County commission candidates talk transit, housing, development

Falcon Heights residents are being given the opportunity this Election Day, Nov. 6, to choose their representation on the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners.

Longtime incumbent Commissioner Janice Rettman is seeking another term on the board and is being challenged by Trista MatasCastillo.

Falcon Heights is a part of District 3, which also includes a chunk of central St. Paul along it’s northern border nearly down to Interstate 94. 

Candidates answered questions via email including why they are running, what skills and experiences they will bring to the office, what they believe to be the top challenges the county faces and what issues or projects they would prioritize if elected.

 

MatasCastillo, 44, lives in the the Payne-Phalen neighborhood with her husband Hector. She works full time as a strategic partnerships consultant for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans. She has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Metropolitan State University. 

She said the skillset she brings to office includes 16 years of experience in the Navy, Marine Corps and the Army National Guard, 10 years of advocacy work for affordable housing, homelessness, veterans’ programming, mental health and equity. She also said she has 10 years of experience as a lobbyist and government relations specialist, has the experience of receiving county services for a disabled child and experience as an aide to a county commissioner. 

“I believe that the County Board has the most direct impact on our day-to-day lives and therefore must be led by bold, courageous leaders who have a shared vision that benefits all our residents,” MatasCastillo said. 

She said District 3 has received little investment from the county and believes the area has many opportunities to develop businesses, create good paying jobs, to improve transit to accommodate all abilities and to rethink neighborhood design for long-term sustainability. She said District 3 has “rich culture and diversity” that are assets the county should embrace. 

She added that there are many residents who have been disenfranchised for a long time and that as someone who has accessed county services to take care of a disabled child, “I know first-hand who difficult our system is to navigate.”

“I am committed to improving the quality of life for all our residents, challenging racial or cultural bias, and helping create a path forward for all to succeed,” said MatasCastillo.

She said one of the biggest challenges she sees facing the county is a challenge many other levels of government are facing as well: “increasing numbers of people in poverty and persistent, concentrated areas of poverty.”

She said the solution to the problem is a “multi-tiered” approach of rethinking design, creating economic opportunities across the county, strengthening workforce investments and job opportunities and training. 

If elected, MatasCastillo said one issue she would prioritize is economic development — jobs, supporting businesses and supporting workforce training programs. She said in addition to facilitating large redevelopment opportunities like the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant and the West Publishing building sites, she said she also wants to make sure the Workforce Innovation Board and the Greater Metropolitan Workforce Council are connecting people with training and careers to earn a decent living.

“I will also champion efforts to better support the entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners within our District and across our County; we need to support new and expanding businesses,” she said. “Our diversity and human capital are our strength.” 

 

Rettman has represented District 3 since 1997 and has a bachelor’s degree in social work. She lives near the Como neighborhood in St. Paul. 

Rettman said the skills she would bring to office include experience at multiple levels of government, the ability to listen to citizens and formulate balanced policy based on differing needs, the ability to analyze details in a $730 million budget, and the ability to connect with all people in the district regardless of race, income or culture. She said she is dedicated to public service.

“I am running to continue to be a voice for all people regardless of income or status,” Rettman said. “In doing so I will continue to make sure that there is equal access to services, and equal opportunities to be a part of the decision-making process, whether it is services, infrastructure like streets, policies, financing or new county investments or reinvestments.”

Rettman said the top challenges she sees the county facing in upcoming years are keeping property taxes down, providing the best services that meet the needs of the community at the best price, making sure the county’s return on investments benefit all members of the community, providing affordable housing throughout the county and training a workforce for the future. Rettman said she would address these problems by personally attending meetings and through door-knocking and listening to residents to ensure that she is listening and accessible when and where residents are available. 

She said there are four issues that can’t be separated when it comes to priorities and how decisions are made for projects — equity, jobs, quality affordable housing and transportation. 

She said she keeps all four in mind when it comes to decisions on creating opportunities for people to train, access and get good paying jobs; working to invest and prepare residents for available jobs; making sure that housing policy includes developing affordable housing, especially in publicly-funded development sites; and when making decisions on investments in a transportation network.

 

-Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto.

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