Hennepin County Commissioner candidates campaign for student interests

District 4 candidates stressed increased services and engagement at the campus’s county office.

Students walk past the Hennepin County Commissioners Office in Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday, Sept. 17. The office, which resources like license plate registration, is open one day per week.

Image by Jack Rodgers

Students walk past the Hennepin County Commissioner’s Office in Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday, Sept. 17. The office, which resources like license plate registration, is open one day per week.

by Isabella Murray

Along with a number of high-profile races on November’s ballot, the Hennepin County Commissioner’s race could have a direct impact on campus life.

The commissioner’s office on campus, which sits in Coffman Memorial Union, is open one day a week and offers students some county services. Candidates for the office say the space is under-utilized and could offer more room for student resources and engagement. 

District 4 candidate Angela Conley said she’s focused on widening the range of services accessible through the County’s campus office. 

“The county is one of the largest [providers] of social services because we have the second largest budget in the state,” said Conley, who currently works in Hennepin County’s human services department.  “We have a far reach.”

District 4, which encompasses the University of Minnesota campus and the surrounding neighborhoods, already maintains an office at the University. Its presence isn’t widely known among students, University service center representative Randy Feltis said. 

“I always let them know there’s a location in Coffman,” said Feltis, who works at the Hennepin County Government Center on days the University office is closed. “We see quite a bit of traffic [in Coffman], but not everyone knows about it.”

Conley said she wants students to know the office is a resource. She advocates for expanding the services it provides.

“My vision is that it’s easily accessible and easily visible,” Conely said.

The location assists with license plates and vehicle registration, birth and marriage certificates and notary services. Conley hopes to make food assistance, emergency cash assistance and child care payment aid available. 

Conley said she utilized these resources as a student and stresses the need for them on campus. 

“I received food stamps years ago, so I know what food insecurity looks like,” she said. “I was a hungry student too. I was a parent and had to think about childcare when I went back to school.”

Meanwhile, DFL incumbent Peter McLaughlin hopes to make student transportation easier by expanding light rail lines. 

Endorsed by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, McLaughlin has served as the District 4 Hennepin County Commissioner for the past 28 years.

Among his top priorities are transportation accessibility, criminal justice reform, fair housing and disparity reduction.

McLaughlin said his biggest success for University students was bringing three light rail stops to campus.

“I worked with my Ramsey County counterparts to make sure we not only had the light rail at the U, but that we had three stops at West Bank, East Bank and Stadium Village,” he said.

According to McLaughlin, light rail extension into Eden Prairie and Brooklyn Park could be the next step for improving accessibility for commuter students.

This November, Green Party-endorsed Megan Kuhl-Stennes will also run on the ballot with Conley and McLaughlin.