On Nov. 3, voters will head to the polls to pick two Edina City Council members. For this Voters Guide, the Sun Current sent questionnaires to all seven candidates. Candidates were held to 50-word limit for the biographical portion of the guide, and a 400-word limit for the three questions combined. Listed in order of the date they filed, the following candidates hope to fill the vacancies:

Carolyn Jackson headshot

Carolyn Jackson

Address: 5716 Continental Dr.

Education: J.D. with honors from University of Michigan Law School, B.A. from Northwestern University

Occupation: Attorney

Community involvement: Chair of the Edina Energy and Environment Commission, vice president of the Edina Community Foundation, president of the Countryside PTO, chair of the Valley View Middle School Site Council

Contact information: carolynforedina@gmail.com

Why are you running for City Council?

We have lived in Edina since 2000 and raised our children here. Our family values Edina’s great schools, safe neighborhoods with parks and the strong sense of community. I have advocated at the state level for cities and voting rights, and I helped write the 2018 Comprehensive Plan. Community leaders have asked me to put my knowledge, experience and love of Edina to work on the City Council.

What is your vision for Edina’s ongoing redevelopment as it pertains to the discussion over preserving Edina’s suburban character while addressing modern needs?

Future city leadership needs to balance the market forces driving redevelopment with our shared values of green space, economic diversity and sense of community.

The six small area plans in the Comprehensive Plan represent broad agreement and will guide future development with room to grow while maintaining the unique character of each area. Just as I do, the Comprehensive Plan values environmental sustainability, walkability, equity, and opportunities for arts and culture.

The next City Council will need to guide a community-wide conversation about how we maintain economic diversity in our city. That includes building new workforce housing and senior affordable housing and preserving naturally occurring affordable housing, including smaller houses.

How have events over the recent months – COVID-19 and protests for racial justice – affected how you might act in this role?

• Financial impact. Our retail, commercial offices and medical services were hit hard by the shutdown. We will need to make decisions that stabilize our commercial base, and we may need to adjust spending due to lower revenues.

• Welcoming community. During the shutdown, more of us got out walking through our neighborhoods. Everyone who lives here, regardless of race or abilities, should feel welcome in their neighborhood. I will pursue ways to ensure Edina is a welcoming and inclusive community. Also, I envision public safety where police fight crimes and social workers administer social work.

• Better communications. As City Council meetings have been held online, public hearings are extended to include online comments for 10 days. More people can weigh in, and the Council has more time to consider public input. We need to keep this change. We should continue to use tools created in this crisis, like the Mayor’s Minute and the COVID-19 dashboard, to convey current information to the public.

Ukasha Dakane headshot

Ukasha Dakane

Address: 3945 Market St.

Education: Bachelor’s in environmental studies and community development

Occupation: Executive director

Community involvement: Currently serving on Energy and Environmental Commission and I have been helping all voices to be heard in the lens of sustainability. I have connected people and communities for stronger future – work I am proud of.

Contact information: ukasha4edina@gmail.com

Why are you running for City Council?

I am running for the Edina City Council to bring a strong, diverse voice to policy-level decisions and ensure all residents’ opinions are heard.

In my native language, the pronunciation of Edina translates to “our home”– which is so fitting based on the home Edina has become for my wife, our two beautiful daughters, and me. I want to do my part to keep Edina a premier place to live, raise a family, work and retire.

I am a good listener, a passionate citizen and an action-oriented individual. I will be the leader our city deserves and bring integrity, relevant experience, accountability, and fiscal responsibility to the Council. I will use an evidence-based/data-driven approach to decision making and will keep in regular contact with constituents.

By hosting “tea and talks,” helping Edina youth to become active citizens, serving on the Edina Energy & Environment Commission, and attending neighborhood gatherings throughout Edina, I have seen how people can come together collaboratively to accomplish positive change.

I also believe my perspective as a millennial, a renter, a small-business owner and someone with a working-class background needs to be represented on the Edina City Council.

What is your vision for Edina’s ongoing redevelopment as it pertains to the discussion over preserving Edina’s suburban character while addressing modern needs?

