E-DEMOCRACY | Race and representation in St. Paul’s Ward 1


Ward 1 concern…..should we be?

From: Pastor Devin Miller, Forum Engagement Leader Date: 8:51pm, Mar 10

I know that some will see this question as raising an issue that need not be raised, however, with the recent change in the Ward One Legislative Aide position, from an African American to a person from the Hmong community, I am only asking because now there is NO African American representation or voice physically within the walls of the our Council Government.

I am not saying that the new Aide cannot relate, but from what foundation is that relationship built? Is it built on what you see, what you have heard, what you may have read, or what you know?

It will be very interesting over the next two years to see what we hear.

My hope is that representation within government should not be based on the cultural makeup of the person representing, but history shows me a different view.

From: Sylvia Peree Date: 9:06pm, Mar 10


I think it should not be a concern.. when Legislative Aide was African American did anyone from the Hmong, Latino, Native American community raise any concerns? None.. because when someone is voted in any office they should speak for everyone.. I have no concerns and if I do I will state my concerns. We all live in Ward 1 and last time I looked we are very colorful community. You did say history.. we need to trust, and also learn from our history.. United we stand and divide we fall..



From: Dameun Strange Date: 9:22pm, Mar 10

Well, y’all know my view. I would say that the person (whatever the ethnicity) should be in tune with the pulse of the ENTIRE community (I could hope for the same in the forum engagement leader for something called e-democracy but…). This is paramount! This other business that some seem to focus…no obsessed with is so regressive and extremely frustrating. I echo what Sylvia has to say regarding trust and building a united community lest we fall into the trappings of the past.

From: Jan Carr Date: 10:40pm, Mar 10

I’m not sure what Devin Miller is trying to do here. This is not the first time he has raised this issue, and it sounds a lot like scaremongering to me.

We should all assume the new Council Member (and his new Legislative Aide) is an honorable person and will conscientiously represent all elements of the community.

Further, I would like to ask Mr. Miller how he differentiates the interests of African-Americans from the Hmong (or any other ethnic group).

From: Pastor Devin Miller, Forum Engagement Leader Date: 6:51pm, Mar 11

It is interesting that when the issue of race is raised we cannot have an honest diecussion without casting negative words upon the person who raises the question.

I only raise this question as a means of discussion, not to polarize but to engage. Many times we don’t think of these things because we are not required to. However, there are some of us who have a responsibility to raise the questions so that we can truly build community based on honesty, trust, and faith in each other.

I stated that I did not believe that the CouncilMember and his chosen aide could not do the work. In fact I stated that we would wait and see exactly how they would reach out to ALL communities represented within Ward one.

Forum members, don’t be afraid of the questions. They are raised to make you think, not shut them down or out.

If you know me, and you know my work, you know my heart. If you don’t know me and don’t know my work…..ask the questions either here or offline. They are ALL welcomed.

From: Amee Xiong Date: 7:55pm, Mar 11

I also agree with Sylvia and Dameun and others. Pastor Miller- how come you did not ask the question how Hmong Americans felt when they NEVER had anyone on the city council that looked like them before? If you want an honest conversation, why not raise this issue long ago when the council did not represent Asian Americans, nor does the County Commissioners! The county commissioner is made up of majority whites, one Latino and one African American. Why aren’t you asking about why Hmong Americans are not represented there and how does that impact the community?! Are the county commissioners reaching out and working with Hmong Americans? Why aren’t you asking these other questions? In majority of your posts, you seem to be directing your questions and topics towards the one Hmong city councilmember. Do you have some kind of anger towards Hmong Americans because I am a Hmong American and I feel this wrath from your posts.

From: Pastor Devin Miller, Forum Engagement Leader Date: 5:44pm

Again, the purpose of the question is to engage and to bring new voices to the forum, which this question is doing.

To answer the question of why I, an African American community leader, did not raise the question of representation for the Hmong community before now? Why I, an African American community leader, did not raise the question about representation on the county level for the Hmong community? Why and I, an African American community leader, seem to be directing my questions at the councilmember that represents the community that I have worked in for close to 23 years and has been historically African American until recently? (Remember RONDO?)

