VADNAIS HEIGHTS — Bob Fletcher has concrete dreams for the city’s future, including a splash pad and ice castle.
The current councilman won by a wide margin — 70 percent, or 3,906 votes.
Fletcher, who has served since 2014, ran against Chuck Velasquez, a political newcomer who received 28 percent, or 1,578 votes. There were 60 write-ins.
Fletcher and Velasquez were hanging out at Jimmy’s together on election night, an invitation extended by Fletcher.
“There wasn't really acrimony from any candidate,” Fletcher said. “We are Vadnais nice.”
Fletcher plans to continue the city government service Vadnais Height residents have come to appreciate.
“Vadnais is already a great community,” he said. “The former mayor did an extraordinary job for the length of his service.”
Fletcher hopes to continue and expand economic growth and attract new businesses.
“The future of Vadnais really depends on how well we can promote our business growth,” he said. “Our location is ideal for economic growth.” Fletcher hopes to get the land north of Perkins on County Road E developed. The property has water drainage issues.
Residential taxes can be kept low with “sound economic development,” he said, noting the recent street light project was undertaken with the intent to increase the area's attractiveness for businesses and visitors.
“We want Vadnais to not just be a stop on the freeway, but a destination,” he said.
Right now, the city may run out of money for street improvements in five years without additional development, he said.
“We'd have to raise taxes or find an alternate source,” he said.
Fletcher also hopes to increase government transparency and “reduce bureaucracy.” He's not so sure city staff should be spending so much time to “micromanage” code violations.
He has also been an advocate for releasing an audit document concerning the Vadnais Heights Sports Center lawsuit, which was settled last winter. The council majority has repeatedly voted to keep the audit nonpublic.
With two members leaving next year, Fletcher thinks the future council majority will open it up.
“I'm confident we will release it,” he said.
Fletcher also noted he hopes to “maintain and enhance” the city's lakes, trails and outdoor space. He'd like to see more safe trails from residential areas to trail systems — it is not safe for his own 11-year-old son to get from their house to a nearby trail, he noted.
He has a dream for a community splash pad and an ice castle. He hopes the ice castle, which would be built through fundraising, could be in place for the 2018 St. Paul Winter Carnival and Super Bowl.
Public safety career
Fletcher is a former Ramsey County Sheriff and St. Paul police officer. He is currently a counter-terrorism instructor.
The journey to his current work began when he was the commander of a juvenile unit at the St. Paul Police Department in the ’90s. He worked with youth who were part of youth gangs. He developed a partnership with the Hmong community to develop strategies to prevent Hmong youth from joining gangs in the first place, he said.
Youth activity programs were developed. Fletcher trained others on Hmong culture. He continued his work with the Hmong community when he was elected Ramsey County Sheriff in 1995.
“That was probably the most rewarding part of my life, working with the Hmong community,” he recalled.
When he attended General Vang Pao's funeral in California in 2010, he realized the Hmong community had really found its grounding in the U.S. He decided he would focus his efforts next on another Twin Cities immigrant community — Somalis.
As fate would have it, he found time to do just that when he lost the election for sheriff in 2010.
“In a strange way the timing was good to take on a new challenge,” he noted. He took a year to educate himself on Somali culture and started his first class for law enforcement officers and other service providers in 2011.
From there, he expanded the classes to include training on anti-terrorism and combating radicalization. He and four Somali partners teach the classes.
“It's in everybody's best interest to help Somalis transition into American life,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher has lived in Vadnais Heights for 12 years and has two grown children and one son at home.
City Council winners
Two open council seats vied for by three candidates were taken by current Councilman Craig Johnson and candidate Heidi Gunderson.
Gunderson took the lead with 42 percent, or 3,507 votes.
Johnson received 33 percent, or 2,751 votes.
Greg Urban received 24 percent of the votes. There were 105 write-ins.
The City Council will need to appoint a council member to fill the seat Fletcher will vacate when he is sworn in as mayor in Jan. 2017.
Fletcher said he plans to sit down with each council member and go over with them two to three goals they have for the city to help them achieve them.
He also plans to ask his opponent, Velasquez, to serve the city in some capacity, maybe on the parks commission — Velazquez has dreams for family movies in the parks, Fletcher said.