Candidate Questionnaire Response: Amy Brendmoen, Ward 5

Amy Brendmoen is running for re-election to City Council in Ward 5. Learn more about her at https://www.amyforcitycouncil.com

Brendmoen did not respond to our questionnaire by the requested deadline of March 3 but submitted her response on March 14.

What is your vision for safety and wellness rooted in St. Paul communities? As a city councilmember, what concrete steps would you take to support that vision? And who else would you work with to advance that vision?

Safety and well-being of community members is the fundamental responsibility of city government. My vision for our neighborhoods includes

  • attainable rent or opportunities for homeownership
  • recreation centers with inclusive programming that span race, age and gender
  • packed libraries with children checking out books with stories and characters they can relate to
  • parks where connecting to greenspace can create balance and calm
  • a responsive, well-trained public safety staff that includes trained mental health professionals

Families and individuals should have a path to sustainable employment, the security of affordable housing, access to nourishing food, and opportunities to thrive and flourish. All of these things bring neighborhoods together, strengthen neighborhood bonds and create a sense of belonging. We know that by investing in the community, and the people within, we invest in crime prevention.

As I head into term three, I have strong partnerships with area stakeholders including funders, non profit service organizations, our city’s law enforcement and emergency responders, my colleagues, and the mayor. I am in a position now as a council veteran to deliver on a progressive vision for my community and for the city as a whole. These relationships can help amplify community voices, which must be represented at the table, ensuring services are designed by and for residents from all backgrounds.

What alternatives to policing, arrest, criminal prosecution and incarceration would you work to support? How would you work to reduce the dramatic racial disparities and impacts of these systems?

In addition to investing in community assets to strengthen neighborhood bonds and decrease crime as discussed above, I support Juvenile Detention Alternatives, hiring and equipping mental health workers to respond to 911 calls when applicable, building on our community liaison officer program and training our district councils and neighborhood groups in restorative justice frameworks.

I am looking forward to supporting and participating in the Council and Mayor’s Community First Public Safety Task Force and finding ways to implement its recommendations. The council is collectively invested in what comes to fruition for an initial plan and are anticipating ways to financially support the work in the next city budget.

(See also restorative justice response in question 5.)

Many people who are routinely impacted by policing come from our most impoverished and disenfranchised communities, and due to systemic inequities, they are comparatively disconnected from the levers of power. How would you work to elevate the experience and insight of directly impacted community members so they can have the same impact on shaping policy as well-funded advocacy organizations?

We have to put those most impacted by the policies at the front end of policymaking. This is vital to transformational change. People in our city are ready, able and willing to be change makers. Throughout history, those in power have very intentionally created opaque pathways that keep the most disenfranchised from accessing power. I will continue to recruit people impacted by our current policing model to the Police Civilian Review Commission, Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity Commission, and the Planning Commission.

For my first two terms, I have worked to break down barriers to access by meeting with constituents in their neighborhood parks, rec centers and libraries. As City Council President, I work to treat each person who comes to city hall with respect and dignity by demystifying the Council process and I have fought to remove symbols of white male supremacy from our City Council Chambers. I will continue to be a catalyst for transparency and a bridge to tables of power. We need to be critical of biases that impact who we consider to be “eligible” policy-makers and shift our perspectives to lift up, value, and bring to center the voices of people from disenfranchised communities.

In partnership with the community-first safety initiative, and with leadership support from the city council, St. Paul residents have advanced the idea of a community cabinet on safety, wellness, and justice. How would you support this cabinet to ensure it has lasting and meaningful input?

The Community-First Public Safety Task Force is the top shared priority for members the Saint Paul City Council in 2019. I’m proud to have helped establish this group at the beginning of the year and will work in partnership with Mayor Carter to integrate community-first solutions into city policy and operations. I support establishing a payment structure for the time and expertise of participating members and a program budget for 2020.

