Candidate Questionnaire Response: Rebecca Noecker, Ward 2

Rebecca Noecker is running for re-election to City Council in Ward 2. Learn more about her at www.rebeccanoecker.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?

I am running for office to make St. Paul a place where all our families prosper, all our residents have a place to call home, and where all our young people have access to opportunity. I work hard every day to make sure our neighborhoods are safe and welcoming, our small businesses are thriving and growing great jobs, and that city government is transparent and accountable to you. If I am re-elected, my top priority will be to support working families through the following initiatives:

  • Saint Paul 3K — a city-led effort to ensure that all families in St. Paul have access to high-quality, affordable early childhood education
  • Affordable housing — I am exploring policies that will allow greater infill density, reduce the cost of new affordable housing and make it easier for low-income residents to own their own homes.
  • Economic development — Despite the success of our Open for Business initiative, we still have a long way to go to make it easier for small business owners to navigate our City permitting processes, open and expand. I’m especially interested in the creation of a working capital fund to help small businesses adapt to changing economic and regulatory environments and weather hard times.

As a community organizer, I believe in bringing those who will be impacted by policies together to discuss the challenges and brainstorm solutions. On the initiatives outlined above, I have been working with coalitions of educators, early childhood education providers, parents, philanthropists, faith-based institutions, developers, business associations, small business owners and, of course, my constituents to guide and shape our policy and practice.

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 Council’s representative on the County’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) and I have been pushing that group to focus on disparities in policing and incarceration. I would welcome the chance to talk further with your members and others interested in this issue about specific remedies the CJCC could employ.

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?

While I believe the St. Paul Police Department is making promising strides in living up to its motto of “trusted service with respect”, we still have a ways to go before we can truly say our police have a strong relationship with all parts of our community. I hear regularly from constituents who say they felt disrespected or worse in their interactions with our officers. In response to these concerns I worked with our police chief to create a customer service survey which is now sent out to everyone who has an interaction with our officers to get their anonymous feedback on the interaction. These survey results are used in officer training and in professional reviews. I also voted to remove police from being members of the Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission, a group that recommends disciplinary action in cases of officer misconduct, so as to give the community a stronger voice in that process.

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?

I am a strong supporter of the idea of a People’s Cabinet to help us build a community-first safety strategy. My office will be serving on a work group, made up of Council offices and Mayoral staff, to make that a reality this year.

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

My most direct experience with restorative justice comes from my experience as a volunteer at the Justice and Reconciliation Project (JRP) in Gulu, Uganda. The JRP uses restorative justice practices to help bring peace and closure to communities victimized by the militant Lord’s Resistance Army. I believe in the power of restorative justice to bring a fuller and more lasting peace to communities, because it recognizes the reality that perpetrators and victims are all caught up in a systemic cycle — that they are all truly victims of forces beyond their control and that punitive justice only makes that worse. I believe with the Mayor, City Council and Chief of Police we have now, informed by a People’s Cabinet, there is a lot of political will toward incorporating restorative justice into our law enforcement practices.

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

The City should accurately track how and where all of its resources are spent, in relation to economic and demographic data about its communities, and ensure that investments are being made across diverse places and circumstances. The ongoing challenge is that the private market follows economic strength, and therefore areas of greater wealth attract more private investment. Public dollars are often requested to support these private investments, while such demand is weak in economically depressed areas. Therefore, the City must designate funding that targets areas where private investment is weak, and seed new activity to bring other investors. We are doing just that by prioritizing areas of concentrated poverty and cultural neighborhoods outside of downtown for capital investment in our 2019 budget.

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?

My understanding is that the JPA was intended to be a way to direct additional resources to the young people and families who are most at need, rather than allocating those resources to families only once they have fallen through the cracks in our society. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that those who created the JPA failed to engage the community early on in understanding their vision. This is a poignant lesson about the need for early and genuine engagement if even the most well-meaning projects are to succeed.

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?

As a former middle school science teacher and a mother of two, I am deeply invested in creating opportunities for young people to end the school to prison pipeline for St. Paul youth. I am leading the charge to create Saint Paul 3K, which will expand access to high-quality preK for all 3- and 4-year-olds in Saint Paul. I am a strong voice on the Council for the city’s Right Track youth employment program and have consistently supported increased funding for Parks and Recreation programs that are free to all kids in the City. Recently, I’ve begun working with young people to redesign the City’s “Youth Fund” and target its investments to the kids who need it most. All of these initiatives help create more opportunities for youth to thrive in an effort to end the school to prison pipeline for St. Paul youth.

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 absolutely believe in making it easier for people returning from incarceration to find stable housing and jobs. I support banning the box for housing, and this is currently part of Saint Paul’s legislative agenda at the Capitol. A tight housing market hits those with criminal convictions the hardest, which is why I’ve been working hard with my colleagues to expand our housing supply through our $10 million affordable housing trust fund, allowing tiny homes, accessory dwelling units and other forms of value construction and requiring longer periods of affordability when the City subsidizes a housing project. I have also been working with the City’s Human Resources Department to expand their partnerships with organizations that help people returning from incarceration to reintegrate and find employment. As a major employer, the City can lead the way in making it easier for returning citizens to find jobs and can show other employers the benefits in doing so.

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?

My vision of cities and the community it’s possible to create within them was fundamentally shaped by reading Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities. In this book, Jacobs shows why cities are such special places and what truly makes them safe — they bring together a variety of people with different interests, schedules and habits into one dense whole. The busier our streets, the more vibrant our shops, the more people who live more closely together, interact with and bump into one another, the more people know and trust one another — and that is what keeps our community safe.

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?

Making decisions that will affect our community is a great honor and also the hardest part of my job. To make the right decision, I do my best to learn as much as I can about the issue in front of me — from research and reports and also from speaking with the people who will be affected by it, especially those with different positions on the issue. At the end of the day, my decision often means deciding that one value or community goal is more important than another. As an example, my vote on the Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission (PCIARC) was one of the toughest votes of my political life. On the one hand, I believed that having at least a few officers on the commission would help the group make more informed decisions. I had been endorsed by the St. Paul Police Federation and was under great pressure from their leadership to retain police on the commission. On the other hand, I knew that community trust in law enforcement was at an all-time low and that all the work we’d done to reform the commission would be in vain if people ultimately still didn’t trust its decisions. At a particularly emotional meeting, I heard moving stories of how my constituents had been affected by negative or shameful interactions with the police. I left that meeting knowing that this was about far more than the number of officers vs civilians, majorities or pluralities. This was about trust — and there was only one way to restore in this context. I voted to remove the officers from the PCIARC.

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?

To me, co-governance and people-centered democracy mean that elected officials constantly keep in mind whom they are there to serve, that they work together with their constituents to solve issues, and that they do not see their election certificates as licenses to act independently of their constituents for the majority of their term and only become accountable again at re-election time. I have implemented that vision in my first term by making myself accessible to my constituents through regular community coffees, happy hours and virtual lunch chats on Facebook. I have also worked closely with advocacy organizations, business associations and District Councils to craft policy that will work on the ground, for their members. I hope to expand my network of organizational partners and engage more individuals in the co-governance process in my second term.