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Political peace in The Park

It's campaign season in St. Paul Park -- but drive down Summit Avenue through the heart of town and it's hard to tell: no campaign signs clutter yards, no candidate literature is left on doorsteps.

St. Paul Park City Council members Sandi Dingle and Jeff Swenson are running unopposed for reelection, just as Mayor John Hunziker did in 2007.

The political peace, the city council candidates say, comes, in part, from the lack of an especially divisive issue driving more residents to run for office.

Running unopposed feels "really weird," Dingle said, and is "definitely less stressful and a lot cheaper. It was kind of surprising. People say we must be doing something good, or maybe it's just that nobody wants to do this crazy job."

The contentious Rivers Edge development and a street assessment policy that angered many residents sparked interest in St. Paul Park's 2005 election, when Dingle and Swenson were both elected for the first time.

Swenson said the council has accomplished a lot in the last four years -- from amending the street assessment policy, lowering the cost of road reconstruction to homeowners from 100 percent of the project to 33 percent, instituting long-term budget planning and transitioning from longtime administrator Barry Sittlow to new administrator Kevin Walsh.

It's been possible, he said, because of the council's cohesion.

"I do know it's all about respecting the fellow council members' opinions and motivations, and there's a lot of respect," he said. "There would be no eye rolling, no talking over (each other). It's a good group to work with."

Important issues looming

The council will face major issues next year, from a very tight budget to the question of whether to allow public consumption of alcohol at the annual Heritage Days festival and street dance.

Swenson, who said he initially intended to serve only one term on the St. Paul Park City Council, said he decided to run again in part because of a feeling that his financial background with Argosy University will be needed in the budget discussions to come.

"With the upcoming budget issues," Swenson said, he felt "it was valuable for me to still be included."

A major concern for Dingle is the city's park system. The councilwoman is the council liaison to the St. Paul Park and Recreation Commission.

"I would like to see more money put aside for operation and maintenance of the parks," Dingle said.

The city's parks can bring neighbors together, she said, citing the success of the commission's fishing event at Lions Levee Park and movie night at Veterans Park.

Dingle said she wouldn't stay on the council if she didn't feel she was effective.

"I'm definitely not in it for the money," she said. "You must look at it as a volunteer service, a contribution back to the community. I still feel I'm making a difference."