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Get to know the Woodbury mayoral, City Council candidates

WOODBURY — When the filing period closed Tuesday, Aug. 14, nine candidates for Woodbury City Council and five for mayor had entered their names.

With Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens and Council Members Christopher Burns and Julie Ohs not running for another term, Woodbury voters will choose a new mayor and two new council members on Nov. 6.

Get to know the candidates:

Mayor

Anne Burt

Burt has lived in Woodbury for 14 years and currently serves on the 2040 Comprehensive Plan Task Force. She was previously a member of the city's Planning Commission and Park and Recreation Commission.

Burt spent 30 years working for both large corporations and small businesses in strategy and marketing, with an emphasis in water quality. Her community involvement includes serving on boards of community non-profits, coaching youth sports teams and being active in her faith community, she said.

If elected, Burt said she would focus on managing water sustainably and on "the proper use of settlement funds related to PFC cleanup." She also noted goals to strategically and thoughtfully manage the city's growth while supporting businesses.

"I have a passion for serving the community, a talent for leadership and am fortunate to be able to devote my time to the demanding role of Mayor," Burt said in an email.

Joe Hernandez

Hernandez is a researcher working in labs of a large, international company based in the Twin Cities. He also teaches one night a week at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis.

Hernandez, who ran for City Council in 2016, said that as mayor, he would "work to keep Woodbury a top city to raise a family in." As vice president of the Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) Parent Advisory Council and a youth baseball coach, he has focused his community service on family groups.

As an engineer, Hernandez said he would bring a unique understanding of technology and an affinity for making complex problems manageable.

If elected, Hernandez said some of his priorities would be water quality issues and expanding access to recreational areas. He also noted his goal to reverse the city's "disastrous plan to eliminate existing commercial and industrial businesses by 2040 and upholding Woodbury as a city that places families first."

Travis Ottum

Ottum has been a paid-on-call firefighter and EMT for the past five years and said he has a passion for public safety. He is also a former police reserve officer and veteran.

During the day, Ottum works as a senior asset protection investigations technician for Target. If elected, one of his priorities would be improving public transportation. He noted two Park-and-Ride lots located in the city that are less than half a mile from one another.

"If you are a commuter and use public transportation, there should be a more convenient and eco-friendly method to get to work," he said in an email.

Ottum also emphasized creating more veteran outreach in the community. Strengthening ties between veterans and providing a place to share experiences with one another could have a positive impact, he said.

Tom Owens

Owens, a Woodbury resident for 26 years, is an insurance agent and neighborhood pool administrator. He first ran for mayor in 2010, and for City Council in 2016.

Owens said he can bring the perspective of a senior citizen to the city's government.

"About 30 years ago, I sat down and I asked myself what I wanted to accomplish in my life, and one of those goals was to give back to the community as much as I have received," he said.

If elected, Owens said one of his priorities would be to keep the city on the "progressive path" that it's been on.

"We've been making tons of great decisions and I want to make sure we keep making those decisions," he said.

Cristy Vandeberg

As mayor, Vandeberg, who works as a construction project superintendent, would want to provide an example of non-traditional opportunities for women.

She said she would want to provide positive leadership for women and girls who want to go into fields like construction, firefighting or governmental positions.

"So many people talk about different things in their community, but it's seldom that people actually take action," Vandeberg said.

If elected, she said her priorities would include making sure kids feel safe in schools, that people feel safe in the community, and creating opportunities for young people to "reconnect" with serving their community.

"You shouldn't just be a resident — you should be a contributor," Vandeberg said.

City Council

Beau Bieniek

Bieniek said he has a lot of questions about what the City Council does, and he doesn't think he's alone. He wants to get a better understanding of how the city uses residents' tax dollars and of the city's growth. He also wants to improve what the city does to foster the development of small businesses.

A researcher analyst for a Minnesota bank, Bieniek wants to make people more aware of what goes on in the city with increased use of technology.

When asked what motivated him to run this year, Bieniek said, "It's my own jilted perception of politics in general over the past two years. It's really kind of sparked something in me to be a part of the community I'm in."

Bill Braun

Braun, who ran for City Council in 2014 and 2016, said he decided to run again this year because he doesn't believe any other candidate "has the qualifications to talk about the real issues, let alone fix them."

