Duluth City Councilor Renee Van Nett grew in influence and knowledge of the issues so much during her first term in office that her council colleagues picked her last year to serve as council vice president.
This year they made her president of the City Council.
On Nov. 2, eligible voters in City Council District 4 — which includes Piedmont Heights, Duluth Heights, Lincoln Park, and a part of West Duluth — can re-elect Van Nett and her strong, effective advocacy for our police and public safety, housing, economic development and Duluth’s business community, and more.
“I need my children and other folks to have better access to life and better access to City Hall,” Van Nett said at a candidate forum last month held virtually and co-sponsored by the News Tribune and Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. “I believe in the work that I’m doing. … And I do that work by my traditional values as a Native person and an Anishinaabe person who comes up from the traditions. What that means to the constituents is my views are broad and I think about your view as well as mine. That’s what I’m taught. … I build relationships, and that’s how I get things moving.”
Her winning approach to public service was perhaps never better illustrated than during the public divide in 2018 over purchasing protective gear for Duluth Police. As chairwoman of the City Council's public safety committee, Van Nett thoroughly researched the need and the pros and cons and became an unwavering and strong advocate for our officers and the equipment they needed to protect their safety while on duty — so they can protect ours.
“I 100% support the police,” she said at September’s forum, at which she also touted a program recently launched by the city to provide an alternative to conventional police response to calls involving nonviolent issues, including those requiring mental health care.
Van Nett has also been front and center on ending homelessness. She tried out, in her own backyard, an idea to assemble yurts as small wintertime shelters. She also has supported housing initiatives in her district like Lincoln Park Flats at the former Robert's Home Furnishings site at Superior Street and 21st Avenue West. Its 74 studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments, as well as ample parking, is on track to becoming reality thanks in part to tax-increment financing approved in September by the Duluth Economic Development Authority.
To encourage job creation and to change Duluth’s unfortunate reputation as a tough place to do business, Van Nett reached out this summer to the Duluth Chamber and business leaders. She launched a series of roundtable discussions in August. She learned that “the city lacks in customer service and in helping business operators navigate City Hall and its processes,” as she wrote for a column to be published next week in the News Tribune. She has set about working collaboratively to fix those shortcomings, she said.
Van Nett is being challenged by former Councilor Howie Hanson, who she defeated four years ago. Hanson declined to answer questions publicly at the forum or to meet with the News Tribune Editorial Board ahead of the primary. He instead has been making noise on social media about city tax increases, criticisms that have lacked context, including that tax increases are being offset by tax-base growth; that fees, including the unpopular streetlight fee, are being phased out in favor of the tax levy, which is more honest and more transparent; or that Hanson himself was a member of the council some of the years he’s now taking to task.
Rather than trumpeting problems or politicizing perceived issues, Van Nett has gone to work as a city councilor.
She was also a member of the citizen board in Duluth that reviews police-community matters. She served as a member of the Duluth Civil Service Board and on the board for the Damiano Center. She worked as an employment liaison for Community Action Duluth: her job, literally, connecting Duluthians in search of work with open positions. She was involved with bringing a successful community-school model from Myers-Wilkins Elementary to Lincoln Park Middle School. And she founded a nonprofit called the Cross Cultural Alliance of Duluth to strengthen the community by bringing people together.
With two kids at Denfeld, Van Nett works now as an impact director for Head of the Lakes United Way.
And, effectively, she works as a representative for her neighbors.
“I believe City Council work is nuts-and-bolts work,” Van Nett said at the forum. “I believe in constituent services and helping people who live in the district.”
District residents have the opportunity to keep Van Nett working for them on Election Day, Nov. 2.
ABOUT THIS ENDORSEMENT: This News Tribune endorsement was determined entirely by the newspaper's editorial board. Board members are identified daily atop the Opinion page and online at duluthnewstribune.com/opinion.
WATCH THE FORUM: The Duluth City Council candidate forums sponsored by the News Tribune and Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce are posted for viewing, on demand, at duluthnewstribune.com. The link is here.