Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Council vacancy generates 17 candidates in Faribault, now time to choose one February 2, 2023

Serving on the Faribault City Council is about more than attending meetings and making decisions. It’s also about being involved in the community. Here council member Peter van Sluis, left to right, Mayor Kevin Voracek and councilman Royal Ross serve chili and engage during the Faribault Main Street Chili Cook-off in October. The WTF on Vorack’s tee stands for “Welcome To Faribault.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2022)

JUST MONTHS OUT from the general election, 17 individuals applied for an open seat on the Faribault City Council. The current council is tasked with choosing the individual who will fill the spot vacated by Jonathon Wood with two years remaining in his term. The council invited interested individuals to apply, resulting in the unprecedented 17 applicants.

It’s interesting to note that in the November election, three candidates ran unopposed for three council seats. Two incumbents were re-elected with the third winner a newcomer and our first person of color elected to the council.

Without talking to each of the 17 applicants, I can only speculate on their reasons for wanting to join the council. Some come with a history of government and community involvement, whether locally or elsewhere. Some are life-long Faribault residents, others newcomers. Some are young, others more advanced in age. Whatever their reasons for wanting to serve, I hope they approached this with open minds (and not with personal agendas), with a strong desire to do what’s right and best for Faribault, all of Faribault.

I know some of the people on this candidate list personally. I can easily envision them sitting on the council, doing their homework, carefully researching and considering issues, listening, voicing their thoughts. I can see them investing the time, energy and effort needed to make informed decisions that affect not only how this city operates, but also Faribault residents and businesses.

From my perspective, the ability to listen, really listen, is vital. That means listening to all voices—heard and unheard, loud and quiet.

I don’t envy the current council’s task of filling this council vacancy. They met, narrowed the choices down, and are sending follow-up questions to the five remaining contenders. Those individuals will be asked to give short presentations at a council workshop session next week.

I’m grateful that so many individuals applied to serve on the Faribault City Council. Seventeen. That’s an incredibly high number of people willing to devote their time and energy to issues that affect my community. Whomever the council ultimately appoints, that individual will help shape the future of this city, shaped, too, by its rich history.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on a Faribault first on this, MLK Day January 16, 2023

I took this photo of a St. Olaf College student watching a video in an exhibit, “Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail,” in 2015. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is shown in this frame. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2015)

TODAY, THE DAY WE HONOR Civil Rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr with celebrations and a federal holiday, seems fitting to share my excitement over the election of Adama Youhn Doumbouya to the Faribault City Council. Elected in November and just recently taking office, the Liberian-born immigrant becomes the first person of color to serve on the Council in a city chartered on April 9, 1872.

I expect Dr. King, who advocated tirelessly for equality and human rights, would be proud. I feel not only pride, but also gratitude in knowing that Doumbouya will bring a new young voice (he was born in 1987) and perspective to my ever-changing city.

This is my all-time favorite award-winning photo showing diversity in Faribault. I shot this image at the 2012 International Festival in Central Park where kids gathered to break a piñata. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

Today’s Faribault is vastly different from the Faribault of the past, even of recent decades. It is decidedly more diverse in skin tones, religion, culture, customs, dress, language and more. Admittedly, those who have moved here from places like Somalia, Sudan and Mexico have not always been welcomed. Racism exists. Sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant. I wish that wasn’t true, but it is.

Faribault is a city rich in immigrant history. This banner hangs in the downtown historic district. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

In the context of this evolving, diverse Faribault, it’s important to remember that nearly all of us (with the exception of indigenous peoples) are descendants of immigrants. Too often we forget that. Our forefathers landed in America, then Minnesota, with dreams. Faribault’s newly-elected councilman, who witnessed civil war in his home country along the west coast of Africa, landed in New York City in 2013 with dreams.

Visitors could photograph themselves at the 2015 “Selma” exhibit at St. Olaf College and express their thoughts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

Although I’m not privy to Doumbouya’s personal dreams, I’ve read his backstory published in a Faribault Daily News feature. After moving to Minnesota, he worked at a meat-packing plant in Austin, south of Faribault near the Iowa border. He served on the Austin Planning Commission. Eventually, he pursued a college degree, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in urban and regional studies. He moved to Faribault in 2020, owns a home here.

That’s a nutshell summary of the background Doumbouya brings to city government. Responses to a Q & A published pre-election revealed a candidate eager to serve his community. Eager to advocate for affordable housing, transportation and inclusive workforce development. Eager, too, to improve city infrastructure and technology for residents and businesses. Eager to focus also on economic development. I’m confident he will work hard on those goals of improving life and expanding opportunities in Faribault.

This image from a 2015 Downtown Faribault Car Cruise Night shows the diversity in my city. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

It took a long time—going on 151 years—for my city to get here, to the point of a person of color serving on the City Council. It took time, too, for social justice activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to make progress towards equality and human rights for all. As we approach the 55th anniversary of King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, much work remains to be done.

A promo for the MLK Breakfast in Faribault. (Credit: Faribault Diversity Coalition)

The same can be said in Faribault. But I see progress. I see progress in the election of Doumbouya to the City Council. I see progress via the efforts of the Faribault Diversity Coalition, which today hosts its ninth annual MLK Breakfast and has also started a recent Speaker Series. I see progress in personal connections and communication and caring attitudes. Faribault’s future is as limitless as our dreams.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Note: Adama Youhn Doumbouya’s photo is not included on the City Council website page, leaving me without an image to share here.