Candidate Questionnaire Response: Jane Prince, Ward 7

Jane Prince is running for re-election in Ward 7. Learn more about her at http://janeprincew7.com

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?

As a city councilmember, I believe that safety and wellness is derived from a sense of being welcomed and included in community. Wilder Executive Director MayKao Hang advised the City Council in June 2016, “The first best way the City can address poverty is to create more safe places for kids to connect with caring adults.” The City’s primary means of supporting safety and wellness are the Saint Paul Public Libraries and Saint Paul Parks and Recreation. When I took office in 2016, three recreation centers in my ward had been closed in areas of concentrated poverty (one demolished) in 2008, leaving those families in greatest need without those vital resources. Similarly, our libraries, which provide phenomenal services to everyone from preschool children to elders, had blocked access to 51,000 card holders because of overdue fines, predominantly in areas of concentrated poverty. Working with my communities, we have reopened Eastview Recreation Center — now “filled to the rafters” every day after school, and Highwood Hills will reopen in April, restoring a community gathering space to more than 400 East African families who have been without that for 10 years. As the library board chair, I have upheld the mayor’s budget initiative to eliminate late fees at our libraries, and have welcomed back to the libraries those in greatest need of its services and resources, from helping job seekers to providing homework help, and tailoring responses to virtually every need. In 2018, we added a social worker who serves at libraries to help individuals and families connect with needed social services.

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?

I serve as the city’s representative on the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, a national model of the city and county working together with judiciary, community and social services to reduce incarceration of juveniles by about 70 percent, without changing any laws. It is critical for all of us working in this area to recognize centuries of racism and racist laws and policies — from slavery to Jim Crow, to housing segregation, to discrimination under the GI Bill, to mass incarceration — that is at the root of poverty in our country. This societal failure is cemented in the racial bias uncovered in the Minnesota criminal justice system when the Minnesota Supreme Court released its findings in the early 1990s. Efforts to reverse and make reparations for these failures are long overdue.

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?

Since joining the city council in 2016, I have worked directly with the mayor’s office to increase the diversity of our city’s boards and commissions. I regularly reach out to individuals and groups in my ward to make recommendations for appointments to influential commissions including the Planning Commission, the Neighborhood STAR Board, the Human Rights & Equal Economic Opportunity Commission, the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Historic Preservation Commission. I continually reach out to East Side residents to encourage them to apply for positions in the City, including the recent appointment to the City Council as the interim Ward 6 councilmember.

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?

When this was proposed at a city council meeting in December 2018, I expressed my support of a community cabinet on safety, wellness and justice.

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

I hold a law degree and a dispute resolution certificate from Mitchell Hamline School of Law, which is where I learned about restorative justice and restorative practices. I am a great believer that more not less face-to-face problem solving is the key to resolving all manner of dysfunction in our community relationships. As a council aide from 1998–2007, I helped to design and lead mediations between neighbors and between neighbors and developers relating to land use controversies. I fully support this idea (having read about the experience of Hull, UK, a “restorative city”) and propose that the city consider hiring a restorative practices/conflict resolution coordinator who could lead this initiative, and train employees and community members to achieve such a goal.

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

We need to set an aggressive goal to expand our housing stock, and we need to focus our affordable housing resources on creating housing that is affordable to people at 30 percent of area median income, low wage workers who are facing the most serious housing crisis. I have recently met with the East Side Employment Exchange which is linking unemployed and underemployed residents of my community with job training and jobs available at new industrial developments at Beacon Bluff. The growing workforce shortage in the metro area makes it incumbent on us in the public and nonprofit sectors to get people in need of jobs into pipelines that will train them for those jobs, for example the current acute shortage of Metro Transit drivers. I am working with a coalition of community members, school board and staff representatives, and homeless advocates to figure out how to immediately address the unconscionable problem of homelessness in our Saint Paul schools, where over 1,000 families are homeless.

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?

