By Bruce Karnick
The Hastings Area Rotary Club is more than a service club. It is a group that gathers and learns more about the community. The more Rotary interacts with Hastings and the surrounding communities, the better it can work toward making positive changes. Recently, Hastings City Council Member Jen Fox
See FOX, Page 5
Council Member Jen Fox joined the Hastings Area Rotary Club to talk about her experiences as a rookie council member during her first year and a half representing Ward 2. Photo by Bruce Karnick paid a visit to the Rotary meeting to discuss her experiences since being elected to her first city council position.
“My background is actually state government. So, having a Master's in Public Policy certainly helped with priming the pump for being on City Council and knowing how policy is formed and works. The most surprising thing that I've seen is the way that we as city council members rely on our committee structure, that's really refreshing and really lovely to see,” explained Fox.
Fox explained that the committees are assembled by the mayor to highlight the strengths of the committee members. The time the committees spend together involves discussions around specific topics to bring back to council with many of the questions hashed out before bringing anything to council either at a meeting or at a workshop.
“Going into it, you're thinking this is going to be such a fun strategic team. And we know being parts of groups, that's not always the case, right? So, it's trying to find those relationships and those bonds and those unifying moments that make us stronger. That's another just a little bit surprising feature of being on council. The hardest topic is obviously the budget. I have the pleasure of sitting on the Finance Committee. There are so many needs that we have in the city with limited resources right? This is not unique to Hastings. This is not unique to the city. It's not unique to any organization. We all have limits, so for the finance committee to be able to talk really, really thoughtfully about what Hastings needs and how we finance that is one of the best parts of the job, but it's also really, really tough,” added Fox.
She also joked about the process that involved passing the chicken ordinance, how over 100 constituents wrote in supporting the right to keep chickens in Hastings and a handful against it. The interesting piece is how the chicken discussion dominated council meetings, social media and even articles here in The Journal and so far, four people have applied for the license.
“I had many say they do not want to keep chickens themselves, but they fully supported those that wanted to,” said Fox.
“Another thing that's a little bit surprising and a little bit funny is who and when people reach out. Going into this position, I thought, gosh this is going be such a great way to get to know community members, get to know how to serve them better and get to know the way that the city functions. But oftentimes, you just hear about how frustrated people are after the fact. What doesn't happen as often as I'd like is people reaching out and saying this is what I believe in. This is what I think about that, or I need help with this. There are lots of opportunities for council members to be resources in the community. I'm not sure the community as a whole knows how to get a hold of or knows that we can be resources. So, that's something that I'm trying to work on and make sure that my constituents know that they can reach out to me, and I can help them with a need. It helps inform my vote and my perspective if I hear what other people are thinking,” she added.
How do you reach city council members? That is actually quite easy to find with a quick Google search. https://www.hastingsmn. gov/citygovernment/citycouncil is the page to go to for all the proper contact information for council.
After talking committees, Fox moved on to commissions. “There are commissions. If you're interested in volunteering for a city commission, we're always looking for great candidates. There is HEDRA which is the Hastings Economic Development and Redevelopment Authority. There's the Parks and Rec commission. There's the Public Safety Advisory Commission and Planning and the Heritage Preservation Committee. There are lots of different areas and different expertise that we're always looking for from our community. And this is something that we definitely could put in the paper because it's such a great way to get involved. That's how I started in this public service role, by being involved in the community and then finally saying, wow, I want to be on HEDRA, look at all the great work that they're doing, so I applied for that. And you learn so much about how the city functions and the great work that city staff do to make Hastings wonderful. The commissions are such an incredible opportunity for people to be involved.”
Fox explained the struggles she had early on as a rookie council member.
“The first year was tough. It was a lot of work and a lot of selfreflection and a lot of, ‘What am I doing here?’ Now it feels like I know what I'm doing. I know the background information, and I have a little bit more control over the topics because I've been a part of it for a little bit longer. I felt like just getting that knowledge in my head about what we do and what we talk about every day was really, really tough. Just to be really honest, it was hard for the first year and then I started to figure it out a little bit more and now I feel pretty confident in it.”
What is it like to campaign for a council seat?
“Campaigning is big and expensive, and it is political. And this isn't a political position that I'm in right now. There's not that push to have transactional relationships, where you're asking somebody for something. It's emotional, and it's really, really hard to campaign, but it can be really fulfilling and really communitybuilding and really heartwarming too,” said Fox.
Overall, Fox’s experience on council has been a positive one and she hopes to continue to help bring more improvements to Hastings. Her ward is Ward 2, which can be seen on the included map. To reach her, email [email protected] gov. Her current term expires 12/31/24.