The simple answer is that it is not my responsibility to raise the questions for another cultural group. Leadership and representation questions should come from the group that has the concern that they are not being represented.

The deeper and more controversial answer is that other cultural groups have been able to survive and thrive without the help economically or they have received much help politically because governmental leadership has felt that it was easier to deal with some cultural groups over others.

My best answer is that of all the questions that I have raised, it is not so much the question as it is the assumed tone or reason behind it.

I will say again, my role is to engage and get people to think about community issues that effect all of us, but specifically, my role is to bring African American voices and opinions to these forums. I am an African American. I love my culture and the people who reflect our beliefs and ways. This is not at the hate or, or dislike of ANY OTHER CULTURE GROUP.

This should not be a problem for us to discuss. This should be an opportunity for us to learn and grow.

The final question, which I raised before,is why are we afraid when one cultural group raises questions about another cultural group we feel challenged or better threatened by both the question and the person who raises the question?

If you want to meet with me to discuss this, as opposed to attempting to blast me publically, I welcome any and all.

From: Dameun Strange Date: 6:32pm

And this is why YOU should NOT be the engagement leader for this forum. PERIOD. YOU are the ENGAGEMENT LEAD, though you are African American, you are accountable to all groups in this forum. I do not understand how you were picked for this role at all. I love my cultural AND I love my community which is made up of a multitude of cultures and backgrounds. I FEEL that the engagement leader should have a similar view and you have stated clearly that YOU ARE NOT THAT PERSON. But I thank you so much for finally painting it plainly for everyone to see.

From: Steven Clift Date: 7:36pm

Just to clarify.

We have a volunteer leader for this forum ready to pass on the torch. Stephen Filing has been graciously approving moderated posts from new members, but now lives in Summit-U.

This is the  “Forum Manager” role: http://forums.e-democracy.org/getinvolved/volunteer/

That is the lead everyone role.

Who is ready to take charge in Frogtown? Devin and I have already talked about having him focus on other neighborhoods if Frogtown thrives on its own. We have dozens of volunteers from many different kinds neighborhoods who you will be joining and be connected with for peer to peer support.

Clarification …

We actually hired four “Forum Engagement” leaders to assist across multiple forums where different ethnic/racial groups were concentrated:

Join E-Democracy’s 2013 Inclusive Forum Engagement Team!

Tong Thao was our Asian community lead until he was hired to do other community organizing projects and no longer had the time. I have a six hour a week position I hope to fill for that role for six months this.

Corrine Bruning is doing some general forum engagement work along the Central Corridor.

Devin Miller was hired to focus on raising the voice of the African-American community and I’ve asked him to add a bit of news sharing from ethnic press more generally. It is not Devin’s fault that overall this strategy to have a mix of engagement team members hasn’t worked out. He has delivered more community content than anyone else and I have had the benefit of engaging him face to face where some only see words and have felt a divisive tone was someone intentional.

This isn’t an easy role to hire for and it is experimental. Our Latino lead had to resettle a relative who immigrated here suddenly and had a full time job already. Our East African lead went off and got hired to become an ED of an organization as he finished grad school. Meanwhile our capacity and budget to rehire these positions while we were also managing our field outreach last summer simply was not there.

My sense is that we really need a mix of half-time+ positions and two years dedicated for forum engagement when your team isn’t also intensively knocking on doors. Field outreach is hugely labor intensive. With this our final year of an amazing three year grant (now at a lower amount in year three as planned) and $100 million .com “venture” dollars being invested in virtual gated community resident-only models (NextDoor) that ban community group, civil servant, media participation etc., foundations probably figure the market will take care of this neighbor connecting online … and then even more local advertising dollars will be sucked to Silicon Valley and inclusion goals will be non-existent. (Take a look at the membership lists for different North Minneapolis Facebook groups – most are quite divided by race or the faces on the East St. Paul Facebook group … great that it is there, but definitely not representative at all of an area over 50% people of color.)

