Globe-trotting mayor on hand for history in the making

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Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz had a conversation with Britain’s Prince Charles during the Glasgow Climate Change Conference in Scotland.

Kautz visits Glasgow conference, infrastructure signing

Burnsville’s globe-trotting mayor says recent visits to London, Glasgow and Washington, D.C., were a chance to tell her city’s story — particularly its contribution to fighting climate change.

Elizabeth Kautz, a past president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, spent Nov. 1-6 in Scotland at the Glasgow Climate Change Conference as part of a seven-member delegation of U.S. mayors. She flew to Glasgow from London after finishing a meeting of the C40 international network of mayors from nearly 100 cities committed to local action against climate change.

On Nov. 15 Kautz was in Washington for President Joe Biden’s signing of his $1 trillion infrastructure bill, a top priority of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Kautz, who was first elected in 1994 and hasn’t lost a race since, has been particularly well-traveled since 2009, when she was elected president of the U.S. Conference. Serving for a year and eight months, she was the fifth woman to hold the position and an anomaly in an organization usually led by big-city mayors.

“What I always say to people is Burnsville was at the table and what Burnsville is doing was highlighted,” Kautz said of her travels.

Environmental stewardship has been on the city’s agenda since Partnerships for Tomorrow — a massive community planning effort from 1995 to 1997 involving more than 100 focus groups — identified the environment as a top priority of residents, Kautz said.

That’s been reflected, she said, in projects such as the capture and treatment of water from the Kraemer Mining and Materials limestone quarry on the Minnesota River. The water helps supply Burnsville and Savage, and reduced pumping has recharged the local groundwater supply, she said.

Other efforts have included recycling of pavement for road reconstruction projects and the “green roof” on the Burnsville Ice Center that was funded by a federal grant during the Obama administration, Kautz said. More recently the city has installed vehicle charging stations in the Heart of the City.

And Burnsville launched its own small but successful campaign to curb carbon emissions with a sustainability plan adopted in 2009 and updated annually with performance metrics.

“We have been consistent in getting that done,” Kautz said. “Other cities have had fits and starts. We haven’t. We have a great staff. We (City Council members) make these decisions, but they execute. It was a great story for me to tell in Glasgow.”

Working from a 2005 baseline level, the city has taken steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from city operations.

“Our goals were to reduce by 15% by 2015, 30% by 2025 and 80% by 2050 using the 2005 baseline,” Kautz said. “But the city exceeded its 2015 goal several years in advance. ... In 2020, our greenhouse gas reduction from city operations reached 30%, five years ahead of schedule.”

She shared Burnsville’s progress in a conversation in Glasgow with Britain’s Prince Charles.

“It wasn’t just a minute,” she said. “He was very engaged and interested in what I was saying. It was a dialogue — he understood what I was saying and he responded and also gave more information about what is working and what I can do to help in certain regards. He’s been working in this climate space for decades.”

The U.S. mayors in Glasgow were invited to dinner with business leaders by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Guests included Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, Kautz said, though she didn’t get face time with the titans.

“Any opportunity I have to share the Burnsville story, I am delighted to have that opportunity and do so,” Kautz said.

Back in the USA

The U.S. Conference has backed major Biden initiatives, including the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan for COVID-19 relief.

“This is President Biden’s first year in office and we accomplished a great deal, especially with the American Rescue Plan Act, which has direct funding coming to cities,” Kautz said. “It also helped us with lost revenue” from the pandemic. “We fought hard to make sure we could get lost revenue recognized as a legitimate expense we can use the monies for.”

With that bill signed, the nation’s mayors “pivoted” to the infrastructure bill, she said.

“It’ll be good for Minnesota,” Kautz said. “We have a lot of bridges and roads that need reconstructing.”

In Burnsville, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has identified some structural deficiencies in the Burnsville Parkway bridge over Interstate 35W, she said.

“They haven’t done all of the analysis, but yes, it’s going to need work,” Kautz said.

And the state is planning tens of millions of dollars in improvements on Highway 13 in Burnsville and Savage, including a new interchange at 13 and Nicollet Avenue. Major upgrades to County Road 42 are also envisioned in conjunction with redevelopment efforts in the Burnsville Center area, she noted.

Biden “really likes mayors,” which shows in his appointments, Kautz said.

“At the signing, the president acknowledged us for being there,” she said. “There were only about 50 of us who were invited to the ceremony.”

Through the U.S. Conference she knew Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, before Biden named him transportation secretary.

“He is a good guy,” she said. “So is Marty Walsh,” Biden’s labor secretary, a former Boston mayor.

Kautz said she identifies as a “center right” Republican but labels don’t mean much to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“You can’t hang your hat on ideology,” she said. “You have to look at what’s good for the people. That’s what I so enjoy about the Conference of Mayors.”

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