Ward 4 City Council Candidate Showcase: Amy Ireland

 

The following are candidate responses to questions on topics important to Ward 4 citizens. Do you have other questions you would like to ask these candidates seeking the Saint Paul DFL endorsement? Let’s hear them in the comments!  – Executive Committee

 

Amy Ireland for Ward 4 City Council

Why are you running for the Saint Paul City Council Ward 4 seat?

I love St. Paul and have deep, decades-old family roots in Ward 4 – in addition to a personal history of over 14 years of grass-roots activism. The issue that prompted me to run for the Ward 4 seat on the City Council is the need for a strong community and neighborhood advocate as we invest in smart development that benefits everyone in St. Paul. Done correctly, smart development can help alleviate racial disparities in housing and income, can help underrepresented communities accumulate wealth and achieve self-sufficiency for their families, and can help increase health and reduce carbon emissions.

For example, as the Minnesota United’s soccer stadium and related development moves forward. We have a one-time opportunity to create smart development in Ward 4. With a prime location on a multi‐modal transit hub, I am an advocate for a wide range of housing options nearby – from affordable units to help alleviate the dearth of low-income housing, to market-rate housing for those who want the benefits of dense, car-free, maintenance‐free,urban living. No one should be priced out of a neighborhood that their family has lived in for generations, and home-owners who are no longer able to do the physical work of maintaining house should not be forced to leave their neighborhood, either.

I am committed to development that will increase our tax base and put an end to the double-digit property tax increases that everyone – home-owners and renters – have been experiencing for the last number of years. New development must primarily benefit the people in the community – not large corporations based outside of Minnesota. I will work to make sure locally-, minority-, and women-owned businesses are represented in that development –because that is one of the best ways for under-represented communities to grow wealth. My grandfather owned a ham and sausage company, with only one or two employees at any given time. The wealth he created was able to help pay a portion of my college education – and that of his other grandchildren as well. I am painfully aware that that type of generational wealth has not been available to African-Americans and other minorities of my generation, and am committed to working with under-represented communities to make sure everyone has the opportunity to build wealth through entrepreneurship.

In summary, I want to represent Ward 4 on the City Council because I have the deep knowledge of the people and issues in the community, along with the background of a legal education and grass‐roots activism to ensure that the inevitable development along the two major corridors of our Ward is implemented in a way that benefits everyone, and leaves no one behind.

What experiences or positions do you have that prepared you for this role? This could include leadership positions, political or non‐political roles, community‐based organizations, etc.

Over the past 20+ years, I have served in a number of leadership positions, both professionally and in the community.

Professionally, I have worked with a wide range of diverse constituencies. While a student at Macalester College, I tutored English to refugee and immigrant children at Highland Park High School and on campus. I eventually worked as the Volunteer Coordinator of the ELL tutoring program at Macalester’s Community Service Office. While studying at the University of Minnesota Law School, I worked at the Institute on Race and Poverty and served on the staff of the Journal of Law and Inequality.

I started my career working at the Minnesota Department of Human Rights drafting complaints of discrimination. When I became a Staff Attorney on the Refugee & Immigrant Program at the Advocates for Human Rights, I not only represented individuals applying for asylum in the United States, but I also provided legal training and support for over 200 volunteer attorneys who provided asylum representation on a pro bono basis. In private practice, I continued practicing immigration law, representing both individuals and corporations who wished to legally hire immigrant workers. I worked in the area of Employment law. During that time I served as President of the New Lawyers’ Division of the Minnesota / Dakotas Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association, and started my own law practice located in downtown St. Paul. I was then recognized by Minnesota Lawyer Magazine as an ‘Up & Coming Attorney.’ During ten years practicing law, I presented at dozens of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) seminars, including a seminar on representing asylum applicants before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. After my third child was born, I began focusing more on local neighborhood issues, and currently serve as the Director of Children and Families at Hamline Church.

What are some examples of your experiences and accomplishments working in Ward 4 and/or Saint Paul?

Hamline Park Flower Garden When our neighborhood park was filled with litter and weeds in 2004, I organized a group of neighbors to dig up the compact dirt in front of the park sign, add top soil, compost and mulch and create a beautiful flower garden. The garden was recognized by the city with a ‘Silver Bloom’ award.

Hamline Midway Library Association When our neighborhood library was threatened with closure, I was a lead organizer of a group of neighbors who challenged that decision. During a community meeting with the Mayor – which he expected to be filled with Firefighters and their advocates – around 100 community members showed up to protest. Ten years later, the library is still open, and I still serve on the Hamline Midway Library Association (HMLA) board. In 2009, HMLA was recognized by the city’s ‘Neighborhood Roll Call’.