Edina’s biennial Quality of Life surveys and its recently approved Comprehensive Plan highlight the redevelopment issues that are most salient for people living and working in Edina. For example, overbuilding, increased density, and affordable housing have been major concerns expressed in recent Quality of Life surveys. Council members need to keep the lines of communication open with their constituents as zoning ordinances are updated in relation to the Comprehensive Plan.

I will be a voice of moderation and take a balanced, thoughtful approach to making redevelopment decisions while requesting continued community input. My formal education in community development will be especially valuable because Edina is a fully developed suburb. Each redevelopment decision causes a ripple effect via its impact on infrastructure, demand for public safety services etc.

How have events over the recent months – COVID-19 and protests for racial justice – affected how you might act in this role?

These events have shone a light on existing racial disparities. Fortunately, in 2016, the Edina City Council formed a Race & Equity Task Force to develop an action plan, which was approved in 2018. As a council member, I will be accountable – and will hold staff accountable – for implementing this plan. I will ensure adequate resources are allocated to achieve the desired outcomes and make sure data is collected so the Council can make informed decisions about public safety.

Parinaz Kassemi headshot

Parinaz Kassemi

Address: 6710 Vernon Ave S.

Education: Master’s Degree (2021)

Occupation: Student

Community involvement: (None listed)

Contact information: parinazforcitycouncil@gmail.com

Why are you running for City Council?

I believe that each and every one of us has a motivation deeply rooted in our hearts that give us the strength and courage to continue pursuing our life mission. For me, that mission is making a positive impact in the world in the most ethical way I know how. My parents came here from Iran to start a new life, and I’ve recognized from a young age how incredibly lucky I am to have this opportunity to follow my dreams – an opportunity that many people living in countries with political turmoil are unable to pursue. This knowledge has stuck with me throughout the years and has been the driving force behind everything that I do. I hope that I can bring this passion into my daily work and help with the continued growth of the people that I will be serving.

What is your vision for Edina’s ongoing redevelopment as it pertains to the discussion over preserving Edina’s suburban character while addressing modern needs?

As the Minneapolis-metro area continues to grow, so will Edina, and I believe that we need to encourage this opportunity while also maintaining our safety. In regards to the areas of growth on France, most notably around the Southdale Center, I believe it is important to be careful and strategic when it comes to building, in an effort to hinder any traffic congestion along those areas – ensuring the utmost safety for pedestrians, drivers, and most notably, convenient and quick access for paramedics at Fairview. I believe it is important to encourage growth, but safety is paramount.

How have events over the recent months – COVID-19 and protests for racial justice – affected how you might act in this role?

With the continuation of COVID-19 cases, I believe we need to all do our part in remaining vigilant about safety precautions in order to keep the number of cases down and support our businesses. I stand by continued mandatory mask-wearing in all indoor public spaces if needed. In regard to protests and racial justice, I believe that there is certainly a problem that needs to be addressed and cannot be taken lightly. I would like to see safety for all Edina residents with more diversity training for police officers. Peaceful protesting is something I completely stand by as well, but rioting is not the answer and if anything, it takes away from the legitimate protest that everyone has the right to practice.

Janet Kitui headshot

Janet Kitui

Address: 7201 York Ave. S.

Education: Master’s in business administration, Hamline University

Occupation: Buyer, State of Minnesota, Department of Employment and Economic Development - Office of Procurement.

Community involvement: Housing Task Force, Communication Feedback Group & Business Energy Working Group

Contact information: janet@janet4edina.com

Why are you running for City Council?

I’m running for City Council because I care deeply about our city. As a government employee, city volunteer, and parent, I have the skills and experience necessary to serve Edina well. I currently serve on the Housing Task Force, the Business Energy Working Group (Energy and Environment Commission), and the Communication Feedback Group. I also contributed to the Race and Equity Task Force.

I’ve lived in Edina for nine years and witnessed its rapid growth. High-density housing has increased significantly. It’s important to have a council member from a high-density neighborhood. For Edina to thrive, all residents must be represented: homeowners, condominium owners, and renters.

What is your vision for Edina’s ongoing redevelopment as it pertains to the discussion over preserving Edina’s suburban character while addressing modern needs?

My vision is rooted in transparency and objectivity. It respects zoning laws and affordable housing needs. Edina should be a city where development adheres to legislation and is guided by the Comprehensive Plan vision. In the past, residents have been shocked by projects that fell outside of these parameters. These developments can threaten neighborhood character, erode public trust, and contribute to traffic congestion.

