In mid-December Columbia Heights Mayor Donna Schmitt was one of 100 female mayors who flew to Washington, D.C. for the annual Women Municipal Leaders Conference at the White House.
Schmitt was invited last year as well, but she wasn’t able to attend due to scheduling conflicts.
Schmitt was the only Minnesotan elected official to attend the conference, she said.
While there, Schmitt met and learned from several White House officials.
“I got to shake (Vice President Mike Pence’s) hand,” Schmitt said. “That was kind of exciting.”
She and the rest of the group heard briefings from and joined discussions with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Scott Turner, the executive director of White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council.
“It’s good for us as council members and mayors to make these connections so we have more resources,” Schmitt said.
She invited Turner to visit Columbia Heights once the new city hall and mixed use development on 40th and Central Avenues is finished.
Turner said the idea for a mixed-use development with a city hall was creative.
While hearing from and speaking with these officials, attendees were able to voice concerns or ask questions to gain information to take back to their own city councils, Schmitt said.
After the conference, there was a reception where elected officials talked to each other about laws being voted on.
She learned about what other cities are doing with former prisoners transitioning back into the work force, high school apprenticeships, the future of transportation and human trafficking.
“It was interesting,” Schmitt said.
She has concerns about human trafficking in the area, as the FBI ranked Minnesota No. 13 in the United States for sex trafficking, so she talked to White House officials after the conference about her concerns. She also brought up Columbia Height’ struggle with having young police officers and how to properly train them.
City Council Member Connie Buesgens also recently attended a nationwide conference in Texas, called the National League of Cities.
In November Buesgens attended the conference alongside 4,000 other elected officials.
Buesgens said she sees conferences like the ones she and Schmitt attended as important because they helps attendees become better city council members.
“We make connections, get information and learn about new organizations,” Buesgens said. “It helps me keep going.”
At the two-day conference Buesgens attended, she learned about new technology, autonomous vehicles (self-driving cars) and homelessness, among other topics.
“It was all about getting things done on a local level,” Buesgens said.
Next year, if it’s in the budget, Buesgens said she’d like to see the entire council attend more conferences so they can learn about new topics and ways to improve the city of Columbia Heights.
“It’s a good experience for the entire council,” Buesgens said.