New West St. Paul group is working for more equitable city

A new volunteer group has formed in West St. Paul in response to controversies that took place earlier this year in the city. 

The Women of West St. Paul, which is made up of women, girls and non-binary residents of the community, is working towards a more just and equitable city. 

 

Helping create change

Katie Dohman, a member of the new group, said the blocking of one of Mayor Jenny Halverson’s committee appointments earlier this year dissolved into a contentious conversation, during which Halverson revealed she had been the subject of sexual harassment and sexism.

“That really activated a group of us into saying ‘All of this was going on and continues to go on and our city is missing opportunities and ... just huge potential,’” she said.

Dohman said she and others decided, very informally, to talk about the current state of local politics and how that could be reflecting some of the things being seen on the national stage. They discussed what they, as a group of women in West St. Paul, could do to create change.

“Not only to support our mayor so that she could do her job, but also to support other people in the community who want to be involved, but for one reason or another had been blacklisted or had been subject to unclear rules or grey areas,” Dohman said, adding the group wanted to hold officials accountable for their positions.

Dohman said the women decided to speak out at a city council meeting in May, and decided they would not let another council meeting go unattended between them.

“We packed the room and we continue to pack the room every Monday night, even though we’ve moved on to addressing the election,” she said.

After those first meetings, Dohman said they realized they had something as a group. In terms of a cause, she said there is so much to tackle that the city council, even in its best form. couldn’t tackle on its own, because it’s the job of citizens to contribute. 

The women decided to formalize the group and develop an agenda of what they thought they could do besides just speaking out.

 

Here to help

Dohman said the goal of the group is to work towards transparency in local government and increase accountability.

“I think we’re here to stop misogyny and sexism in its tracks,” she said. “I think we’re here to try and turn around any skepticism or cynicism or frustration with what’s playing out in the public sphere right now politically.”

She added the group wants to turn that frustration into momentum for change and forward thinking.

Dohman said one big thing the group really wants to tackle is education  — getting people up to speed on how city government works. 

When the first informal conversation was held about addressing the council, Dohman said of the 35-or-so women in attendance, most had never attended a city council meeting. 

The group wants to help people learn what the various committees do and how that affects what the council does.

Dohman said citizens should be involved with more than just elections because in between votes is when the real policy change happens. 

Women of West St. Paul is also focusing on equal representation. As the city has grown more diverse, Dohman said there are a lot of people who have been left behind, whether because of language or inability barriers. She said this means their voice has been erased from the conversation.

“We need to find a way to be representing everybody’s voice when we come together to make policies and laws and procedures and decide what amenities our city needs, and to prepare the city for the future,” Dohman said. 

The group also wants to make sure it is easier for people to have access to information. Dohman said people aren’t sure where to turn for news about local elections and the group is trying to be another place where people can ask questions and become informed.

Dohman said if someone is wanting to get involved with the group, the best way to go about doing that right now is through its Facebook page, “WoW — Women of West St. Paul.”

She added they don’t want people to have to jump through hoops to be part of the group.

“If they are someone who identifies as a woman, or as non-binary individuals, and they want to be a part of our group, we want them to be part of our group,” she said. 

Women of West St. Paul is looking into hosting debates and other events where people can get to know city council candidates ahead of the general election in November. 



WARD 3 COUNCIL CANDIDATE FORUM:

Women of West St. Paul held a candidate forum July 30 for West St. Paul City Council Ward 3 candidates, though only one of the four candidates was in attendance.

Kali Freeman, a founding member of Women of West St. Paul, said at the forum that the event was the first of many efforts to make city government more accessible to residents. 

“It is often hard to find information on local candidates, and even the most beautiful campaign literature cannot tell the whole story,” she said.

The candidates were emailed July 13 and asked to RSVP for the forum, though only two, Wendy Berry and Lisa Eng-Sarne said they’d be there.

Freeman said Berry later informed organizers she’d had a death in the family and was unable to attend.

Candidate Dave Meisinger said he’d told organizers he had a previous engagement and was unable to be at the forum, while Freeman said candidate John Ramsay was contacted twice and never replied. 

When asked July 31 if he wanted to comment on his absence from the forum, Ramsay wrote in an email, “I was not absent because I never [accepted] the invitation, so how could I be absent if I was never coming? In fact I believe that I replied to that. That particular date did not work for me.”

Susan Stradtmann, who attended the forum, said she thinks it’s important all take part in government, especially locally. While she is not a Ward 3 resident, she is trying to encourage everyone to vote.

“I think what’s been happening in West St. Paul is shameful and I think we need more women involved in our government. We need to keep fighting the good fight,” she said.

Matthew Schempp, a Ward 3 resident, heard about the forum on social media and wanted to hear what the candidates had to say. Schempp said when it comes to a candidate, he is looking for someone with the ability to understand the position the city is in. 

There have been some controversies and problems, not just sexism, and Schempp said he is looking for a candidate who understands where those problems came from and where the city is going, who’s trying to make things better.



Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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