Dayton’s Bluff diversifies board elections

Candidates clamoring to get a seat on community council

After some grassroots rallying, the Dayton's Bluff Community Council is looking to have what could be its most lively board elections ever.

In some recent board elections, there haven't even been enough candidates to fill the seats, the council's director Deanna Abbott-Foster laments.

But this year, that's changed — there are 20 candidates registered for the 11 open seats. And with all the candidates campaigning and asking neighbors to vote, the voter turnout should be much higher as well.

Abbott-Foster says the high number of candidates comes out of an effort to make the council's board more representative of its population — with the neighborhood being 60 percent people of color, the board doesn't reflect that population, and instead is mostly comprised of white people.

With at least eight candidates of color on the ballot this year, odds are the council will gain more ethnic diversity.

Candidates compete for seats in four separate sub-districts, as well as one at large seat for Metropolitan State University students. To view all the candidates' profiles, visit http://www.daytonsbluff.org/meet-the-candidates/.

To get the word out, candidates have been asked to hand out fliers with information about when they can vote. And all of the candidates have been given a chance to do a radio interview on WEQY 104.7, the East Side's community radio station. Those interviews will air every day until the night of the Dayton's Bluff District Council annual meeting, Monday, Dec. 21.

Abbott-Foster notes that in addition to getting residents excited in local politics, the effort also can help drum up enthusiasm for the 2016 election process. She's hoping the district will have a higher-than-usual voter turnout for the 2016 presidential election.

Dayton’s Bluff is one of St. Paul’s 17 district councils. According to St. Paul’s website, “responsibilities of the councils include: planning and advising on the physical, economic, and social development of their areas; identifying needs; initiating community programs; recruiting volunteers; and sponsoring community events.”

Polls open all week

Hoping to make voting easier for the district council board election, polls will be open for an entire week before the election — Dayton's Bluff residents can come into the East Side Enterprise Center starting Monday, Dec. 14, to cast their vote. Voting hours are from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Dec. 14 through 17, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 18. District residents can also vote from 8 a.m. to noon on Monday, Dec. 21, and at the annual meeting from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Abbott-Foster says the council has been encouraging candidates to canvas and make lists of networks in their neighborhoods — some candidates are going a step further and making call lists to contact residents asking them to vote.

Candidates have been provided yard signs to hand out as well, and people are using social media to promote their campaigns.

For more information about the elections, visit http://www.daytonsbluff.org/about-us/board-elections-2015/.

Youngin on the council

Tong Thao, the youngest board member on the council at 25, says he's encouraged by this year's efforts to get a more diverse council.

He notes that he's one of three people of color currently on the board of 13 members.

"It doesn't reflect the community," which is 60 percent people of color, Thao says.

"Almost nobody knows about the district council system, at least in my community," he says. But, he figures that's changing with this year's push.

"This is our chance to kind of take our community and take ownership of it," he says.

To do his part, he reached out to friends and acquaintances, in hopes of finding people he could encourage to run. He met with two people one-on-one and encouraged them to seek seats on the council, helping them understand why they and their community would benefit from being on the board. Now, they're running for seats.

Thao says he became interested in being on the Dayton's Bluff Community Council after doing an internship with the Frogtown Neighborhood Association. He realized it was a way for him to learn how government systems work.

He's been on the council for three years now.

"When I first came in, it was intimidating," he recalls, pointing to the mostly white council. Growing up, all of his authority figures were white, including teachers, professors, law enforcement officials, he says, so to work alongside older white people who reminded him of authority figures of his youth made him timid.

But now, he's used to being on the council, and feels free to speak up.

Newcomers

Pa Chua Vang says she's campaigning to be on the council board to make sure it's more representative of its population.

"I want to make sure there is equity on the board as well as transparency," she says.

Though the Hmong woman is involved in several community organizations, including Dayton's Bluff Seniors Living at Home and the East Side Neighborhood Development Company, she says she'd only heard about the district councils a year ago. She's lived on the East Side for over 20 years.

She's hoping that if elected, her friends, family and neighbors can approach her and tell her what they want to see in the neighborhood.

She's been campaigning by going door-to-door, handing out fliers, and posting on Facebook.

Shannon Prescott, one of the board candidates, says she was encouraged to campaign from a current board member.

The 35-year-old says she'd heard about the district council only a few months ago. She's lived in the neighborhood for about a year.

When asked why she wants to be on the board, she says "people that live in the neighborhood are the ones that should be making decisions about the neighborhood.

"It's a diverse neighborhood, so it should be a diverse board," adds Prescott, a half American Indian, half African American mother.

To campaign, she says she's been doing some Facebook posts, handing out fliers to neighbors and having her kids hand out fliers as well.

Representation on other East Side boards?

The District 1 Community Council is relatively representative of the council's overall population, according to council director Betsy Leach.

Eight of 15 board members are people of color, she says, something that's come out of a concentrated effort on behalf of the council.

When seats open up, she pursues residents who represent the neighborhood's demographics to fill those spots, she says. That includes considering where potential candidates live in District 1, their gender and ethnicity, and whether they rent or own their home.

Chuck Repke, director of the District 2 Community Council in the northeast corner of St. Paul, notes it's often challenging to attain a board that's representative of the district's population.

He figures about a quarter of the current board is comprised of people of color.

"We have some diversity, but not 100 percent reflective of the community," he says, adding "we would always like to see more diversity in the board."

That can be challenging, though, when the board meetings are not particularly lively. Board work, he says, isn't always that exciting when you're talking about financial statements and long-range planning. To that end, he notes "it's difficult to get people to commit to go to regular board meetings."

This challenge isn't unique to District 2, he figures. "All of the district councils go through this cycle of trying to get people interested in the board.

"It's a problem in the system."

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.
 

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