WOODBURY, Minn. — In early 2018, Woodbury Mayor Anne Burt hadn't yet considered a run for the office she currently holds.
After nearly 15 years as a resident, Burt had an impressive resume when it came to city involvement: past positions on the Planning Commission, the Parks and Natural Resources Commission and the 2040 Comprehensive Plan task force. Her next step, she thought, could be a run for one of the city's four at-large council positions.
After former Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens began her run as a Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2017, and seeing no clear candidates stepping up to replace Stephens in 2018, Burt had decided to talk with city leaders about the possibility of running for mayor. However, because she had not been a City Council member, she said she was discouraged from going that route.
Burt's path changed, though, after an encounter with Stephens at City Hall before a Citizens Academy meeting. Burt had arrived to the meeting a few minutes early. She and Stephens, who would be presenting later that evening, began chatting.
"And I'm just asking her, 'How's your campaign going?' And she just started sharing some things with me — she needed help making some phone calls or something," Burt said. "I'm like, I can help make phone calls. But it's through that and my work on the 2040 (Comprehensive) Plan ... (that) I think she started to see me as a viable option, more than anything, because I don't think anyone else really stepped forward."
Burt said she'd always respected Stephens but that they'd never had any sort of close relationship before Burt's mayoral run.
"It became a relationship that just grew, and she became confident," Burt said of Stephens' decision to back her during the race.
Burt announced she would run for mayor in June 2018, the same day her predecessor, former Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens, announced she would not seek another term.
One of five candidates, Burt won the Nov. 6, 2018 election with 48% of the vote. She was elected alongside City Council members Steve Morris and Jennifer Santini.
One year down
Burt said her first year as mayor has "flown by."
"It's been a busy year, but a fun one," she said.
Woodbury saw the completion of the HERO Center, a $20.5-million joint project with Cottage Grove, and of Ojibway Park, which received a new park building, playground and wetland boardwalk.
Development continued to roll along in the fast-growing suburb, with the city citing more than 30 groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings in 2019. The city attracted major chain restaurants, including Chick-fil-A and Texas Roadhouse, as well as an ever-growing slate of medical tenants, including Shriners Healthcare for Children.
The city also added to its housing stock considered "affordable": the Legends of Woodbury caters to residents over 50, and a planned Dominium development is planning to add 235 total apartment and townhome units in coming years.
Burt said that, for the most part, she's felt "very supported" by the Woodbury community in her current role. When she does get feedback or complaints from residents, she said her general approach is just to reach out and start a conversation.
"It's the pothole, it's the snow plowing ... I just pick up the phone and call people," Burt said. "You know, like, let's talk about it. What's the issue? I want to hear what you have to say. I think it's important to address our constituents, so I'm always happy to talk to anybody about any of that."
Burt also works part-time for water management company Phigenics. Having earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Dayton and a Master's of Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University, she has worked for more than 30 years in business development and strategic management with a focus on water quality.
Because of her decades of experience dealing with the issue in the private industry, Burt said digesting information from the complicated 3M east metro settlement has been very manageable.
Her biggest challenge over the past year, Burt said, has been adjusting to the formalities that come with presiding over council meetings: the procedures a mayor and council must follow and say out loud to do things like vote on resolutions or open up a public discussion. When she does misstep, city clerk Kim Blaeser is quick to step in and gently correct her.
With nearly 12 months of practice, though, and the benefit of being able to go back and watch recordings of Stephens presiding over meetings, Burt said she's "finally getting the hang of that."
Burt said she's been impressed with City Council — members Steve Morris and Jennifer Santini were elected in 2018 to serve alongside Andrea Date and Amy Scoggins — and city staff. She called City Administrator Clint Gridley "probably one of the best city administrators in the state and maybe beyond."
"It's been heartwarming, endearing, just to see how serious everyone takes their job and the questions they ask and the things they get into," Burt said.
Looking ahead to 2020
A 2019 survey of Woodbury residents conducted by the city through a firm found "drinking water sustainability" was one of residents' top-three issues.
Burt said she understands the concern, especially with the ongoing 3M settlement and water issues consistently in the news. While emphasizing that the city meets all current drinking water requirements, she stressed the urgency of the city finding a solution to water quality before summer 2020, when water needs will increase.
Since the removal of a sixth city well from rotation in October, city leaders have been working with the state to try and get funding from a 2007 consent order between 3M and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency that addresses a short-term fix, Burt said. This would likely be the purchase and installation of granular activated carbon filters, a popular way to treat water contaminated with PFAS.
"If those things don't get worked out, we're going to have some water restrictions next summer, and I think we'd all like to avoid that," she said.
Leadership of the 50-year-old city has also set its sights on renovation of aging parks and trails. The proposed 2020 budget, set to be approved Dec. 11, includes a $500,000 levy to create the Parks and Trails Replacement Fund.
Progress on a new park, the 70-acre Valley Creek expanse, is likely to continue in 2020, with many residents calling for minimal changes to the open land.
Burt said she recognizes some residents would rather keep the rest of Woodbury's undeveloped land the way it is, as well. However, "it's not really our job," she said.
"We're a growing area, so we have to find room ... But we do that in a very thoughtful way," Burt said. "It's very well-planned and very thought out."
Another challenge will be figuring out how to fund updates to an aging Central Park building and expand sorely-needed parking for it, the Woodbury YMCA and R.H. Stafford Library. It's possible these future renovations could be helped along by a lodging tax, which the city plans to fight for during the upcoming legislative session.