Ramsey County Board Chair Trista Martinson will step down from her elected role, having accepted a job as the first executive director of Recycling and Energy, the partnership through which Ramsey and Washington counties manage waste, she said Thursday.

Martinson represents the Ramsey County Board's Third District, which includes the northwest parts of St. Paul and Falcon Heights. The county will hold a special election to fill out her term, which ends January 2027.

Martinson was first elected to the County Board in 2018. During her years there, Martinson said she is most proud of the board's work on economic inclusion and equitable climate action, as well as the county's work to get people and businesses through COVID-19 and on homelessness.

Martinson said she's fallen in love with the mission of Recycling and Energy in the last five years as she's learned how waste can be turned into a commodity and clean energy.

"[Waste is] a resource that, unfortunately, will never go away, so we have the opportunity to use it," she said.

Martinson credited Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt, a longtime sustainability advocate (whom Martinson jokingly calls "the queen of trash talk") with inspiring her own love of working on trash policy and solutions.

The board of Recycling and Energy is made up of five members of the Ramsey County Board, including Martinson, and four members of the Washington County Board, two ex-officio members, plus two alternates.

Andrea McKennan, a spokesperson for Recycling and Energy, said a consultant recommended the program hire an executive director in 2022, approved by the board. In 2023, the program hired a search firm to find candidates. An offer to one candidate fell through in negotiations.

Martinson recused herself from the search process before she applied for the job, said Michael Reed, among the leaders for Recycling and Energy involved in the hire. The hiring decision makers were the program's joint leadership team, Reinhardt, Washington County Commissioner Fran Miron and a Ramsey County Public Health deputy director.

Reed said the process was open and competitive.

Jim Scheibel, a former St. Paul mayor and retired professor who taught public administration ethics, said that because the process appeared to be competitive and Martinson recused herself, the ethics of the hire pass muster.

"Ethics, a lot of times, is appearance," he said. In situations where there could be an appearance of a conflict, those involved should be prepared to answer questions and be transparent about the process and why the candidate they selected was best, he said.

Martinson's pay as board chair is $104,447, plus a $7,200 allowance. The pay range for the Recycling and Energy job is $154,500 to $191,014, McKennan said.

Martinson's departure means there will be three new faces on the seven-member Ramsey County Board in 2025. The county is also searching for a new county manager after Ryan O'Connor's departure for the Metropolitan Council earlier this year.

Open seats and one special election

Contests for three seats will be held on Election Day, Nov. 5.

  • District 1, which covers Arden Hills, Gem Lake, Mounds View, North Oaks, Shoreview, Vadnais Heights, White Bear Township, plus parts of Spring Lake Park and Blaine. The seat is open after Commissioner Nicole Frethem announced she would not run for re-election. Tara Jebens-Singh is the only candidate who filed to run.
  • District 2, which covers Lauderdale, Little Canada, New Brighton, Roseville and St. Anthony. Commissioner Mary Jo McGuire, first elected to the board in 2012, is unopposed.
  • District 7, which covers Maplewood, North St. Paul and White Bear Lake. The seat is open after longtime Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt announced she would not seek reelection. Kevin "KB" Berglund, Kelly Miller, Sarah K. Yang and Michelle Yener have filed to run. A primary will be held Aug. 13.

Martinson said she feels the county is in a strong position going forward, with strong candidates for open seats, plus good prospects for the open county manager job and a "deep bench" in the county's leadership team.

"I'm not going that far," she said. "I'm kind of just switching to the other side of the table and becoming staff that's going to continue to carry out the vision, mission and values of — not just our county board — but the Washington County board."