Housing, Leadership, and Hockey in Minnesota

Hockey player Mary Jo McGuire is also the county commissioner in Ramsey Co, Minnesota. She is also the current president of the National Association of Counties. In the meantime, she champions affordable housing, loves to dine at local ethnic restaurants and for fun cross country skis. Busy lady. Listen to how she manages it all.

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Mary Jo McGuire: To connect and build bridges. To inspire engagement and lead on inter-governmental partnerships. We say public health in all policies like we know that it starts with health and that, you have a healthy community and then you can just your you can thrive. Then when you’ve got your, your health. Homework starts with home. So to help our schools it helps our families.

It helps. You know everyone we are we’re very focused on achieving zero landfill. You know, in the future. Good government is is doing the right thing. And and working with with the residents. You’ve got, insert yourself into into this process. That is what I want the public to know. You’ve got to insert yourself into this process.

Hopefully, elected officials will make it easy for you to do that. Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t.

David Martin: Welcome to the Good Government show. I’m your host, Dave Martin. On this episode of The Good Government Show, we have a special guest. Mary Jo Maguire is not only a county commissioner of Ramsey County, Minnesota. She’s also president of the National Association of Counties. That means not only is she working on providing good government at home in Saint Paul, but she’s helping counties across the nation do better.

A big job, to be sure. When I first talked to Mary Jo, she was just starting her term. Now with a year almost over. I talked to her again. She said the high point for her was being able to meet county commissioners in nearly half the country. And this is her quote. I’m very hopeful for our country. She said she continues to be impressed by how, at a county level, they just get the work done.

Not too much partizan rancor, just delivering good government. Her agenda was what she called connect, inspire, lead by all moving forward to deliver good government together. That goal led to a program called convergence. It’s a collaboration on problem solving that’s now part of the Naco Counties program. Building bridges is how she explained it. Mary Jo inspires and she does it with a smile.

Being from Saint Paul, I of course asked her explain the differences between the Twin Cities and since it is Minnesota, we had to talk hockey. All I’m saying is keep your skates sharp. If you find yourself on the ice with her. Although when I spoke to her last, she was off to a NBA Lynx game. Anyway, after this short break, President and County Commissioner Mary Jo McGuire.

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Welcome to the good Government Show. Today our guest is Mary Jo McGuire. And she is a commissioner in Ramsey County, Minnesota. But she is also the newly elected president of the National Association of Counties of Naco. I was there at your introduction and, at your at your election, congratulate, welcome. And, what do you see, ahead of you for the year at Naco.

Mary Jo McGuire: Wow. I so appreciate this. Thank you so much, David, for doing this interview and for having this show. I’m I’m so grateful to be on it. And I’m really grateful that I was, sworn in as the president of this amazing organization, that we know as the National Association of Counties. I, it’s been a very fast, few months so far since since I was sworn in.

And it’s mainly from, you know, pardon me.

David Martin: You didn’t get to ease into the job.

Mary Jo McGuire: no, I when when you’re president, then you get invited to the state associations, which is a great opportunity to really, you know, go and be an ambassador for holding us all together, bringing us together and working on issues that we all share. And I will just say that my my theme is forward together, with, you know, so that we can move in, in, ways that we all agree on.

And with such a divided country, it’s great that we, can come together on as many issues as we do. And my subtitles for For Forward Together are connect, inspire and lead. So to connect and build bridges to inspire engagement and lead on intergovernmental partnerships. So these are all the things that I’m working on. And I’m, I’m appreciating that I get to go to all these state associations and talk about all of those ways that we can do that work together.

David Martin: One of the things that I hear, consistently from county commissioners and you just touched on it yourself, is when the road needs to be repaired. They don’t care if you’re a Democrat or Republican. They want the they want the road repaired. are you finding that more and more?

Mary Jo McGuire: Absolutely, absolutely. We are so, committed to, like, just getting the work done. You know, we’re the implementers. We, you know, work with our partners at the state, at the legislative level, and at the federal level. But we are the ones that that have them grow. The rubber meets the road, as we said. Where. Right. You just want to get the the roads done.

We want we work on mental health issues. We do public, many of us do the public health for for our counties. We are, the ones that can’t let Partizanship and these other divides get in the way.

David Martin: Do you think that bodes well for for trickling upward in government?