Affordable housing is a critical need. I support granting Edina the option of first refusal before homes go on the market. This could enable Edina to protect some of its existing affordable homes, and it could help retain neighborhood character by limiting the number of teardowns.

How have events over the recent months – COVID-19 and protests for racial justice – affected how you might act in this role?

COVID-19 and the protests for racial justice confirmed an important reality – Edina must be prepared for unexpected events. These can have community-wide health, economic, and education ramifications.

Actions taken by city leaders reflected Edina’s strength and resiliency. The $100,000 rent relief program helped stabilize our community – I would support similar actions. I commend the council for it’s early adoption of a mask mandate. There was push-back against it – as a council member I’ll support similar commonsense actions that protect public health.

Moments of crisis, COVID-19, and the murder of George Floyd hold possibilities for positive changes and the creation of a more just society. As a council member, I’ll support ongoing efforts to address racial justice concerns by leveraging the findings from the Race and Equity Community Task Force Report and the efforts of Edina’s Equity Coordinator.

Inclusive economic competitiveness, affordable housing, and community investments are necessary for greater equity and long-term sustainability. To move forward meaningfully, projects and decisions need to be clearly presented to the community, objectively evaluated, and data-driven.

I humbly ask for your vote. I am all in for all of Edina.

James Pierce headshot

James Pierce

Address: 5505 Merritt Circle

Education: B.S. computer science, Tuskegee University; MBA, University Minnesota - Carlson School of Management

Occupation: Business development and information technology

Community involvement: Lead Edina’s Race and Equity Task Force, current Cargill Foundation board member, past MEDA board member

Contact information: jamespierce@pierceforedina.com

Why are you running for City Council?

My desire to have a broader lasting impact in society has driven me to run for Edina City Council. I believe I can bring a unique perspective, leveraging my global strategic business experience and experiences living in places very different from Edina. I believe the best decisions are made when you seek multiple perspectives and when you continually strive for clarity around the purpose and desired outcomes. That is core to my message of leading pragmatically by ensuring all voices are heard and all voices feel valued in the process.

What is your vision for Edina’s ongoing redevelopment as it pertains to the discussion over preserving Edina’s suburban character while addressing modern needs?

Given that Edina will continue to grow and the fact that we do not have available land for development, we will need some higher density housing options. I would like to see the city redevelop an area like Southdale into a thriving city center with multiple housing options that work for all income levels and across all stages of life. Using this approach will allow us to preserve the look and feel of low density neighborhoods while providing more options for everyone.

How have events over the recent months – COVID-19 and protests for racial justice – affected how you might act in this role?

COVID has given me a deeper appreciation and understanding of how inexplicably connected we are to our services and entertainment industries. Now more than ever, patronizing our local businesses in any way possible will serve to keep the fabric of our community together. The council did a great job in establishing the Race and Equity Task Force and I was proud to co-lead that work. We put forth 21 recommendations to address various aspects for racial inequity. Our recommendations included a wide range of actions from hiring a Race and Equity leader and making facilities feel more welcoming to changes in the police that would add transparency and foster more trust within the community. It is the role of the Council to ensure that all of our recommendations are properly assessed and implemented. This was very challenging work but as a council we have to exhibit the fortitude to deliver against the promise of eliminating racial bias and inequity in our community and in city government.

Joshua Ahlberg headshot

Joshua Ahlberg

Address: 6825 Valley View Road

Education: B.A, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

Occupation: Senior marketing manager

Years lived in the community: 18

Community involvement: Member of Edina Neighborhood Coalition, led Braemar Green efforts, led efforts to enhance safety and connectedness of community through sidewalk expansion

Contact information: josh@ahlbergforcouncil.org

Why are you running for City Council?

I intend to champion all community voices, regardless of their political affiliation. Resident engagement is crucial for proper civic function. I will promote authentic, welcoming, and open dialogue between the residents and the council as a foundation for determining the direction of our community. By focusing on resident input, we can better align our city’s actions with the needs of its residents.

What is your vision for Edina’s ongoing redevelopment as it pertains to the discussion over preserving Edina’s suburban character while addressing modern needs?

I support thoughtful development in Edina. Growth and change are inevitable, but the best type of growth is organic and prioritizes the interests of our neighborhoods over those of the developers.