Hamline University Neighborhood Advisory Committee There has been ongoing community concern about how Hamline University intends to grow and how it maintains its residential properties. Many have been torn down or are vacant and neglected. In response, the Hamline University Neighborhood Advisory Committee was formed in order to provide more formal community input into decisions by the University. I served on that committee for two years.

Como Park Pavilion Task Force When the city convened a task force to review Requests for Proposal for the Como Park Pavilion space, I served as a volunteer on the task force.

SPROUT Garden During the summer, I help coordinate the SPROUT (organic) Garden – a project of Hamline University, Hamline Church and the Hamline Midway Elders. Hamline University student interns tend the garden and help teach children how to grow organic vegetables. Together they harvest the produce and make deliveries to the Hamline Midway Elders. Last year, the volunteers for the SPROUT Garden won the Sustainable Saint Paul Award for environmental leadership.

Hamline Elementary School

  • Fence Weaving Project – When Hamline Elementary school told me they wanted help hiring a local artist to create a colorful woven mural to beautify the school along a non-descript cyclone fence along Snelling Avenue, I wrote the first grant to provide funding for the project. The project was installed last year.
  • Community Resource Room – When the Community Resource Room at Hamline Elementary needed toiletries and winter clothing for families, I organized a collection of hats, gloves, scarves, toiletries and baby items in my faith community and delivered the items to the school.
  • Book Drive – When the school was asking for donations of gently used books so that each child could take home a book of their own choosing during parent‐teacher conferences, I organized a book drive in my faith community and delivered approximately 200 books to the school.
  • Community Brick Oven Bread Bake – When the school was looking to strengthen its relationships with neighboring businesses and institutions, I prepared a lesson plan, organized volunteers, and taught third-graders how to bake bread in the community brick oven over a period of three days. The first day we learned about different types of bread eaten in different cultures, the ingredients used in raised white bread, and how yeast works. The second day, we gathered wood for the brick oven, measured and mixed ingredients, and kneaded the dough. The third day we prepared the baking pans and the dough for baking, tasted our bread, and gave the remaining loaves to the Hamline Midway Neighbors as a ‘Thank You’ gift for volunteering as Reading Buddies in the classroom.

Hamline Midway Coalition – District Council 11 When I became concerned about the lack of community input and communication related to the Minnesota United’s soccer stadium project, I joined the board of the Hamline Midway Coalition. During the first two months, I helped create a new Community Engagement & Outreach Committee for the Council.

 

How do you plan to learn about and respond to concerns of Ward 4 residents? How will you engage with all residents, including communities of color, renters, immigrants, and young people?

The current District Council system was initially designed as a way for citizens to organize as a neighborhood and make recommendations to the City Council. Currently, volunteers with the District Councils too often feel as if their voices are being ignored. Many neighbors don’t even bother to get involved with the District Council system because they feel as if their work will be ignored. As a member of the City Council, I will work to strengthen the District Council system, and provide more consistent communication and feedback to the District Councils as a means to streamline communication and make it more effective. For the first time this winter, the Board of Directors of the seventeen district councils met in order to communicate more directly and discuss ways of becoming more inclusive. I will work to make sure this type of dialogue continues and is followed up with concrete action. I will promote equity and inclusivity initiatives, including trainings geared toward preparing people of color to serve on a variety of boards. I will also seek ways for the city to be more supportive of the District Councils – for example, centralizing certain aspects of the District Council work (i.e. payroll, insurance, web‐hosting) in order to free up staff time for work that more directly impacts the community. As part of the increased support from the city, District Councils should show their efforts to include communities of color, renters, immigrants and young people.

For example, the new Community and Engagement Committee of the Hamline Midway Coalition is reaching out to individuals living in low‐income rental‐housing units in the neighborhood, the high schools attended by teens in the neighborhood (the age requirement for voting and serving on the Board of the District Councils is 16), youth housing and outreach programs, immigrant- and minority-owned businesses in the community, and issuing personal invitations to people who belong to traditionally underrepresented groups.

My priorities in the community will include visiting each St. Paul Public School in the Ward at least once per year (including Como High School, although not technically located in the Ward), monthly visits with various immigrant-, minority-, and woman-owned business or community associations, hosting quarterly small-business community coffees, meeting with union leadership several times each year, in addition to regular meetings with the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. I also plan to rotate visits to the monthly board meetings of each of the five District Councils located in Ward 4. During these visits, my primary goal will be to listen to the individuals attending, and ask questions to increase my own understanding of the groups’ priorities and needs.

