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Jessica Peterson White, Candidate for 4th Ward City Council
Submitted by Rob Hardy on Sat, 10/12/2013 - 6:46pm
I'm proud to be part of Northfield, a community that supports people at all stages of life, and invests in economic prosperity for the long term and for the common good. I'm proud to know that we put our key assets—the environment, our local businesses, and our unique culture—at the heart of our decision-making. I'm honored—and excited—to keep working hard to bring these values to the City Council. In my many roles in our community, I've learned the importance of collaborative leadership, of innovation, and of appreciating the wonderful range of lives being lived here.
Let's keep Northfield vital, unique, and moving forward.
I believe in:
- Economic development that fits Northfield:
- Balanced, smart and forward-thinking
- Job growth
- Support for local businesses, big and small
- Stewardship of our unique culture
- Open, transparent government
- Commitment to environmental protection
- Sustainable long-term planning that equips us to act wisely
- Investment in infrastructure, so our economy can grow, and so everyone—in cars, on bikes, in strollers and wheelchairs—can get where they need to go safely and efficiently.
I am a:
- downtown worker
- community volunteer
- graduate of Carleton and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs
- former Rice County Commissioner
- former downtown business owner
What issues or council actions have prompted you to run for council? What relevant experience do you bring to the job?
I’m interested in continuing to serve on the Council because I believe in open government, collaborative leadership, and good stewardship of public resources. I hope to help build the best future for Northfield by fostering healthy deliberation and informed decision-making at City Hall. I’ve had many roles in Northfield, from student to downtown business owner to parent and volunteer. I’ve served as a Rice County Commissioner, helped other rural towns build strong futures in my role at U of M Extension, and I have a master’s degree from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. I’m absolutely passionate about Northfield, and feel that my leadership style, work experience and education make me a good representative for Ward 4 – I’m commited to long-term prosperity for our town.
Zoning requirements in the city’s Land Development Code are being reexamined by the planning commission and council. What changes should be made and why?
Northfield has invested a lot of time and energy in its new LDC, and those involved in the process sought to strike a balance between smart regulation of land use – which makes Northfield business- and neighborhood-friendly for the long term – and ease of use and compliance for developers, businesses, and homeowners. There have been a few growing pains in the adoption of the new code, which I know from my time on the County Board is to be expected with any significant changes. City staff are doing an admirable job of working out the kinks, and helping applicants learn the ins and outs. I do think there are aspects of the code that can be tweaked to make them less narrowly prescriptive, but I also hope that we can retain the aspects of the code that will ensure high-quality development and healthy, livable neighborhoods long into Northfield’s future.
The city’s relationship with surrounding jurisdictions for fire protection is under consideration by a task force. How would you recommend that the operating and capital costs of fire protection be shared? What is your opinion about adopting a joint powers agreement among the jurisdictions to govern fire protection services?
I believe that the best solution to this issue is the one all the stakeholders can agree on, since it needs buy-in order to be implemented effectively. Joint powers agreements can be a highly effective way for jurisdictions to share responsibility for key services, but the devil is in the details of the agreement itself, and whether all the areas in need of fire service can agree on the terms. The task force has been doing an admirable job of working toward a proposal that will work for everyone. As they’ve told the council, a JPA may be the best option, or it may not. When their proposal comes to the council, I will be particularly interested in whether the result is financially sustainable for Northfield, but I’ll also want to know that it has strong support from all concerned.
What are your economic development priorities for the city?
It’s always been a high priority for me, but in this economic climate it’s even more true that growth in jobs and tax base will come from existing local businesses first. It’s important that we attend to the needs and opportunities of all our businesses, from the mom-and-pop shops to our largest employers – and that includes everything from land and capital to culture and workforce development. We also, of course, want to be ready to welcome new businesses that will help build the future we want for Northfield. That means we need a lot of different tools in our toolkit, from small-scale EDA loans to the enterprise park plans we’ve been working on. Those plans will help us connect businesses with the space they need, and are also helping the council understand where we can make the most strategic investments in infrastructure that ensure good return for the taxpayers’ investments.
Parks, street maintenance, the fire hall and library are facility needs under consideration by the city. How would you propose to meet them?
These are all key services for our residents, and we’ve made good progress on many during my time on the council. I’m cautiously optimistic that this will continue, with more progressive approaches in St. Paul that allow us to maintain our local infrastructure without overburdening property taxpayers. It’s great to see street improvements moving along, as these are one of our most basic responsibilities, as well as opportunities to make our neighborhoods more livable. I’m excited about the progress on the skateboard park and the potential new Meadows Park, both of which have been undertaken with strong citizen input and clarity of purpose on the part of the Parks and Rec Board. The fire hall and library will both need attention from the city council in the coming year; both have significant open questions associated with them. I’m hopeful that new technology will allow us to make smart and sustainable investments at the library, and that once the police facility is constructed, we’ll be able to move on to address the long-term needs of the fire department.
Comment on the value to the council decisions of the city’s advisory groups?
Northfield citizen boards and commissions are a vital link to a diverse set of perspectives throughout the community, and an important resource to us as policymakers. I rely on the well-informed and carefully considered input of these groups as expert advice in decisions at the council level. As a former community organizer, I’m also very grateful for the many ways in which these groups gather broad input from the community and give people paths to connect with government; I believe that communities are only as strong as their citizens’ engagement, and Northfielders’ high level of engagement makes the council, our public policies, and our future stronger.
What is your view of the Charter Commission’s proposal for a charter amendment to create an ethics board?
I voted to support this on the council, and would do so again. I think it’s important that we have some fair, open, and transparent mechanisms for residents to air any serious concerns about ethical missteps on the part of the council or staff. I also think it’s important that we structure such a thing to protect the process from abuse, and to ensure that all concerned have a high level of confidence in the system. The proposal brought to us by the Charter Commission was sensible and flexible, and would have allowed us to create a healthy, workable process.
If elected, what methods will you use to get input for your decisions?
I try to be as available and responsive to constituents as possible, as do, I think, most local officials. For me, that includes being visible and available in the community at events, public meetings, and such, but also making my cell phone number and email address widely available, so I’m easy to reach. I think public policy is often best considered first from the front lines, so I ask people who might have particular expertise or personal experience with an issue what their take would be. One of the greatest challenges of this kind of work can be escaping the echo chamber of one’s supporters and keeping an open mind, so I also try to actively solicit feedback from those who don’t agree with me. If elected, I’ll do everything I can to stay connected throughout Ward 4, and look forward to continuing conversations with my constituents and fellow Northfielders.