We need to strike a balance between modernization and preservation. A cornerstone of Edina’s attractiveness is its walkable, tree-lined neighborhoods centered around top-tier schools and family friendly parks. We need to provide more affordable housing, but in a way that maintains this essential character and does not overburden our infrastructure. I prefer the conversion of existing multifamily buildings into permanently affordable housing, as opposed to perpetually building new units. This would be a less expensive, more permanent solution. Moreover, it eliminates a present loophole wherein developers buy their way out of an obligation to include affordable units in their luxury apartment buildings. Note that this position aligns with our Race & Equity Task Force recommendations.

How have events over the recent months – COVID-19 and protests for racial justice – affected how you might act in this role?

The coronavirus pandemic put a massive strain on our collective well-being. Beyond the obvious and legitimate epidemiological concerns, the ensuing shutdown has had far-reaching implications, too: many families face unprecedented financial hardship; our teachers, parents, and students must navigate the complexities of remote learning; even the very act of social distancing takes an emotional toll for some. We should be mindful of the considerable impact of both the virus itself and also our efforts to mitigate its spread.

The City Council has an obligation to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for people of all religions, races, and ethnicities. We need to ensure that our police department’s commitment to protect and serve applies equally to everyone. At the same time, Edina’s crime rates have increased so we need to ensure that our police officers are adequately supported and appreciated. Increased community engagement can ensure that standards of justice and fairness are upheld.

As a City Council member, I will continually seek to better understand the needs of our increasingly diverse population. I will promote mutual understanding and trust among our residents, elected officials, and civil servants. Together, we can affect positive change.

Rhonda Bland headshot

Rhonda Bland

Address: 7000 Kerry Road

Education: B.A. in history, philosophy, political science from University of Manitoba; J.D. from William Mitchell; LL.M. (taxation) from William Mitchell

Occupation: Retired attorney

Community involvement: Two successful efforts to block unpopular city proposals in my residential neighborhood, former Chair of Young Audiences of Minnesota, former President of Prospect Knolls Neighborhood

Contact information: rhonda4edina@gmail.com

Why are you running for City Council?

Edina has been very good to me and my family. I feel a responsibility to serve the city that has been such an important part of my life. As a trained lawyer and neighborhood steward, I believe I am uniquely qualified to help guide our city’s path to the future.

I organized a successful effort to relocate a two-story, 10,000 square foot water treatment plant – that would have replaced a neighborhood pocket park – to the Southdale district.

The only loyalty of City Council should be to the residents of Edina, not a party or ideology. Unlike most of my opponents, I reject all endorsements and financial support from party operatives, politicians, and partisan groups.

What is your vision for Edina’s ongoing redevelopment as it pertains to the discussion over preserving Edina’s suburban character while addressing modern needs?

I believe in thoughtful, coherent, measured development that supports and sustains our commercial base while protecting the integrity of our community. Real estate in Edina is valuable. Each prospective development must live up to Edina’s high standards. As such, the council must ensure developments honor and respect our neighborhood values and appearance, including green space. Council must assess site-specific details, environmental impacts, and developments must be in scale and located appropriately. Once a village, now a city; at its core, Edina is its neighborhoods.

How have events over the recent months — COVID-19 and protests for racial justice — affected how you might act in this role?

COVID-19 is a direct and immediate threat to our public health and economy. Some of our favorite small businesses may close their doors for good and our neighbors’ pocketbooks will suffer. As a City Council member, I would face the medical and financial realities: promoting safe and responsible behavior, assessing changes to our tax revenue, and preparing for when the federal aid runs out.

A couple weeks ago, I met with Edina Patrol Officer Darren Davis, the 2019 Officer of the Year. He has a unique perspective on the intersection between race and policing because in addition to serving on our city’s police force, he also happens to be African American. Officer Davis shared with me two valuable insights: Edina PD does a good job dealing with issues of race but we, and all cities, must do better to ensure the “bad apples” (as he called them) do not become our policemen. From a Council perspective, that means ensuring rigorous screening and ongoing training that guarantees that all citizens are treated with respect. Regarding non-police issues, the Council must actively seek out marginalized voices and value everyone’s input so that all Edinans feel represented and so that their issues can be addressed.

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