Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Response from Beth Braznell, 15th Ward Alderman Candidate

1. What do you view as the key role(s) of this position?  What do you view as the important attributes needed for this position? 

An effective Alderman must be an advocate for all residents and businesses in the Ward.  She must be a responsive liaison between the residents and city government, and an established leader with the maturity and credibility to bring people together to get things done.

The biggest role the Alderman has is to be responsive to residents’ needs.  An effective Alderman talks to residents, answers their phone calls, responds to their requests for services and help. The Alderman must anticipate those needs before they become problems, whenever possible, by spending a lot of time in all areas of the Ward, driving alleys, walking the blocks, and talking with the people she serves.

Another role is that of protecting our built environment.  We have beautiful and unique architecture in the 15th Ward.  As a long-time resident and Realtor, I understand the value that our historic housing stock brings to the Ward.

A third role is that of promoter of economic development.  Our successful business districts are key to keeping our Ward a dynamic place to live and work.  The Alderman must establish and maintain good relationships with business owners, understand their unique situations, and work to attract new businesses that will enhance the living and working environment of the 15th Ward.

The fourth role is that of legislator.  While the Alderman is elected to represent the 15th Ward, she is also a member of the legislative branch of City government.  As such, she must understand the factors that contribute to the betterment of all stakeholders.  She must be familiar with the governing document of the City (the Charter), the systems and interdepartmental relations that affect legislation, and how the City’s budget affects and is affected by planned and pending legislation.

2. Why do you think you are the best choice for 15th Ward Alderman? What differentiates you from your opponent(s)?

I am the best choice for 15th Ward Alderman because of my long-standing commitment to the neighborhood, my experience, and my proven leadership.  I have been a resident of Tower Grove South for over 24 years.  My husband and I rented an apartment in a two-family flat in 1990.  After a short time, we saw the value and the rich potential of Tower Grove South (then divided into Tower Grove Heights and Grand-Oak Hill), and searched for a house to purchase.  In 1991, we bought our home and began rehabbing.  The neighborhood was then at its low point, and I worked with Aldermen Geraldine Osborn and Marge Vining and Neighborhood Stabilization Officer Barb Potts to develop programs to reduce crime, improve safety, increase pride of homeownership, and raise property values.  In 1997, at the request of Alderman Vining, I formed Tower Grove South Management Corporation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that, under contract to the City of St. Louis, managed distressed rental properties in Tower Grove South.  As part of that, I mediated landlord/tenant and homeowner/contractor disputes, ran education programs for landlords and tenants, initiated tenant screening, brought properties to code, addressed bad tenant behaviors, and identified and resolved issues around problem properties.  The lease that I wrote for that program is the model lease that the City now gives to prospective landlords.

I just finished my elected term as president of the St. Louis Association of Realtors, an organization of 7,700 members who compete against each other daily.  I was able to unify that diverse group and create buy-in to a central vision that moved the organization forward.

As chair of the strategic planning committees for the Missouri Association of Realtors, the St. Louis Association of Realtors, and several other organizations, I bring practical experience and great strategic thinking to the position of Alderman.

And I am committed to being a full-time Alderman.  Representing our Ward will not be a second job for me.

3. What education (schools attended, degrees attained), experience, and attributes do you have that qualify you for this position? 

I graduated from public schools and earned a Bachelor of Science degree (honors scholar) in Agricultural Economics at the University of Missouri – Columbia.  I am a graduate of the Coro Women in Leadership program and of the Leadership Academy of the Missouri Association of Realtors.  I hold several real estate designations including Graduate of the Realtor Institute (GRI).  I completed training and served as a victim advocate for the Abuse, Assault & Rape Crisis Center in Columbia, MO, and to rescue dogs for Doberman Rescue Aid of Missouri (Auxvasse, MO).

I teach continuing education classes for Realtors in Ethics, in Fair Housing, in Risk Management, and several other courses, as well as pre-licensing.

