Candidates for Minnetonka City Council responded to questions on issues facing the community at a Sept. 15 candidate forum. The forum was put on by the Minnetonka Community Housing Team, Minnetonka Climate Initiative, Ranked Choice Voting for Minnetonka and Minnetonka Collective.

David Haeg, a member of Ranked Choice Voting for Minnetonka, was the forum moderator.

“If we want good candidates and good city council, it begins with having competitive elections where we know a lot about the candidates and make good decisions and engaging in this democratic process,” Haeg said. “We provided the candidate [with the] questions in advance so they’d have the opportunity to study up, learn up and formulate a really thoughtful response.”

The candidates in attendance were Councilmember Susan Carter, who is running unopposed for an at large seat; Brian Kirk, the current planning commission chair, who is running unopposed in Ward 1; Ward 2 Councilmember Rebecca Schack; Bradley Schaeppi, a candidate in Ward 3; and Kissy Coakley and Paul Lehman, both candidates in Ward 4.

Mike Happe, the current council member for Ward 3, and Jonathan Kerslake, a candidate in Ward 2, were unable to attend.

Each candidate was asked five questions. The first question was an opportunity for the candidates to introduce themselves to audience members. Each candidate was allowed 2 minutes for each response.

The second question was about affordable housing.

“Minnetonka has a set goal of 508 affordable housing units priced at or below 30% of the area median income,” Haeg said. “What ideas do you have to ensure the city meets these goals for affordable housing and why is stable and affordable housing important in Minnetonka?”

Candidates were in agreement with engaging residents more on the issue of affordable housing and partnering with organizations to find avenues to fund those projects due to the price of land in Minnetonka. They agreed on the importance of affordable housing in Minnetonka.

Coakley proposed a solution by limiting annual rent increases.

“I would like to see that rent is not increased no more than 3-5% a year,” Coakley said.

Carter outlined the importance of tenant rights and eviction protections.

“We need to do a better job of helping tenants know what their rights are so that they can advocate for themselves, for safe, clean properties and for repairs when they need them,” Carter said. “I think we need to do a better job with eviction expungement. A lot of people get evictions for reasons that are outside of their control and they are unable to secure housing as a result of that eviction on their record.”

Lehman advocated for examining options that allow more housing units per acre.

“To encourage developers to build affordable housing into their projects, we need to offer greater housing density options within the city,” Lehman said. “The city has a provision that allows for up to 12 units per acre. We love our trees, our open space in Minnetonka, but we have to look at the ability to add more housing units per acre.”

The third question was about civic engagement and city elections.

“Are you satisfied with the level of current civic engagement in Minnetonka?” Haeg said. “What ideas do you have to engage more residents in the elections and how does ranked-choice voting fit into this?”

Candidates agreed on wanting to see more civic engagement and shared a belief in engaging residents when there are opportunities, as well as creating new ways of community engagement. Carter, Kirk, Lehman and Schack said they were open to exploring ranked-choice voting. Schaeppi and Coakley were supportive of ranked-choice voting.

Schaeppi advocated for more advisory committees as a way to create more civic engagement.

“I think if you actually have more advisory committees more people are stakeholders in the community, they are more likely to be passionate and offer their skillsets,” Schaeppi said.

The fourth question was in regard to climate change and addressing it at the local level.

“What leadership within Minnetonka will you take to address the causes and effects of climate change more promptly and effectively?” Haeg asked.

Candidates felt that Minnetonka was a leader on this issue. They were in agreement on expanding upon sustainability efforts already being taken by the city and that more can be done, as well as working with residents to address this issue.

Coakley highlighted the importance of educating residents on climate change through partnerships with the school to help educate students.

“This starts with education,” Coakley said. “I think it takes educating communities. You can partner with the schools, you can have kids take field trips to Purgatory Creek Park and learn about what’s happening at Purgatory Creek Park with the trees.”

Schack outlined the urgency of climate change and acknowledged the initiatives the city is undertaking but said that more should be done.

“Obviously, climate change is here, it’s happening, it’s not going anywhere,” Schack said. “I think climate change is at a place where we are running from behind no matter where we are starting the race. Minnetonka has done a great job taking some steps already but Minnetonka hasn’t done enough either.”

The last question was on Minnetonka being an inclusive community.

“How can our city foster an engaged and welcoming community for all people who live, work and play here?” Haeg said.

Candidates were all supportive of engaging with everyone in the community and having it be genuine engagement, as well as creating more opportunities for engagement in the city. Candidates advocated for greater diversity in positions of city governance.

“We need to make sure that we’ve got the level of engagement in the community to try to get greater diversity on our council and on our commissions,” Kirk said. “I realize the shortcoming of that really requires that we start more of a grassroots level. How do we get people of diversity to come up through the ranks on task forces and commissions?”

The Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Hopkins League of Women Voters Chapter will host a Minnetonka City Council candidate forum 7-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1, in the Minnetonka Council Chambers, 14600 Minnetonka Blvd.

The election is Tuesday, Nov. 5. Absentee voting has begun in Minnetonka and can be done 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at city hall.

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