Concerns about housing inspire run for mayor and commissioner

Meet Commissioner Debbie Goettel

Meet Commissioner Debbie Goettel

Debbie Goettel's foray into politics grew out of frustration with her experience as a constituent.

A long-time resident of Richfield and housing advocate, Goettel grew concerned about homelessness.

“I was trying to get in touch with the current city council and have these discussions and found it so very difficult," Goettel said, adding the mayor did not respond to her requests, either.

Determined to make a difference, Goettel ran for mayor and was elected, serving 11 years. But the issues underlying homelessness—such as addiction and mental health—went well beyond what a city could address. The desire to help prompted her run for commissioner.

Training as engineer informs perspective

Goettel's desire to solve problems creatively stems in part from her career as a civil engineer.

Goettel specializes in safety, sustainability and environmental issues. That background has been helpful for her to understand the challenges Hennepin County faces. It also instilled an appreciation for using data to drive decisions about policy making and investment in programs that work well.

Goettel said she also looks to history to inform her understanding of current challenges.

“Too many times we look at issues and we have great ideas, and we didn't look at the past" to see what worked or didn't work, Goettel said. “We can learn a lot from the past."

Hennepin County's greatest strengths and challenges

One of the county's greatest strengths is its diverse staff, Goettel said, adding she is continually impressed with employees' knowledge and commitment.

“I appreciate all the hard work and years of service," Goettel said. “Many of them come back and volunteer even after (retirement). That speaks volumes."

One of the county's greatest challenges is its aging workforce, Goettel said.

“Those people who have been here for decades matter. They are a treasure trove of information," she said. Capturing their knowledge and wisdom is important for the county's continued success.

Goettel said she also sees challenges in the criminal justice system, particularly around addiction and mental health issues. By rethinking how to meet such needs during and after incarceration, the county may be able to help people live more productive lives.

Additionally, as chair of the budget committee, Goettel sees the impact of unexpected events. Despite good planning, challenges such as the opioid crisis can result in overruns. While the county uses reserves to make up the difference, it must rebuild those reserves as well.

She said she's most excited about the potential to be creative in finding solutions to challenges. Whether it's learning how Nashville, Tennessee, is reducing homelessness or how jails out east are embedding mental health staff, Goettel said she wants to learn how Hennepin County could apply lessons for its own success.

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