As to attributes, a lot of that was covered in Question 1, and experience in Questions 2 and 4.  I am a great listener.  I am able to build consensus and coalitions among people and groups with diverse agendas.  I speak and write well.  I have proven leadership abilities and experience that will bring value to the entire Ward.  I make decisions and act accordingly, seeking input from those I serve.  I have extensive experience leading and serving on boards of directors.  I understand budgets and the budgeting process, as well as Robert’s Rules of Order.

4. Please describe your previous involvement in the ward / neighborhood.

Hmmm, how much time do you have?  I have lived in Tower Grove for over 24 years and been a homeowner here for 23.  I have worked with the police in solving crimes in our neighborhood, have used Project 87 to close two houses (one for drugs and prostitution, one for prostitution and being a base for criminal activity), and have developed and instituted crime-fighting and safety programs.  I am a past president of the Tower Grove Heights Neighborhood Association (as is my husband), served as editor of the Tower Grove Heights Gazette, and was an advisor to the Board of Directors of the Grand-Oak Hill Community Corporation.  I gave classes in responsible landlording for two years at the Neighborhoods Conference sponsored by SLACO.  As Executive Director of the Tower Grove South Management Corporation (which I founded), I managed over 100 rental units in Tower Grove South, increasing owner value through effective tenant screening, tenant services, and building maintenance that increased value of the property.  I have been an alley captain for Operation Brightside’s Alley Blitz.  I headed up Take Back the Night events in Tower Grove South (a crime-reduction program) and chaired National Night Out activities.  I have distributed 15th Ward Democrats’ literature for get-out-the-vote efforts, hosted the 15th Ward Democrats’ holiday party for several years, and have been a Democratic election judge manager at the various polling places in the 15th Ward for over a decade.  In addition to our own home, my husband and I have developed and sold two other properties in Tower Grove South.

5. How would you approach representing a ward as diverse as the 15th Ward?

The diversity of the 15th Ward is its strength.  Because of the diversity and various needs of the neighborhood, it is important that the Alderman be responsive, keep an open ear for all citizens, and be willing to advocate for what is best for the Ward.  The strife that we are currently facing in this community did not occur overnight, and it will require a consistent strategy of bringing people together at the same table to make the neighborhood better for everybody.  This isn’t possible without a fair, unbiased leader who, at the same time, is passionate about our Ward.

6. The police-involved shootings of Mike Brown, Kajieme Powell, VonDerrit Myers, and Antonio Martin have focused attention on racial inequality, economic disparity, and policing practices in the St. Louis region as well as the country as a whole.  What can you do as 15th Ward Alderman to address those issues?  What lessons have we learned, or should we learn, from these events and the subsequent unrest in our community?

We must create an atmosphere in which it is safe for all people to come together to voice their experiences and address long-standing systemic issues.   The Alderman is uniquely positioned to do this because of her day-to-day interactions within the ward.  An effective neighborhood association would provide a platform to reach all residents; however, meetings must be run in such a way that all feel free to speak and in which dialogue is respectful to all.

The 15th Ward is one of the most diverse in the City, which is an opportunity as well as a difficulty.  It offers a unique opportunity for people of differing backgrounds, cultures, incomes, races, religious beliefs, and lifestyles to interact and exchange stories.  It also presents an opportunity for misunderstandings and intolerance.  The needs and wants in one area of our Ward are far different from the needs and wants of another area.  The Alderman must be a proven leader who can bring people together to advance a common vision.

7. Besides #6, what do you feel are the most pressing issues currently facing this office and what plans do you have to address these issues? (please be specific)

The most pressing issue, to me, is the perception among many that the 15th Ward is not a safe place to live, work, and raise a family.  Whether statistics show a decrease in crime or not doesn’t matter.  It is the residents’ perception that they are unsafe that matters.  That is their reality.  Many are feeling powerless in the wake of violent crime and the destruction that occurred in our neighborhood on November 24.  The Alderman needs to empower residents so that they feel they are in control.  Repairing the fractured relationship our Ward has with the police is a step in the process of restoring confidence in the safety of the Ward.  A viable neighborhood organization would encourage residents to get to know each other and to take an active role in protecting their neighborhood.