Mary Jo McGuire: we hope so. We hope we can be a model. And so I, I talk about that a lot. Like let’s model the way for these other levels of government. Let’s show them that it can be done. Let’s make sure that we’re advocating for our issues and the way that we know it can be done with our other levels of government.

So we’re hoping that we can move it up, move it up that chain.

David Martin: So that as.

Mary Jo McGuire: I move it over, we actually don’t think of it as, we think of it as over, like we’re we’re partners here. We we are the ones that, you know, need to get this work done. So you got to work with us.

David Martin: So call your senators and have them look to the county commissioners. They totally you’re answer. The House of Representatives.

Mary Jo McGuire: Can be models. We can be models for this.

David Martin: Good good good. So, I must confess, I have never been to Ramsey County. I have. I was in Minneapolis once to cover a court hearing in federal court. I flew in, covered the hearing and flew out that afternoon. here’s a question I have, and I think a lot of people have Saint Paul, Minneapolis, the Twin Cities.

What’s the difference between Saint Paul and Minneapolis?

Mary Jo McGuire: Oh, I love it. Oh, that’s.

David Martin: I know I’m asking from someone from Saint Paul, so go ahead I.

Mary Jo McGuire: Love it. Well, yes. You are asking someone who was born and raised here. I was born and raised in just a suburb just bordering Saint Paul. So I’m a, I’m a, strong supporter of, of actually the Twin Cities area and of Minnesota. But of course, I grew up in Saint Paul. So, the difference, you know, Saint Paul is about, is smaller than than Minneapolis.

I, I would say we I think we think of it as, you know, we’re we’re where you want to raise your family. Minneapolis is maybe where you go and you’re as a young person, you there may be more opportunities to get out and about. Okay. And Saint Paul, we’re we’re more, you know, we’ve got we all have great.

We both have great parks. We we both have great opportunities for development for our businesses and things. But I think, you know, we really, in Saint Paul, we we like to think that we’re the, we’re the community where you want to raise your families. So. Okay. Yeah.

David Martin: Now are there I just curious, do you go to Minneapolis regularly?

Mary Jo McGuire: I do, I go across the river every so often. We have a river. That’s that that, that divides us. And, Yeah, I go, I go there. I.

David Martin: Are there people that just like, don’t go to Saint Paul or don’t go to.

Mary Jo McGuire: Minneapolis. I go to Saint Paul a lot more.

David Martin: Yes, I’m sure, but not if you live in Saint Paul. Do you go to Minneapolis City? I’m not going.

Mary Jo McGuire: Oh, yeah. Well, we I tend to go to Saint Paul more. Okay. But Saint Minneapolis has a lot of activities and I do I I’m a biker, so I like to bike up the, I like to bike, my roads in Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

David Martin: So are there bike routes to take you back and forth across the river so you can.

Mary Jo McGuire: Yes. Yeah. And they’re beautiful. We have great bike routes. So it’s really it’s really great.

David Martin: which is better?

Mary Jo McGuire: Oh, that’s a tough one. They’re both they’re both silly.

David Martin: Faith, you must be a politician, I say.

Mary Jo McGuire: Oh, you know, I mean, Ramsey County and Saint Paul have great roots.

David Martin: All right, all right. So, let’s just talk a little bit, what’s going on in Ramsey? It’s the good government show. you know what? Some of the stuff that you’re doing there that our, the citizens are appreciating. There’s a couple of things that I love.

Mary Jo McGuire: I think. Yeah. Thank you. And just to say, you know, Ramsey County, where the most, were the second highest county in population, but we’re the second with, with the smallest county geographically. So we’re very concentrated in everything we do where we’re, we are concentrated in where the most concentrated areas of poverty, we we say the most concentrated areas for opportunity.

We have the most concentrated areas of diversity. We’re a very diverse county. We have the one of the largest, Hmong population in the country, second largest in California. We have the largest current population. That’s people that’s, immigrants from Burma. We have, we have a large, Hispanic population, black population. And so we we have a lot of, a lot of diversity.

And we, we build on that and we value that. And, and we, we, we know that, that, that provides, great opportunities for our economic development. What we’re mostly focused on now is our housing. We need more affordable housing. And so we’re working on that. We have a lot of workforce issues. We, we need more workforce as a county, and we want to match up the businesses that need work for us with our with our residents who need jobs.

