Embattled appointee confirmed to West St. Paul Planning Commission

Vocal women report finding screws in tires

 

In what is becoming more common than not, seats in the West St. Paul City Council chambers were packed for the June 11 council meeting, though it had a different outcome than another meeting a month and half prior that touched off controversy in the city.

By meeting’s end, Samantha Green was confirmed to the Planning Commission — her lack of confirmation on April 23 and the events that took place after started what many are referring to as a “controlled burn” in the city.

 

A long awaited appointment

Unlike the April 23 meeting, in which her confirmation spurred discussion and accusations of gender bias, only to ultimately fail, Green’s confirmation on June 11 passed 5-0, with council member John Bellows abstaining.

Bellows, who led the initial vote against Green, has been accused of sexism. Mayor Jenny Halverson claimed prior mayors’ appointees to commissions were rubberstamped by the council, but since she was a woman and appointing women, her choices were treated differently. She also said her term had been filled with sexist treatment from council members.

“All I wanted to do was serve my community, and I get that I’ve annoyed some of you and I get that we’ve exchanged barbs, but all I wanted to do was be involved and have a voice in this city,” said Green at the June 11 meeting.

In an interview the next day, Green said at one point she withdrew her application from consideration but never fully withdrew it from the city. After a conversation with Halverson about how she wanted to still be part of the Planning Commission, she reconsidered. Green also said that Halverson still wanted her to serve.

With her appointment confirmed, Green said a weight is off her shoulders.

“It is very relieving,” she said, noting that she’s excited get to work on the commission. “I never anticipated anything that has happened since that first meeting.”

 

‘Bullying and intimidation’

Following that April meeting and the accusations that flew during it, a box of feminine hygeine products was left at Halverson’s home and a box of tissues was left at Green’s. Each had a bow on top.

Speaking at the June 11 meeting, Katie Dohman said in the past week several police reports regarding screws found in flat tires were filed by people who had spoke out at meetings. She said was one of them. 

Dohman called out male council members who have repeatedly said they aren’t sexist, saying it was their privilege to move on after tension-filled city meetings while she worries.

“I’m going to go home and check my driveway for screws in case someone left another one underneath my tires,” she said.

West. St. Paul police officer Joseph Sass said June 12 there had been five reported incidents of sheet-rock screws in tires so far. 

“At this time, it does not appear to be random,” Sass said.

Wendy Berry, who filed to run for the Ward 3 city council seat this fall, said she found a screw in one of her tires, and that Green, Halverson, Kali Freeman and Andrea Friesen had as well.

“Maybe nobody in this room put those drywall screws there,” Berry said to the council, “but the bullying and intimidation tactics you continue to show from your positions behind those desks to citizens that are finally showing up, and to our mayor, are giving permission for people to act in this way.”

Bellows said during his council comments that he condemns such “petty” and “vicious” acts. 

 

More residents speak out

Julie Eastman said prior to the recent controversy, she had attended about six council meetings and three neighborhood meetings. Most of the meetings she attended were under the previous administration. 

“Most of those meetings, I left with a stomachache,” Eastman said. “I witnessed a culture and tone of disrespect, and sometimes condescending remarks, that were directed to others on the council, the city staff and citizens who spoke.”

Andi Morris said the current climate of city politics is not something that just gets moved past, addressing council member Bob Pace’s comment from a previous meeting — “this is something we need to change.”

Morris added that council member Ed Iago referring to Halverson as “the lady sitting next time him” at a previous meeting is “the kind of blatant sexism we’re talking about.”

Julie Wedewer said from her perspective, Halverson’s appointees to the Planning Commission on April 23 could have been men or women and sexism would have still occurred. 

“The sexism we are talking about is any situation where you as a city council person are treating Mayor Halverson, a female, differently than the former mayor or mayors who were male,” she said.  

Joe Lipari said he recently ran into the mayor of Wyoming, Minnesota. He asked her if she had heard anything about what was happening in West St. Paul.

“She said, ‘Yes, we discussed it at our city council meeting,’” Lipari said. “Please, all of you, think about what you’re doing. Think about the effect it’s having on our community and the negative effects it’s having.”

Council member Dave Napier said he continues to be embarrassed by the city.

“We used to talk about, casually talk about, Lake Elmo City Council — never thought we would be that, but we’re getting there,” Napier said, referring to the council that, until recently, would regularly make headlines for dysfunction and marathon meetings.

Iago addressed referring to Halverson as “lady;” he said it was not done in a disrespectful tone. He said if it did offend her, he apologized.

 

‘Believe her’

Beyond the appointment vote that touched off city’s slow burn, Bellows said that Halverson had only offered vague examples of bias and discrimination. He said he’d asked Halverson to call for an investigation.

“Her claims have cast a shadow over West St. Paul and this council ... If she believes her claims have substance, I respectfully suggest that she has a duty to articulate those claims and request a professional third party investigation to determine if the claims of disrespect are simply council members disagreeing with her on issues or something of substance,” Bellows said.

Halverson gave no weight to Bellows’ request.

“What are we going to do?” she asked. “We’re going to go back and launch a third party investigation so you can make it into a he-said, she-said. No, I’m not going to do that.” 

“Believe her,” she said. “Believe her. I’m so sick of that. Believe her when she said it happened.”

Halverson said women don’t make things up because they want attention. She said what happened to her is embarrassing, which is why she doesn’t need to get into the details.

Green said June 12 that people will start to see more women being visible in the community — they’re not going away. For a cultural change to happen, those on the council need to learn to listen.

“As a community, I think you’re going to see a lot of great events focused on the women of West St. Paul and empowering them and educating them,” she said.

 

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

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