This must be a high priority.  It would provide an avenue to involve residents in the future of the Ward as well as facilitate conversations around the issues in #6.

Many residents aren’t receiving the services they need and deserve.  We have unsecure vacant buildings, graffiti, damaged dumpsters, trashed alleys, and potholes.  A full-time Alderman can attend to these on a daily basis, before they become major issues.

8. Describe how you work with, or will work with, others to address your priorities.

Strong, viable neighborhood associations help residents develop a sense of attachment to their neighborhoods.  They provide a platform for resident communication and a means for all members of the community to take part in and guide the direction of their Ward. As a full-time Alderman, I will be readily available to hear and advocate for all citizens and ensure that they receive the services they expect and deserve.

I have proven abilities to work well with varied groups, as evidenced by my presidency of the St. Louis Association of Realtors, my board work with many volunteer organizations, and my leadership of a neighborhood services organization.

9. St. Louis City voters approved reducing the number of Aldermen; how do you feel about this change?  Are there other city government changes you would like to see?

This is a good move for the City, but could be not-so-good for the Ward.  The 15th Ward has been a leader in City government for several years.  As the change will begin with the first election after the 2020 census, I see it as the Alderman’s responsibility to position the 15th Ward such that its leadership will continue.  Also the Alderman must identify and prepare the next generation of Ward leaders so that when the redistricting takes place, the 15th Ward is represented in the best way possible.

10. How would you work to foster economic development in the City of St. Louis? 

As Alderman, I would seek opportunities to promote economic development in the City by identifying unmet needs, then finding a person/business/service to fill those needs. We must address the perception that our neighborhoods are no longer safe in order to attract new businesses, qualified employees, and the customers that make those businesses thrive.
A vibrant local economy has been the driving force behind the resurgence of the Tower Grove neighborhoods. Having spent the last 20 years as a Realtor and business owner, I would use my experience to find creative solutions to build upon the success the business districts of the 15th Ward have enjoyed.

11. Neighborhood safety is always an important topic in the ward.  What have/will you do to address safety in the neighborhood?

I will work diligently to repair the fractured relationship the Ward has with the St Louis Metropolitan Police Department.  I have the endorsement of the Police Officers Association and the Fraternal Order of Police, so I already have established a basis for clear and effective communication.

We must create an atmosphere in which residents can report suspicious activity in the district without fear of reprisal, and we must create a neighborhood-wide block captain organization.

12. What role should the Alderman have in working with the neighborhood business districts?  What role should the Alderman have in working with resident organizations?  How do/would you balance the needs of the residential and business districts of the ward so both are strong and vibrant?

A strong, vibrant business district is key to a strong, vibrant residential area, and vice-versa.   Over the last 20 years, I have developed my own business as well as led and served a  neighborhood association. These experiences have taught me that safe neighborhoods with proper upkeep can attract businesses, and businesses with quality goods and services attract residents who take pride in their homes.

Many real estate clients have told me that they want to live in the Tower Grove neighborhoods because of the walkability and our wonderfully eclectic business districts.

There are times when the needs of the residents and those of the businesses may conflict.  A sound development plan, put together with input and buy-in from businesses and residents, can help minimize conflicts.  When disagreements occur, the Alderman’s communications skills, including listening skills, come into play.

13. How do/will you use the Alderman position to affect delivery of city services for the Ward? 

As a full-time Alderman, I will be driving the alleys and walking the blocks looking for the opportunities to bring City services to our neighborhood. I will work to ensure the residents and businesses have the services they need to prosper and to feel safe.  Our residents will receive the services that they expect and deserve.

It is highly important that the Alderman be responsive to the needs of her constituents. She must be available to them and be respectful of all.

14. What is your long-term commitment to this position? Do you plan to seek re-election?

I will work for the citizens of the neighborhood as long as they would like me to represent them.  I have no other political ambitions.  We need someone who will devote the time necessary to advance the quality of living for the residents and businesses of the 15th Ward and for the great City of St. Louis.

15. If you could ask your opponent(s) one question, what would it be?

What do you find to be the most enjoyable part of being an Alderman?

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