I will also keep constituents updated through a monthly e-newsletter highlighting our area schools, public service workers, and small businesses, along with explanations of certain decisions that have been reached, and upcoming events in which constituent input is especially needed.

 

What is your opinion on Saint Paul’s history of using tax‐increment financing (TIF) districts for development projects and what is your perspective on TIF?

In general, TIF has been over-utilized. TIF is damaging to our public-school system, and hinders the long-term health of our city budget. It is a tool of last resort. TIF should be used primarily in cases where the cost of environmental remediation would make urban land otherwise undevelopable.

 

If you had $250,000 to spend in Ward 4, how would you spend it?

I would use the $250,000 as matching funds to create a Local Community Growth Endowment to benefit the neighborhoods abutting the new stadium development project. The $500,000 would then be used as ‘seed’ funding with the interest generated on the Foundation funds each year being used as low- or no‐interest matching loans or grants for small businesses, non‐profits or community‐based organizations located in those neighborhoods. A detailed and transparent grant process would initially give priority to groups proposing solutions to perceived negative repercussions of stadium development (i.e. traffic‐calming measures, small‐business expansion to enable competition with new development projects) and to minority‐owned small business. Each year, I would continue to raise funds to add to the endowment, thereby increasing the amount of interest available to local small businesses, non-profits or community‐based organizations.

 

Mayor Carter has stated that he wants to sign a law increasing minimum wage to $15 an hour by the end of this year. What is your position on this goal?

I support a $15/hour living wage. I believe we need carve‐outs for qualified and verified training programs, and phased implementation for truly small, locally-owned, mom & pop, minority- and women-owned businesses.

 

Housing is increasingly unaffordable for too many Saint Paul families. With a growing population, prices and rents will continue to rise unless changes are made. What ideas do you have or what existing ideas (such as new housing units or broad based upzoning to allow greater density and more multi-family housing) do you support to make housing more available and affordable?

Ideal development takes place incrementally, in ways that complement our neighborhoods. Our tallest and highest density residential units should be reserved for areas with high‐traffic multi-modal transit hubs that connect quickly and easily to other parts of the city and allow individuals to live a car‐free lifestyle. All residential areas of the city should be opened up to smaller changes in density, such as allowing new duplexes, two-story four-plexes, and Accessory Dwelling Units. Most importantly, affordable housing should be distributed throughout the city, to prevent high concentrations of poverty and to allow individuals to have more choice over where they wish to live.

We should also re‐examine the threshold of ‘affordability.’ Sixty percent of the median income of the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), or $54,000 – the threshold income for much ‘affordable’ housing – is $10,000 higher than the median household income in St. Paul ($44,000). In other words, people who earn more than over 50% of St. Paul residents still qualify to live in many ‘affordable’ housing units. We need to work to reduce the threshold for ‘affordability’ in St. Paul and throughout the region.

Lastly, I would like to establish a task force to review the feasibility of rent control or rent support in St. Paul.

 

What do you want Ward 4 to know about you that you haven’t already mentioned above?

Often in campaigns, we don’t discuss the fundamentals of the job: listening, analyzing, building consensus, and communication. These are skills that I’ve developed both professionally and in the community over the past two decades. My legal skills provide me with the ability to read complex ordinances and statutes, understand their intended purpose, and try to avoid unintended consequences. My relationships in the community provide me with resources to affirmatively reach out and be pro-active about issues confronting the city. And, finally, I understand the importance of good communication in order to keep people informed as to what is going on and how they can have their voices truly heard. The City Council is the most personal level of government, because the decisions made by the City Council are often not abstract policy decisions. These are decisions that have a direct impact on your life, including plowing and potholes.

It is incredibly important to be thoughtful, respectful, and independent. I support and respect our Mayor, but if he proposes something that is not good for the people of Ward 4, then I will firmly, but respectfully, oppose it. I support and respect the current members of the City Council, but if they propose something that is not good for the people of Ward 4, then I will firmly, but respectfully, oppose it. As your City Councilmember, my role will be to represent and zealously advocate for the interests of the people of Ward 4.

Lastly, I am not running for office simply because “it’s time for a woman” to run, or because I have dreams of becoming a career politician. I am running because I love St. Paul. I love this community and have chosen to raise my three precious girls here. I have the historical knowledge and context to put current debates and decisions into context. I have the skills needed to write, review, and analyze and synthesize highly detailed ordinances, variances, data and planning documents. I have the temperament and heart to communicate clearly and respectfully with everyone I work with. And I have the firm conviction that the progressive change we need comes from the bottom up, not the top down.

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