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Cheesman moves out: St. Paul Park council member resigns after move to Cottage Grove

Jennifer Cheesman announced that she is stepping down from the St. Paul Park City Council at the Aug. 7 city council meeting.

Cheesman is moving from St. Paul Park to Cottage Grove, "And from what everybody knows, you must live in the city you represent," she said at the meeting. "So, it's bittersweet ... It's just been an amazing experience."

Cheesman served as a city council member for six years, since she was appointed in July 2011, ran to keep her seat that fall and was re-elected in 2015.

One initiative she's proud of is helping pass an amended ordinance making it easier for residents to keep chickens and beehives in town.

"Residents would come to me and ask can we have chickens, that sort of thing," she said. "Initially some council members were not on board ... but we were able to loosen (restrictions)."

Cheesman may be best known, however, for her tenure on the parks and recreation commission. She initiated a number of projects, including the movies in the park, the new exercise equipment in Abdella Park, the fire hydrant painting contest and the community gardens.

"The community gardens is one of my proudest accomplishments; I am just thrilled to pieces," she said.

Between her nearly 10 years on the commission and her six as a council member, she said she's learned a lot.

"There's no real way to prepare for what one might expect when they're a council member," she said. "Looking back at what I knew in July 2011, and looking at what I know today — budget, public works, taxes — those things come over time. I have a much better and broader understanding."

As far as public office goes, she said she's taking a "breather" and "focus on some other priorities" right now. She said she won't stay on as part of the parks commission — non-residents are allowed to be part of it — or take part in Cottage Grove commissions at this time.

For the future though, she's "not ruling anything out." A run for a Cottage Grove City Council seat could even be in the cards someday.

"It's similar in some ways, but it's a much larger fish," she said. "It's a lot more responsibility ... If I were to get involved in any aspect, I'm leaning toward the arts commission "

Though the filing period for the Nov. 7 election for the St. Paul Park City Council was open at the time Cheesman resigned, it was too late to add her seat to the ballot. The remaining city council members will have to fill the seat by an appointment. Cheesman's term ends in 2020.

"I have complete faith in our council to choose my successor, and I hope they enjoy doing our work as much as I did," she said. "I know there's a lot of people in the city that are a strong candidate for that."

At the Aug. 7 council meeting, Mayor Sandi Dingle and council members said Cheesman will be missed.

"You've done an amazing job with the city here and we're so glad to have you," Dingle said. "You've just really, all around, been superior."

Cheesman said she'll certainly miss them too.

"St. Paul Park will always be a home for me," Cheesman said.