As the Council President, I will support and champion this work as recommended by the community cabinet. As with our Housing Task Force, I expect the Community First Task Force to recommend an ongoing advisory committee that will guide the council and administration on public safety and community wellbeing policy. I hope to develop a trusting partnership with cabinet members and consult with them to help develop policies to support our residents in living safe, productive and happy lives.

What is your knowledge of or experience with restorative justice and restorative practices? How might St. Paul become a restorative city?

When a crime is committed, the impact is felt beyond the individuals directly involved and trauma spreads through the community. The crime must be addressed with a focus on healing for the victim and community through truth-telling, recognition of harm and accountability. When done effectively, the result is a reduction in trauma and an end to the cycle of oppressive fear and violence.

I am very excited to share that the city is rolling out its first Neighborhood Justice Program this spring — a restorative justice pilot program aimed to “Create a Safer Saint Paul Through Compassionate Accountability.” This program will address low-level nonviolent crime committed by first-time offenders. It will be victim-centered, and lead by trained volunteers from communities affected by these crimes. The group will work with offenders to identify harm to victim, community and themselves, and will engage with the offender to identify ways to repair the harm. If successful, this program will also relieve pressure from the courts’ diversion case load, which could have a positive ripple effect in higher level offense case management.

As a new organization, I look forward to hearing from Root and Restore and learning more about your vision for ways the city could become more restorative. It is my belief that good ideas come from every corner of our city, and I am open to learning from you.

What specific steps would you take to build stability in areas hard-hit by poverty, unemployment, and housing insecurity?

Safe and stable housing is the bedrock of a stable life, as it allows for the opportunity to find and keep gainful employment and quality education. I will work to preserve naturally occurring affordable housing in areas that have it, and add housing options in areas that are currently unaffordable for most. This can be tackled with thoughtful planning, targeted programs and community engagement. Additionally, I will partner with the new Office of Financial Empowerment and work to scale community wealth building tools such as college savings accounts and home and business ownership. We must close the homeownership gap for households of color using down payment programs that feature patient capital, continue adding homes under the city’s “inspiring communities” program, and invest in competent organizations who do this work. Finally, first we must do no harm. That means, we must thoroughly examine our city operations to identify and eliminate systems that perpetuate poverty and despair.

What do you know about the recently dissolved Joint Powers Agreement to share data to flag Ramsey County students as “at-risk”? What lessons do you think officials should take away from the political process that created the Joint Powers Agreement data-sharing plan?

The impetus for the joint powers agreement and its goals were and remain important. It’s irresponsible for three-overlapping government entities to maintain data about the people it is serving and have no ability to work together or with qualified competent partners to strive for better outcomes. With over 50% of our Saint Paul census tracking in poverty, we are at a crisis and we need to go upstream to find ways to support families and individuals.

That said, it is clear that too much planning work for the proposed JPA happened in a vacuum and several entities had deep, legitimate concerns about the details of the plan and were not willing to support it until these concerns were addressed. It was clear that more work needed to be done before the JPA could advance, and I support the entities decision to withdraw until more consensus is achieved. It is also clear that without building and earning trust that our government will always act in the best interest of all members of our community, initiatives to serve community through government will always fail.

What specific steps will you take to end the school to prison pipeline for St. Paul youth? What can you as a city councilmember do to create more opportunities for youth to thrive?

I will continue to prioritize funding for city youth programs like Rec Check, Summer Blast, Library Homework Help and Right Track. I am proud of our rec center and library staff members who form amazing bonds with young people in our neighborhoods. I think these relationships can be transformational. This last year we tripled the funding-from $100K to $300K to fund free recreation programming in areas of high poverty in the city budget. Charging fees for public rec programming meant that we weren’t serving a large portion of the public.

I will also continue to build upon our partnership with local schools and colleges to connect youth to education and career-training opportunities. Many folks are not aware that income qualified families can send students to Metro State or Saint Paul Technical for two years free of charge if they are from Saint Paul. We need to get the word out about these and other programs. I will also leverage my labor endorsements and connect high schoolers with trade programs as more young adults are choosing to enter the workforce and trade schools than the traditional 4-year college path.

