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Candidate Q&A: Elizabeth 'Lyz" Jaakola, At Large Cloquet City Council candidate

Pine Journal: Why are you running for office?

Elizabeth “Lyz” Jaakola: I’m hoping to bring a new perspective to the council. I feel strongly about our community. I love Cloquet. This place means everything to the people who live here. I think that we don’t necessarily see all perspectives represented on the council currently. Not that I bring all perspectives, but I bring an additional perspective that may help make better decisions for the entire community.

Also, I feel it’s time for me to give back in this way. When I feel a sense of obligation, I’m compelled to follow through. I’ll be 50 in September. I’ve been teaching 26 years, 20 years here. I’ve been able to give back in many ways through teaching, or sitting on various Reservation committees, and now I feel it’s time to step up in leadership in the city of Cloquet so I’m hoping to offer that service.

What do you think are the two biggest issues facing the city of Cloquet? If elected, how would you work to resolve those?

Jaakola: Based on my initial research -- from talking to people, going to council meetings -- I think one of biggest issues is communication. There are people in the community that don’t know a lot of things that are going on. There are those that when they find out, it’s too late. Or maybe they haven’t had enough information offered to them so maybe they’ve already had an emotional response to something that didn’t really warrant that. I think communication at root of many of the issues.

How do we resolve that? Have moroe more face to face conversation, have a more open-door policy, discuss ways we can problem-solve together

Being one voice on a six-member council is contributing to the decision making process. No one is the ruler. But I can add to that process and maybe open the door to people who have not felt like they have had access to decision makers.

That’s one thing.

If we get down to details of issues, following the process, our policies and our ordinances affects everyone but definitely the business owners, and those who have a stake in what’s going on in the community (citizens). Making sure the council and administration is doing what we’re supposed to be doing according to our bylaws, own laws that we have set before us. I think that’s an important issue as well.

Like any community, we have a lot of issues. The budget. One of main things I hear people talking about is the opioid crisis and how we can best address that as a community together. It’s not only happening to one part of the city, it’s all of us. So how can we best address and help those who are faced with the immediate issue of addiction.

What’s the best thing the city has done over the past year or two?

Jaakola: I think all of the beautification going on needs to be acknowledged and recognized. It’s inviting to people coming in. Helps us feel good about our town. The parks, the boulevards … It’s important to acknowledge they’ve done a great job in that area.

I’m also really hopeful about future of high school and middle school. They’ve made some good decisions; there’s been a lot of turnover in schools and they’ve made some great new hires.

I think that it’s beyond just the school district or the city.

If the community can pull together and support our new opportunities with new school buildings, new personnel, new elected officials … all these things, we need to rally together. These people will have a big impact on the community, education, We need to empower them with positivity. That’s huge. How we help  each other to be successful is one of the biggest factors in whether we will be successful or not. We cn continue to be negative and point fingers, but that doesn’t get us anywhere. We need to move forward and hold ourselves accountable.

Name three character traits of yours that you think will make you a good public official.

Jaakola: I’m good at assessing when I have the information in front of me, and deciding what’s the best course of direction.

I’m good at helping people recognize their gifts and apply them in a productive way.

I’m good at listening and hearing what people are trying to say and what they are actually telling me. I’ve developed that strong skill as an educator. People don’t always say what they think they’re saying. Being able to extract that information and then feed it back to them, asking ‘is this what you’re intending to say because this is what I’m hearing?’ Then coming to an understanding based on that. I That’s an important skill for a city councilor.

I’m a team player. I haven’t always been a good team player but I have grown into being a very good team player. Some of that comes with age and experience. I really value other people’s opinions and input even -- or especially -- when we disagree.

Do you think the city council acted appropriately when it hired a new police chief without following the city’s usual hiring process for department heads? Why or why not?

Jaakola: From my perspective, it appeared as if they did not follow the usual hiring process. I think there are policies and procedures that are clearly spelled out how we are to do business, we need to follow those in order to be transparent and accountable to our own system.

There may have been extenuating circumstances why it didn’t happen that way … but it did appear as if it was an improper process and I know a lot of people in town feel that way. So it isn’t just an opinion when a lot of people feel that way. It’s something more that we need to address.

What do you see as the role of the mayor/city council?

Jaakola: I guess it’s really the role of the mayor and the city council to help the community navigate these issues together. How we can recover from that period of time when there’s mistrust? How we can assess where we’re at to make better decisions together so we have the confidence of the community, not just a portion of the community, but a majority of the community? I think that’s very important work to be done.

Relationship building is done through conversations at coffee shops and official conversations at meetings. Exercising the citizens’ rights to participate in government, I think that’s the job of the elected officials. We need to remain open to allowing citizens to participate, even when we disagree with them. Of course there will be disagreements. You have to acknowledge that.  It’s not the job of one person to make the decision for the community, ever.

What if you only hear from the angry mob?

I don’t know if there’s a structure or vehicle to seek out opinions for those who are less vocal. When I’m door knocking I’m seeking and hearing a lot of opinions.

I wonder if there’s a way to do a study, maybe it’s something you can put on the developer … doing my best to find out what the other opinions are.

I’m not usually the loud voice in the room. So I really have an ear for those who are not the loud voices in the room. As a teacher, I’ve learned to talk to those people who are less vocal, and say … how can I include you in this conversation. Often what is not being said has equal power in how the community follows or decides or makes progress or stalls out.

Recognizing those quiet voices is very important. I think how many times I’ve watched a part of the community where it’s clear the voices are not being heard or acknowledged or recognized and it just drags the process out. It doesn’t help anyone. I think

Communication, effective communication, can really move things along in [the majority’s] best interest.