Forest Lake’s newest City Council member hopes to bridge the philosophical differences of her peers with a measured approach and a smile on her face.
Molly Bonnett, a 37-year-old substitute teacher and mother of four, will formally join the board on Monday after being appointed by Mayor Chris Johnson on Tuesday, Oct. 1.
During an interview with the Times on Saturday, the North St. Paul native said she has followed city government since moving here four years ago and considered running in last fall’s election.
“When you have a 2 1/2-year-old, one year makes all the difference in the world,” she said. “I thought about it at that time, but being a stay-at-home mom, it just wasn’t feasible for the amount of time that I would have wanted to put into a campaign.”
In the months since, she has perceived a division in the board, or at least a regular difference of opinion. She plans to lean on a positive outlook and the judgement she honed as a loss prevention manager in the banking industry while getting up to speed on the council.
“I’m not going to be the one adding agenda items,” she said. “I’m going to be the one that is going to be very analytical. The attributes I would hope to bring to the council would be my very analytical background through economics and then also my passion and positivity. I hope to be a member that can help to create a very positive, exciting, energy-filled council.”
Bonnett and her husband, Justin, an English instructor at St. Paul College, moved their family here in early 2009 to be near her parents and her sister’s family, all longtime Forest Lake residents. They bought a house on Bay Drive, next door to her parents.
“We didn’t know what it would feel like to live up here,” Bonnett said. “We made the leap for the family and the lake and just have grown to love it.”
The Bonnetts have a fifth-grader at Scandia Elementary, a second-grader and a kindergartner in the Chinese immersion program at Lakes International Language Academy, and a 2-year-old.
Bonnett obtained her undergraduate degree in economics from The College of St. Benedict. After holding the corporate job at U.S. Bank, Bonnett went back to school, earning a teaching certificate for grades five through 12 social studies and a Master’s of Education degree from the University of Minnesota. She now works about four days a month as a substitute teacher.
While her schedule last fall was not conducive to campaigning, she jumped at the chance to join the council via appointment.
“I thought I’ll regret it if I didn’t try, and frankly, because it’s such a unique opportunity, it gives me the chance to experience it on a one-year commitment,” she said.
“I am very interested in the community; I see things that are happening that are wonderful, and I want to be part of that positive change.”
Bonnett will wait to decide whether to run for election next fall, when the seat originally held by Jeff Klein will be on the ballot for the final two years of its term.
Bonnett was not the first candidate the council moved to appoint at last week’s special meeting. Councilmen Mike Freer and Ben Winnick supported Stev Stegner, the former mayor who owns a business in town and is active in community organizations.
Freer questioned Bonnett’s qualifications, citing her lack of presence at city meetings and her status as a relative newcomer to the area.
Mayor Chris Johnson saw some of the same traits as positives, though, saying he wanted the new council member to bring fresh ideas and not to be someone that residents are already divided over.
Bonnett felt her council interview last Monday went well and took on a conversational feel, but she also knew she was up against more familiar names, she said.
“It really depended on what they wanted,” she said. “I know I am unique in the sense that I am a woman and my career right now is to predominantly to stay at home with my children. I have roots here, but I don’t have the legacy that some members of the community have, so it was really going to decide on what direction they wanted to go.”
Now that the seat has been filled, she hopes to be able to get down to business without lingering debate over previous council action, such as the approval of the Forest Lake City Center project, which will see a new city hall and public safety building constructed over the next year at the site of the former Northland Mall.
“The City Center is happening; the ground has broken,” Bonnett said. “It doesn’t matter what I think at this point, so I think we need to move forward and make sure it is a good facility for our community, which we have a great committee working on to make sure that happens. … I hope once it’s here that people are able to experience the benefits of it and feel that ultimately, in the end, the benefits have outweighed the cost, so it doesn’t remain this divisive issue in the community.”
Before Bonnett’s appointment, the council also discussed the support for a community center she aired during her interview the prior night. Bonnett said she hopes to see a third party bring such a complex to Forest Lake.
“I do feel it would be a tremendous asset to our community. That being said, I completely understand that there’s not going to be an appetite to fund a community center at this time,” she said. “I have no intention at this time of creating a campaign for a community center.”
With substantial growth projected in Forest Lake in coming decades, Bonnett said, other developments requiring strategic action from the council will be coming.
“I feel that it is very important that we are very thoughtful about how we want to meet that growth,” she said. “We have a very unique opportunity in our location as we grow to create the community that we want, to not just let it happen and then react to the growth.”