Seven candidates for Woodbury City Council faced off Oct. 9 in a Woodbury Area Chamber of Commerce forum, vying for two seats left open by council members Christopher Burns and Julie Ohs, who are not seeking another term.
During the hour-long forum, candidates were asked questions both by the chamber and anonymously by audience members.
Talking business, minimum wage
Nearly every candidate mentioned location as one of the most important factors in attracting and retaining businesses. Other common themes included maintaining a welcoming business environment without too many regulations and strong public transportation, such as the Gold Line.
Continuing the theme of business, candidates were next asked whether or not they would support a minimum wage floor for the city.
Jodell Miller said she would, because people need a living wage to live in community where they work.
Bill Braun said the city has "doubled down" on retail jobs that don't pay enough for employees to live there.
Amanda Hemmingsen-Jaeger said it was important to think about if residents can pay their bills, but the city would need to have conversations with businesses as well.
Steve Morris said he would not support a minimum wage floor because he doesn't think it's the city's place to regulate businesses.
Kim Wilson also said she would not support a minimum wage floor. She said businesses know what they need to do to retain employees, and that a living wage varies for families of different sizes.
Jennifer Santini said she wants people in Woodbury to earn a living wage, but that a minimum wage should be dealt with at the state and national levels. She added that business owners should also take it upon themselves to support employees with things like more time off and better work hours.
Similarly, Roger Splinter said "yes and no," saying the issue needed more study.
Perspectives on 2040 plan
During the forum, candidates were asked by an audience member to describe their understanding of the purpose of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan and its use in preparing the city for the future.
Splinter said he often thinks of the plan as "flying at 30,000 feet." He said it's designed to be a very flexible plan and that people often get too caught up searching for details.
"I, in a very friendly way, chastise anybody who doesn't get involved with this kind of thing," said Splinter, who serves as vice chair of the plan's task force.
Wilson also characterized it as a planning tool and a guide. "Who knows what's going to happen by 2040?" she said.
Santini, who serves as chair of the plan's task force, said the use of the word "comprehensive" is a bit misleading. The plan's purpose isn't to get into the minutiae of how the city will implement things, she said, but "is comprehensive in that it touches all of the city."
Morris also characterized it as a guide and encouraged the public to come to city meetings, such as the Planning Commission, to see how comprehensive plans are actually used.
Hemmingsen-Jaeger said she appreciates the guiding principles listed at the beginning of the draft and said it was important that the public view the plan as having flexibility as Woodbury goes from more of a "growth mindset" to a "maintenance mindset."
Miller said, broadly, that the plan shows how Woodbury ties in with the surrounding region.
Braun said the plan is an opportunity for long-term success. "Our comprehensive plan is the opportunity for us to plan diversity in our community so we have resiliency," he said.
Top priorities, if elected
• Transparency: disparities between city and state data
• Jobs: worried that 2040 Comprehensive Plan will reduce opportunities for employment
• Increasing involvement of citizens
• Water quality and sustainability: make sure 3M settlement funds are being spent appropriately
• Engagement: making sure people feel connected to their community despite rapid growth
• Representation of people from different backgrounds
• Making the city livable: everybody has a home, including older people
• Sustainability: energy efficient buildings, ways to cut costs
• Creating a walkable city
• Infrastructure: includes transportation and water
• Maintaining a friendly business climate
• Maintaining economic vitality
• Preserving and protecting natural resources and environment, especially as the city grows and puts a strain on them
• "Making sure that we keep our community safe, our people happy, our schools great, and stay a fun, welcoming community"
• Transportation: "Everything from buses to cars to bicycles and pedestrians"
• Water: both quantity and quality
• Citizen involvement: "This is the citizens' city, so I would really like to see more citizen involvement"
• Budget: ensuring enough funds for water and sewer, roads
• Capital improvement plan needs to be used properly: "When numbers are put in as placeholders and not an accurate estimate or a ballpark figure, it causes budget shortfalls in other funds," puts strain on taxpayers as far as assessments
Candidate Kelsey Kawohl did not attend the forum. Beau Bieniek left the race in September after the official withdrawal deadline, so his name will still appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.