My view is that without both intentional outreach to St. Paul’s many diverse communities and never tried before **online** efforts (that I know of beyond us)  to build neighborhood engagement across race, income, homeowner/renters, immigrant/native born, and generations these kinds of spaces will not reflect the diversity of the community.

The best neighbors forums are 100% run by the local volunteers dedicated to bringing people together and making it their own.

So, if you’d like to lead the Frogtown forum or be involved and help that person, let me know:  <email obscured> clift (at) e-democracy.org

As Devin’s 6-8 hour a week role across multiple forums is budgeted to to end in June, I want to be clear that like the 40+ other neighbors forum that we host, we will be returning to the volunteer approach to forum facilitation. However, we would definitely be able to pay for some special Frogtown print outreach materials if folks would volunteer to help distribute them.

Steven Clift

This thread had 19 posts as of March 12, 2014. See entire discussion thread here.

Councilmember Thao Appoints Nix as Interim Aide

From: Noel Nix Date: 4:54pm, Nov 25

A historic election season in Saint Paul came to a close last week as Dai Thao was officially sworn in as the Saint Paul City Council Member representing Ward 1 in a ceremony held Thursday morning in City Council Chambers.  Thao, 38, is the first Hmong American to be elected to the Saint Paul City Council.  He finished at the top of a crowded field of seven candidates in a special election that was called this spring after Melvin W. Carter III announced his resignation from the council to join the Minnesota Department of Education.

In his first official act, Councilmember Dai Thao announced that he has asked former campaign opponent Noel Nix to continue in his role as legislative aide in the Ward 1 office through the end of the year.

“We are in a time of incredible change and possibility for Ward 1.  Noel has played an important role in a number of projects currently underway.  He has graciously agreed to partner with me to ensure a smooth transition as I assume my duties as Ward 1’s representative on the City Council,” said Councilmember Thao.

Because this was a special election to fill the remainder of the current term, elections rules dictate that the winner be sworn in immediately as opposed to waiting until January.

Said Nix, “Councilmember Thao is a dedicated community champion committed to securing the best possible future for everyone in Ward 1.  Inviting me to collaborate with him as his legislative aide is just one example of his commitment to bringing community members together to accomplish this goal.  I am honored to work with Councilmember Thao to lay a strong foundation for future success.”

The City Charter permits each council member to appoint their own Legislative Aide.  Noel Nix joined the Ward 1 office in 2011 as the aide to former Councilmember Melvin W. Carter III.  Former Councilmember Nathaniel Khaliq retained Nix after he was appointed in July by the Council to fill the Ward 1 seat after Carter resigned earlier this year.

From: Pastor Devin Miller, Forum Engagement Leader Date: 8:36pm, Nov 25

While it is good to show a sign of smooth transition by re-hiring Mr. Nix, it’s interesting that he had to write his own annoucement about it. So, Mr. Nix, maybe you could answer the question I raised earlier in my posts. Since you too are not originally from the community and yet felt you could represent it by running for the Ward 1 seat, how do you propose the African American community will be represented within a historic Ward by a person not from the culture and also by you, while from the culture not from the community?

I welcome your thoughts……..


From: Dameun Strange Date: 8:45pm, Nov 25

What a very disappointing question. As I see, it Ward 1 is a very diverse community not a community made up of one race? As an African American living in Ward 1, I find the question to be loaded, offensive and unproductive. Perhaps, you can rephrase the question in a way that supports and interculturalist approach in Ward 1 as oppose to an OLD GUARD US vs. THEM approach.


From: Steven Clift Date: 9:46pm, Nov 25

This might be splitting hairs, but as a council aide, Noel “serves” the district via the councilmember and does not represent the district nor constituencies within the district in a classical electoral sense.

Also, Noel distributed the announcement and he also did that in his prior role.

