sustainability Award.
Will you apply for the council seat vacated by Bonnie Brever?
Robinett: I am applying and I believe I should be appointed. My supporters are writing letters and emails for me. I’m collecting copies of them to send in with my application.