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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Mayor Rhonda Pownell

<rthfield Mayor Rhonda Pownell has now been in office for a little over a year, so we at the Carletonian were curious to check in with her. The Mayor was kind enough to sit down and discuss what she has been working on for the last year, and what her goals are for the future.

Mayor Pownell throughout her election and time in office has publically emphasized the importance of inclusivity in governmental action, and much of the work that she has done has been intentionally geared towards making sure every voice gets heard with all parts of the city working together cohesively. Mayor Pownell explained to the Carletonian that she has been working to make sure all groups of government, non-profits and other groups operating in Northfield are working together, without unnecessary overlap, towards the same goals.

“Northfield is so rich, with just such highly skilled, highly knowledgeable people that have a ton of energy, expertise. And if we can harness it and get us all moving in the same direction we can accomplish a lot more than any individual person could accomplish on their own,” Pownell explained of her approach.

Much of Mayor Pownell’s first year in office was spent putting together a City of Northfield Strategic Plan for the next few years of action. The plan includes “six strategic priority areas” in no particular order: Economic Development, Affordable Housing, Infrastructure, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Operational Effectiveness, and Climate Change Impacts.

These different categories include a pavement management plan, work on the fire station, bike path planning and developing and implementing a climate action plan that will in part rely on what the college campuses have tried and what has worked. Mayor Pownell explained, “this was a major initiative that took place over the last year.”

To create this plan Pownell talked to the community at large, the boards and commissions working for the town, and the city staff. She then worked with her colleagues to use all this input to put together the plan for the next few years.

“Affordable housing is one that came up over and over again, not only for workforce but also for seniors as we have an aging community. We really need to make sure we have safe, affordable housing for all people in our community, for all ages,” Mayor Pownell explained of the initiative.

The town has also created a new mission statement and a statement on diversity and inclusion.

Another big initiative that Mayor Pownell is working on with the city focuses on the Municipal ID. The Municipal ID as Mayor Pownell explains it is “just another tool to make sure our community is safe for all people.”

“This was really a grassroots initiative that came up through community members that have really highlighted a need—there was a gap,” Pownell explained.  While many people in the community have easy access to their driver’s license, that is not true for everyone.

“We may have a senior who has lost track of their birth certificate, and it would be helpful for them to have another form of ID. We have students from all around the world here in our community, and wouldn’t it be better if they didn’t have to walk around with their passports?” she said. “You also have homeless youth that may not have an ID that they can easily access that’s acceptable. We have people in our community that are here that don’t have access to driver’s licenses, and yet they might be in need, say they have the common cold that is going around in our community, and may need to go to, say, a Target or Cub or Econo and purchase Nyquil.

“So there’s a gap that was identified really at that grassroots level to say, here’s an idea of something we can do to ensure that all people in our community have equal access to normal everyday things, right, that can help them you know live, work, learn, and play in our community… It’s just really important that everybody feel safe here in our borders and as much as we can do that this is a tool to help us do that.”

This initiative is about as Mayor Pownell puts it “a need of creating an ID that all people would have access to.” This initiative is currently moving forward and logistics are being worked out, with the council hoping to move forward on that towards the end of March. The Municipal ID would cover residents and does not depend on a person’s citizenship status, something the town can do because they do not function on a federal level.

Mayor Pownell discussed the importance to her of getting input from the community, “It is a journey and sometimes it takes a little longer than I would like… when you engage people in the community and bring people along as part of the process you have to be patient and bring people to the table…We have diverse opinions, and we know that. But honoring and respecting the diversity of opinions is such an important part of this. That we handshake at the end of the day, saying, we don’t agree but here’s how we move forward. We don’t just land on your perspective policy stances, but really you find a way to move forward together.”
Mayor Pownell ran partly on a platform of bringing everyone’s voice to the table, and in her debate at Carleton last fall she discussed setting a tone at council meetings that was inclusive.

Now that she is the mayor she is enjoying being able to set the tone of the meetings: “I’m so thankful for the many years I spent serving as an at-large City Councilor so I know what that’s like and I have that eight years of experience to see. And that’s just kind of my natural bent too, to be a team player and collaborate so it’s just the style of leadership that I bring.

“But you can’t do that alone and that’s the thing, I have wonderful people serving on the City Council and its just been so fantastic to be able to harness their energy, harness their skill sets so that together we can be strong.” Mayor Pownell pointed to her current Council’s work and ability to collaborate as the reason she believed every single board and commission seat is currently full.

The Mayor explained what this quote meant to her in her work in the city government, saying “So the more that we can engage more people in our communities the more that we can create places that people really love and cherish and really want to be…we want to live in places that are fun places to be. You can set a tone of being thankful for the people that you work alongside, and all the volunteers, and city staff.”

When asked if there were any specific policy issues she felt affected students more, the Mayor was hesitant to choose any one part of the Strategic Plan, explaining “I think holistically it seems that you should be concerned about all of them, because it really affects the overall health of the community as a whole. Pavement management plan, that might seem a little boring, right, but you all drive on the roads that get to campus. But it’s not necessarily something you think about… All of those priorities really affect what we know, love and cherish about this community, which, all of that together makes this sort of vibrant place.”

Overall, Mayor Pownell is focused on making sure the work of the town is collaborative and inclusive, saying, “maintaining this strong teamwork collaborative atmosphere is a lot of work but it’s really important because when you don’t have it, it’s almost like throwing a wrench in the spokes of a bike. You crash and people get hurt.”

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