Five takeaways from the first Brooklyn Park mayoral forum

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The next candidates forum hosted by Africa, Lets Talk! and Mshale will be held on March 23 at 6:00 PM and will be live-streamed here and here.

Candidates for mayor of Brooklyn Park took part in the first candidates forum at city hall on Tuesday in an event hosted by the League of Women Voters of Brooklyn Park, Osseo and Maple Grove and the Twin West Chamber of Commerce.

It was an in-person candidate forum with no audience due to the pandemic but was aired live on Channel 16 and livestreamed online. Kirsten Kjome of the League of Women Voters was the moderator. All seven candidates took part.

A special primary election will be held on April 13 with the top two candidates advancing to the special election on August 12.

In-person and absentee voting is already underway. Visit the city’s website at this link for information.

Here are some highlights from Tuesday’s forum:

Brooklyn Park Police needs reform

When asked to name the critical issues facing the city, the one issue that was common to all seven was public safety and how police/community relations have been playing out in the city.

Except for Boyd Morson and Mark Mata, all candidates gave standard boilerplate responses on how to address the issue of police reform, namely working with the community and police to better relations.

Morson in his response on public safety embraced Detroit’s Project Green Light, a citywide camera surveillance system to deter crime. “I just left Detroit and we are trying to bring this to Minnesota and in Brooklyn Park to have an opportunity to make our residents feel safe,” said Morson.

Mata on his part portrayed himself as the mayor that will make sure that inner city problems do not come to Brooklyn Park “(on) police reform I will make it clear that what is happening in Minneapolis is not gonna happen in Brooklyn Park,” he said. Adding that he will not defund the police and that “we do have some issues in our police department and we will deal with them on a personal level.”

It should be noted that none of the candidates running have called for defunding of the police.

“Read my lips no new taxes”

Most homeowners have recently received their property tax statements with many seeing an increase. Candidates were asked what they would do to lower the city portion of the taxes.

Mata said he will oppose any property tax increases if elected and urged homeowners to show up at the truth and taxes hearing on April 12 to protest their home values. Winston took issue with Mata’s attitude of just saying no and instead called for an expansion of the tax base to ease the burden on homeowners “until we get our arms around how to bring more businesses here and not just fast-food restaurants and build a coalition, it is not going to happen (bringing taxes down),” said Winston.

Lisa Jacobson who sits on the council currently reminded voters that the city did not increase the levy and that homeowners saw an increase in their property taxes “because the values of their homes went up, but we didn’t increase the levy, we increased it less than half a percent.”

Wynfred Russell who serves on the current council with Jacobson and Boyd Morson pledged to hold the line on property taxes if elected by ensuring that “we have a diverse mix of businesses coming to the city and being a good steward of your money.”

Councilman Morson said he will not make a promise of not increasing property taxes as “that is just not realistic, although I do not want to increase them.”  Adding that as the cost of living goes up it will have an impact on the buying power of city government and its budget.

Yelena Kurdyumova in her response said “I think the tax burden should be transferred from homeowners to larger businesses so they can cover it.”

Perhaps the most memorable response was that of Benjamin Osemenam who decided to channel his inner George H. W. Bush.

“Brooklyn park residents read my lips I will not raise your property taxes I will reduce them,” said Osemenam, reciting a line from former president George H.W. Bush that cost him reelection after raising taxes when he had promised not to when he first ran for office. Osemenam criticized the city’s “tax and spend” culture saying as an engineer he knows how to make things work.

Olympic size swimming pool, Light Rail, Connectivity

Candidates were asked to describe a vision of the city 20 years from now and the answers gave a glimpse into the personal values of the candidates.

Kurdyumova envisions an Olympic size swimming pool being located in the city.
Mata said he hopes to see the Target corporate campus being fully developed.
Jacobson hopes in 20 years the community will look back with appreciation on how city was united in fighting the pandemic.
Osemenam is hoping multimodal transportation will be a reality for the city by then.
Boyd is looking forward to a city without prejudice that is also united.
Winston is envisioning a safe city that values diversity.
Russell, an avid biker, said he is looking forward to a more connected city that is easy to get from one end to other and a city that is united.

Mark Mata says he is not a “career politician”

Mark Mata who served for eight years on the Brooklyn Park City Council before opting not seek reelection last year said at the forum “I have served on every single commission that Brooklyn Park has to offer over my eight years, I am not a career politician.”

Mata’s statement might come as a surprise to city residents because at some point during his time on the council, he was in 2017 accused by fellow council members of a “culture of hostility” which cost the city $173,000, so that the city’s beloved fire chief, Ken Prillaman, could leave without suing the city.

Why is the water so bad?

Brooklyn Park’s city water might not be as bad as Minnetonka which has the hardest water in the state at 310 PPM but that is of little comfort to the residents.

The issue of the city’s water hardness came up at the Tuesday forum with candidates asked what they plan to do about the issue.

Osemenam, who works at the Minnesota Department of Transportation as an engineer was the first to respond and said the reason the city’s water is so hard is because “we have particulates in our water.” As to what he would about it as mayor, he said “I intend to work with city staff to make sure that we use the right treatment that will remove the hardness to provide soft water that will stop damaging our appliances,” adding that as an engineer he has dealt with worse problems.

Councilman Russell said that he drinks the city’s tap water which he acknowledged is hard and that if elected mayor he would ensure “our engineers have the tools and resources they need to improve upon our water system.” He is also open to looking at other cities for best practices.

Councilman Morson said the issue is not unique to Brooklyn Park and opined that the city needs to look to other cities that have found solutions to their hard water problems. The moderator Kirsten Kjome joked it is not any better in her city of Maple Grove.

Mark Mata said city residents have a choice to make “either they (city) soften it or the homeowners soften it” and choose which expense they prefer. He said that is an issue the city council needs to decide on after hearing from experts.

Candidate Winston who holds an MBA from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management said “I do think there needs to be a cost benefit analysis in terms of what does it cost the homeowner or the city to address it.”  He said that water hardness does not rise to the same level as public safety in terms of priority.

Councilwoman Jacobson said before her time at the council city residents had been told it would cost millions to soften the city water and they opted to do it themselves. “Maybe it is time we look at it again and find out how much it would cost us as a community,” she said, but agreed with Winston that it is not a priority with Kurdyumova also agreeing it is time the city revisits the issue.

About Tom Gitaa

Born and raised in Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa, Tom is the Founder, President and Publisher of Mshale. As the founder, he did a lot of the reporting during the humble beginnings of the newspaper. While he still does the occasional reporting, he now concentrates on the publishing side of the news operation. Tom was also the original host of Talking Drum, the signature current affairs show on the African Broadcasting Network (ABN-America), which was available nationwide in the United States via the Dishnetwork satellite service. On the show, he interviewed Nobel laureates such as 2004 Nobel Peace prize winner, Professor Wangari Maathai, the first woman from Africa to win the peace prize and heads of states such as the president of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh at State House, Banjul. Tom has served and chaired various boards including Global Minnesota (formerly Minnesota International Center), the sixth largest World Affairs Council in the United States. He has previously served as President of the Board of Directors of Books for Africa, the largest shipper of donated books to Africa. He also serves on the boards of New Vision Foundation and the Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium. Tom also served two terms on the board of the United Nations Association. He retired from running full marathons after turning 50 and now only focuses on half marathons.

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