How should the city of St. Paul welcome and support people returning to neighborhoods from jail or prison, or living on probation? What steps would you take to make housing more accessible to people with criminal convictions?

The lack of attainable housing is currently the city’s biggest problem and for someone with a criminal record, finding housing is even more difficult. Former Deputy Mayor Kristin Beckmann and I established a Fair Housing Task Force at the end of 2017. The Task Force carried forth under our current administration and presented its “blueprint” back to the city in time for recommendations to be included in the 2019 Budget. The Mayor’s budget responded to the Task Force recommendations with over $71 Million dollars in housing investment over the next three years. Our job now is to facilitate progress and make adjustments and investments to the plan based on on the ground learnings, changes to the economy and investments from the private market. Securing housing for people who are re-entering our neighborhoods must also be part of this plan.

“Banning the box” for felonies on housing applications, working harder in housing (eviction) court to prevent and expunge unlawful detainers and providing wrap-around service information at housing court to try to stabilize families are some examples of policies we are currently pursuing. We are also developing strategies to focus efforts on bad-actor landlords in Ramsey County in partnership with Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services.

What is a person, place, book, experience, or film that has especially influenced your vision of community-first public safety and your dreams about what’s possible for community-first public safety in St. Paul?

One example of a recent influence is the movie “13th.” I wish it could be required viewing for every person, but often books and documentaries talking about institutional racism, mass incarceration, structural biases are watched by those who are open to learning and growing, not those who believe they “aren’t racist.” Watching 13th with my family demonstrated in a concrete way how much the political and media decisions in my own lifetime have contributed to and compounded the incredible challenges that Black Americans face at every turn. These deep and complex issues go back for many generations, and they will take many generations to unpack and repair. I am invested in the work of eliminating racial inequality for the long haul.

What informs your decision-making process when it comes to community issues? Can you share a story about a specific time when you had to decide where you stood on a difficult community issue, or when you had to decide what kind of action you should take on an issue? How did you arrive at the decision you did?

I voted to remove police officers as voting members from the Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission. This decision was informed by my constituents and my values. It was a challenging decision to come to as many of my constituents were not supportive and the law officers were stridently against the change. However, everything that comes across my desk is a test of values and accountability. I choose to ground my decisions with the most vulnerable and impacted — in this case, those most affected by our police force.

Currently, the PCIARC has the power to give recommendations to the Chief of Police on whether or not an officer should be disciplined for policy violations (like the use of force) but its power falls short of making any policy change. The idea that community members who are served by our police force cannot be experts on how they want to be treated needs to change.

What does co-governance look like to you? How have you implemented that vision of co-governance in your own life and work? How would you work to scale up that vision in city government?

Co-governance looks like accessibility to decision makers, direct input early in the process, and ultimately ownership of the end result. The underlying goals are accountability and building community power.

Accessibility has been a cornerstone of my office. Since my first month in office, over seven years ago, I have held Community Office Hours at the Rice Street Library so my community members can meet with me without the hassle of parking downtown or navigating directions or metal detectors. Rice Street Library is in the center of the ward and has good transportation options. On a typical day, I have 4–6 community members visit me at these Office Hours. If the community office hours don’t work I offer to schedule a walk (often a Lake Lap around Como Lake) with anyone who asks, or we can set up a one on one meeting at a convenient location. I know that great ideas are out there, and I make a practice of intentionally enfranchising people about their local government by being available, accessible, actively listening and following up.

I am interested in taking this to scale and would work with community members to make it happen. Currently, a few of the loudest and often angriest voices are the most “engaged” in city process and conversation, and I often fear that they crowd out the voices of the majority and/or the voices we most need to hear from. This applies to both sides of any debate. I also believe that “being heard” is not the same as “getting everything I demand,” and we as a community and society need to navigate that space better.