Braun was a firefighter and EMT with Woodbury Public Safety for a decade, before he was injured in a rescue and medically retired in 2015. He said that through this work he gained intimate knowledge of city budgeting processes, and helped him build relationships with community organizations.

The council needs to focus on issues that have a long-term impact, especially the city's water, Braun said.

"Mixing bad water with good water can't be the only solution going forward," he said.

Amanda Hemmingsen Jaeger

With a background in research science, forensic scientist Hemmingsen Jaeger said she is trained in thinking about things analytically. Her work with the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE) on the Government Relations Committee also taught her how to create and implement policy.

Hemmingsen Jaeger said she's always been interested in advocating for citizens. But she said she also "would love to see more involvement from WB citizens," as nearly 69,000 people is a lot for four city councillors to represent.

"The more dialogue we can engage in, the better," she said. "It's not my agenda, but the citizens' agenda."

Kelsey Kawohl

Kawohl, Assistant General Manager at a Stillwater restaurant, said she plans to bring "a set of fresh eyes and a positive, can-do attitude" to the City Council.

If elected, one of Kawohl's main priorities would be local affordable housing. She noted that some people who work in the city's many retail stores and restaurants aren't able to live in Woodbury because of high housing costs, or spend much of their income on housing costs and can't afford other necessities.

Kawohl would also prioritize equal educational opportunities for local children and veteran outreach.

"The current political climate is not conducive to making positive changes and I'd love to be part of a local, grassroots effort to bring about change," she said in an email.

Jodell (Jodi) Miller

Miller, who taught high school for 10 years and is currently a stay-at-home mom, is heavily involved in her kids' schools.

"I am that volunteer mom you can count on to get stuff done," she said.

A 10-year Adopt-a-Park volunteer at Pioneer Park, Miller's priorities include "clean and abundant" water, trees and benches, as well as more affordable and energy-efficient housing for people in all stages of life.

Miller said she wants to join the swell of women running for office nationally this year to become a public servant because she loves her neighbors and she loves the city.

"As Woodbury continues to grow, I want it to continue being great," she said.

Steve Morris

Morris oversees retail operations strategies for SuperAmerica, where he's worked for 22 years. He started working in Woodbury in 1999. The past one-and-a-half years he's served on the city's Planning Commission has helped him better understand how the city works.

Morris is also a member of the Community and Business Advisory Council, which has overseen development of the Gold Line since early this year.

A self-proclaimed "data nerd," Morris said he wants to make sure the city's budgeting and growth become more transparent.

Jennifer Santini

Santini first ran for City Council in 2010 shortly after she moved to Woodbury. Though she didn't win, she said running for office back then helped her get involved.

Santini currently chairs the city's 2040 Comprehensive Plan Task Force and is on the Economic Development Commission. She is also an attorney and owns Sykora & Santini PLLC.

Santini said the city needs someone that will be able to start putting the 2040 plan in place and who understands how its pieces fit together.

"I always want to be an engaged member of the community I'm living in," she said.

Roger Splinter

Splinter, a more than 30-year resident of Woodbury, has extensive experience in serving on city boards. He was previously chair of the Park and Recreation Commission and the Environmental Advisory Commission, as well as vice chair for the 2040 Comprehensive Plan Task Force.

Splinter said his experience in and of it itself is his greatest asset. His experience in teaching, industry, and federal and local government has helped him understand a lot of facets of society.

"If you live through things, you should learn things," he said.

Splinter said he thinks the current city government is "outstanding" and wants to continue the good things, but also recognizes the need to find out what the city can do better.

Kim Wilson

Wilson said she has been following City Council meetings, workshops and budgets for the past three years. She is currently a stay-at-home mother and homeschools her children. She was previously a court reporter.

Wilson is interested in how residents' tax dollars being spent, and she said she's been questioning the integrity of local government.

Wilson, who is sometimes vocal in council meetings, said that city budgets aren't being adhered to, and that taxes and levies are constantly increasing

If elected, Wilson said infrastructure would be her priority.

"Fresh faces and fresh people would bring good things to the council," she said.

Hannah Black

Hannah Black is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism interested in the intersection of politics and the everyday lives of citizens. Outside of reporting, she enjoys running, going to museums and concerts, and trying new coffee shops and breweries. Her favorite thing to do is spend time with her dog, Wendell.

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