When the city council passed the resolution committing the city to the JPA, I amended the resolution to require that the community be brought into the process to build the trust necessary to its success. When I followed up with Laura LaBlanc of IN Equality, I learned that the community, including the NAACP and the African American Leadership Council shared serious concerns about the use of predictive analytics between schools and law enforcement; I raised these concerns with the staff coordinators working on the JPA. I continued to serve as an ad hoc liaison between community and JPA entities, until the JPA was discontinued by Mayor Carter, the superintendent, county attorney and county board in January. I strongly supported this decision. It was clear to me at the outset that any process designed to support families and improve student outcomes needed to involve those families at the outset to build the confidence and trust needed for such an endeavor. I hope that officials recognize that the top-down process they attempted to use was the wrong one to serve communities traumatized by the historic use of predictive data and testing to target and victimize them.

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

In addition to reopening recreation centers and welcoming 51K cardholders back to libraries, I helped to convince the past and present administrations to budget over $300K in free and low cost programming for students in areas of concentrated poverty, where none existed before. I also added Saturday hours to two recreation centers, tripling the number of Saturday hours in Ward 7. During the past 10 years, without these resources, the East Side has seen an increase in teen gun violence. I also worked with our Somali community, Parks and Rec and the school district to create a late-night recreation program during Ramadan for teens, eliminating disturbances and police calls in the surrounding neighborhood. I am a strong supporter of youth programs on the East Side that are meaningfully engaging youth, providing mentorships and youth employment, including the Somali American Youth Enrichment Club, Cookie Cart, Urban Roots, the Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center and Saint Paul Youth Services as well as the city’s Right Track program.

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?

I support banning the box on housing applications. As a lawyer, I have represented peaceful, law abiding clients whose criminal records have led to chronic homelessness or living in substandard housing. “We are all criminals” is an important movement to demonstrate that everyone has made mistakes in the past that should not prevent anyone from leading a successful life. I support restoring the vote to anyone who has concluded incarceration. We need to make criminal and eviction expungement more accessible to allow people to put their mistakes behind them.

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?

“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond It is a harsh look at housing instability, and the ways in which our systems fail people of color living in poverty. From housing code enforcement to housing court to sheriffs’ evictions, the book details the way in which the decision to evict sets in motion a destructive chain of events that destroys families. The book calls for reform, and above all, eviction prevention. A couple of months ago, I was asked by housing advocates including Heading Home Ramsey and the Dispute Resolution Center to host a forum for landlords in my ward, entitled “Rethinking Eviction.” Hoping to have a handful of landlords participate, we were overjoyed to have the room fill with more than 40 landlords in my ward who want to be part of this particular housing solution. We shared a whole toolbox of programs to help them support tenants and avoid eviction.The landlords gave the forum rave reviews and want to participate in future programs. They shared their own views about the emotional and financial toll that eviction takes on both landlords and tenants. This is community-first public safety: Bringing the community together to hammer out solutions and serve the common good.

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?

In 2016, I voted to include police officers on the Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission, based on my experience that when both sides are represented on a panel, they make a more balanced decision. In response to that vote, I was invited to a community meeting by about 50 constituents of my ward who happened to be people of color. They expressed their deep disappointment with my vote. Through a circle process, each participant told a personal story of difficult and dangerous interactions with police that made them unable to trust law enforcement. With each story, I realized that when I had voted, I had not taken into account the deep personal trauma that exists in my community related to law enforcement. While I will not give up on my goal of building trust between the community and the SPPD, I changed my vote on PCIARC as a result of that meeting and in direct recognition of those voices that I had not previously considered.

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?

For me, co-governance is including the community in policy and decision-making that will impact them. Since joining the council in 2016, I attend every meeting to which I am invited, and I seek out opportunities to meet with constituents who may not come to meetings. On decisions such as the reopening of a recreation center or adding bike lanes, I have doorknocked my constituents to get their candid views on decisions I am charged with making. I routinely organize public meetings and forums to gather input from my constituents, on land use decisions, and issues like organized trash collection, road reconstruction and the minimum wage ordinance. This is what community building looks like. It is what a safe, welcoming and inclusive community does to reflect all voices. Safety and wellness come from a sense of being heard and validated, and believing one can have a positive impact in their community.