Obviously the longer one physically lives in a community the more they will be connected to it. I am not sure what you mean by not from the community (or I guessing relatively new to the community … which is news to me, but I am an outsider).

Anyway, I am very interested in a more fundamental question of how St. Paul (and St. Paul wards) will best represent its great diversity. As a city with a higher percentage of people of color than Minneapolis, recent election results there in terms of electing a greater diversity of representatives are quite notable. Can St. Paul keep only seven districts with odd year elections favoring turnout among upper income homeowners and expect to elect more people of color? (St. Paul in 2010 was 46% people of color … although it is the youth which is far more diverse than the adult voting population.)

Devin one question to you as a participant (and not someone on contract with E-Democracy helping with forum engagement), what kind of timeline do you expect to give someone to demonstrate their ability and interest to represent the African-American, or the East African communities in Skyline tower or non-Hmong Asian, etc. It seems to me that the answer would be “of course I will work to represent the long-established African-American community in Ward One,” but I think actions six months from now will speak louder than words.

Here is a related question – does the city release statistics on the racial and ethnic mix of its workforce? Or which district councils or cities the staff reside in? Other than elected representatives, are there other tough questions the community should be asking itself about the city hall’s ability to be deeply connected to itself and its diversity and geographic nature.

Steven Clift

From: Melvin Carter Jr Date: 9:54pm, Nov 25

As a 3rd generation St. Paulite, born in the heart of Urban Rondo, please allow me to take a stab at answering this question.  Severe Urban crisis such as the education gap, economic development, homelessness, mass incarceration, and public safety, (just to name a few) are in an extreme state of emergency in Urban St Paul. Mr. Nix is from Detroit and holds a Master’s degree in Urban Planning.  I submit that Detroit issues are similar to St Paul’s, if not even more severe.  To “otherize” Mr. Nix as from a “different culture” is inaccurate, inapplicable, and in alienation of community unity principles. That said, Mr. Nix competency continues to earn the utmost respect of everyone he works with, and works for.  How could closing the education gaps and housing disparities, leading justice reform, and energizing economic development not be representing the African american Community?  Given his extreme talents and capabilities, combined with the furious urgency of now, he was called. It was his duty to run and he rose to the occasion.

From: Ann Jalonen Date: 12:31am, Nov 26

I am so glad this conversation is happening. I was very disappointed originally when Dai Thao’s win was treated as a defeat for the African=American community by Rev. Miller.  I am relatively new to the neighborhood (5 years) and Saint Paul (13). In the interests of disclosure I am white, but I don’t feel unrepresented in this Ward–I agree with Mr. Carter that poverty, housing and disparities affect the quality of life of all of us.  This is a multi-cultural community–we need to work together to improve everyone’s lives, as Paul Wellstone said, We all do better when we all do better.

Ann Jalonen

From: Dai Thao Date: 5:05am, Nov 26

Dear Friends,

I understand change can be frustrating and sometimes scary, especially if we are used to a certain way. I welcome all to get to know me. Those who don’t support me are just as important as those who do.

For the record I have asked my trusted LA Noel Nix to send out the release. In the short amount of time we have been working together, I assure you his worry and care is right here in Ward 1.

While I am not African American and I don’t have the same history as African Americans, I have lived similar experiences. I know what it’s like to be discriminated and marginalized. And so I have the greatest respect for my African American brothers and sisters for their courage, leadership, and sacrifices – that allowed me and millions like me, our freedom and civil rights. These are the gratitude, values, and experiences I will govern with across the entire Ward, and of course honoring the history while moving forward.

Lastly, there are those who will seek to divide us not understanding that this is a movement to insure progress for all generations to come. If people don’t like my leadership style of inclusiveness and belief that our diversity is our strength; that we may have different history but we share a common destiny, then I encourage them to get to know me. My door is wide open and I look forward to learning about you.


Dai Thao

This thread had 44 posts as of March 12, 2014. See entire discussion thread here.

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Related story: How does E-Democracy work in Frogtown? by Maddie Gerrard (TC Daily Planet, March 2014)