Fifteen months after the Philando Castile police shooting ignited global headlines, the micro-suburb where it happened is still feeling the aftershocks. And the next few weeks may well bring a couple of crescendos as well.
The Nov. 7 election of two at-large members for the Falcon Heights City Council will give voters a chance to decide how much they're ready to move toward an ever more diverse team of leaders.
And city property tax statements to be firmed up in December will provide a jolt to pocketbooks, as homeowners find out what it means in dollar terms to switch police coverage in the wake of a shooting that was roundly condemned.
A threatened 34 percent tax hike, described by one incumbent as "unimaginable," has been averted as the maximum levy was set at 24 percent. But that would be accomplished by shaking out the municipal piggy bank and dipping into reserves, in a way that officials warn cannot continue for long.
In the meantime, two African-American candidates for the council, Melanie Leehy and Michael Wade, seek to join a city leadership team that officials note is already diverse.
"We do have a woman on the council along with a Native American man and a Hispanic man," said City Administrator Sack Thongvanh, who is Laotian-American. "And I was the first minority to hold this job."
Still, some challengers say that city officials were disappointingly limp in their response to the Castile case. Residents wanted more from them, said council candidate Paula Mielke, a former member of the Ramsey County Library Board.
"Our board held its own community discussions because nothing was coming forth from the city," said Mielke, who is white.
Leehy, who co-chaired a city commission examining policing, stressed the need for more points of view at City Hall.
"The city moved slowly," she said. "It was a small city that didn't know what to do. It was very stressful. The staff worked really hard. The council with their experience did the best they could. I'm here to keep them on track."
'Bridging these gaps'
In some ways, Falcon Heights was a curious place for the shooting to happen. It's one of the most highly educated cities in the state, teeming with progressives who have their walls plastered with diplomas.
"I'm surrounded in my neighborhood by professors from the U, from Macalester, from Hamline," Mielke said. "Even the renters here are often students and grad students."
Taken together, the council candidates feel like a cross-section of Falcon Heights.
Ronald Dixon, 23, is a state tax examiner who bills himself as a youthful renter in a city with plenty of them, and who wants a $15 minimum wage. Mark Miazga is a University of Minnesota staffer with a background in race relations and social justice causes.
Tom Brace, a former state fire marshal, stresses the need for someone who knows public safety and can contend with longer service response times that may cost more, as the city moves its law enforcement chores from the St. Anthony police to the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office.
At a recent community forum, incumbent Tony Fischer came closest to making a robust case for City Hall.
"There are a lot of positive things in this city," Fischer said. "We do need to correct past injustices but in a positive way. I hope we're not looking for easy answers. Bumper sticker slogans get us nowhere."
Wade, of the two black candidates, struck the blunter note at the forum in wishing to attack racism, pure and simple.
"When you can't say hi to a neighbor in the grocery store without them looking at you like — 'Why are you speaking to me?' — that's a problem," he said. "We need to start bridging these gaps together."