With St. Paul elections less than a month away, a group of community leaders frustrated by what they say is a lack of transparency at City Hall have formed a grass-roots committee urging candidates to support an open and responsive decisionmaking process.
Members of the nonpartisan group, called St. Paul STRONG, said Wednesday that rather than endorsing candidates themselves, they would ask candidates to endorse their principles. They will spread their message over the Internet and social media, they said.
"The public is spoken to, but not listened to," said downtown developer John Mannillo. "Decisions are made without the benefit of experience or good advice shared by communities. … Once the decisions are made, the details are kept even more secret."
Among the group's principles: Citizens should be able to participate in decisionmaking, and decisions should be made after they have their say, not before; officials should respond to concerns in a timely fashion, without regard to party influence; and neighborhoods should have equal access to city amenities.
"We're tired of being invited to meetings after the plans are decided and the decisions are made," said Yusef Mgeni, a member of the St. Paul NAACP and former schools administrator. "It is time to restore trust by city officials listening and then acting."
Other members of the committee include disability rights advocate Rick Cardenas, former legislator and city department head Andy Dawkins, former City Council Member Ruby Hunt and teacher and union activist Roy Magnuson.
They cited several examples of top-down City Hall decisions, such as the failure to investigate reportedly unstable bluffs at Lilydale Regional Park that collapsed and killed two children; the rising cost of the $65 million downtown Saints ballpark; and the unanimous council decision to back tax breaks for the proposed professional soccer stadium site if it's built with private funding.
They also cited the city's decision to put parking meters on Grand Avenue without seeking the views of merchants and residents. Business owners are threatening to block the action.
Candidates attending the news conference — Tom Goldstein in the Fourth Ward, David Glass in the Fifth, Kevin Bradley in the Sixth, and Jane Prince in the Seventh — said they backed the group's goals.
"It's that mentality that 'We're smarter than you and we know better than you,' " Goldstein said.
City Council members were invited but were in meetings.