So we have great workforce solution, work going on. We have great internship and mentorship programs for our young people so that they can get the skills they need to have jobs and, I think we’ve got an amazing director of our workforce, Glenn Becker, who who just tries to do be really creative with the programs of of matching up that, you know, businesses with workers.

And that’s that’s one of our big focus areas as well. And then I would just say public health, you know, counties in Minnesota all do public health. and we, you know, are the ones that are want to make sure that people are healthy. And we say public health in all policies, like we know that, that it starts with health and that, you have a healthy community and then you can just, you, you’re you can thrive.

Then when you’ve got your, your health. So those are some things that we’re working on. And mental health, I should say mental health is a big area for all of us counties, but especially and, and well, I would just say, you know, the, the large counties, you know, that we see so many areas where, mental health factors into, you know, so much of the work that we do.

So we work on that.

David Martin: I saw that you have a program, for a, funding program for new developers. I think it’s emerging and diverse. contractors who have a small number of properties. Can you explain that? Because that sounds like a really great program that gets not the big contractors involved, but the individuals.

Mary Jo McGuire: Right? So you’ve heard me talk about how diverse we are. And so we have these smaller, diverse, businesses that are trying to break in to, to the work that we do. And we, we want to support that. And so, you know, we said, well, you can be contractors under the big contractors. Well, that didn’t always work either.

So now we’ve made the bidding process a lot easier for them. We we haven’t made as many requirements on some of the, the things that we were requiring these big businesses to do. So that it’s just easier for the businesses to compete for some of these, for some of these projects that we have for the building projects or the engineering projects.

And, we’ve been very deliberate about the barriers that we’ve created, quite frankly, in our in our procurement and we’re, we’re just, doing everything we can to make it easier for our, diverse vendors and.

David Martin: That building, you know, 1 or 2 houses here and there, or are they trying to expand on that, or are they doing of like, renovations? What’s going on?

Mary Jo McGuire: I would say a little of both. I would say a lot of, it would be, yes and yes. And housing in businesses in and engineering, as I said in, yeah, we’re, we’re, we’re trying to make sure that they, if they, if they, that they can be a part of, of other of other bigger projects too.

I mean, we just want to make sure that they’re, able to be we’re doing that. So, I mean, we have some really big projects as a county going on, but we want to make sure that it’s it’s set up in such a way that there are there is opportunity for our, our, our smaller vendors to, to do that.

David Martin: And you I saw there was also a huge like a $21 million grant, last year put aside for affordable housing. are you building new or is it, is it is it new construction? is it how did it how did you get this way? yeah. Is it is are there just old houses that just, you know, fell into disrepair that need to be repaired?

What’s what’s going on?

Mary Jo McGuire: Yeah. And I would just say shout out to the Arpa dollars. The American Rescue Plan dollars and the CARES dollars. You know, this just really helps so many counties jumpstart our work. Like, we we just couldn’t get ahead of the game. You know, we have a lot of homeless population. We we couldn’t get we couldn’t we had to sort of, you know, provide, you know, shelters for them.

But we needed to really build permanent housing. So we were very, deliberative about putting aside money for housing, not just for shelters, but housing and, and the work that, that we’re, we’re doing in, in shelters is, is in housing is, you know, is really crucial to really moving, moving us forward. So we’ve been yeah, we’ve been working really hard to, to make sure that that we, that we provide housing, you know, in all of our communities.

So we have to work with our communities because they’re the ones that zoned for this. And we are fully developed as a county. So most of our, our, all of our development is redevelopment. So we look for properties that, are being redeveloped and then we, we give incentives to put housing in those along with businesses. We have a lot of, you know, mixed use development going on.

We have a huge property going on in northern Ramsey County. It’s probably it’s it was one of the largest Superfund sites in the country. We’ve developed. We’ve cleaned that up to residential standards. And we’re doing we’re putting.

David Martin: On a lot of work to clean a Superfund site to residential.

Mary Jo McGuire: Yeah. It’s amazing. Was took a lot of money and a lot of time. But we did it. We’re working on that with commercial residential, you know, and retail.

David Martin: How how how many homes have you added? I mean, I don’t mean put you on the spot, but with a. Yeah, exact number. But I mean, what’s the result of all this of the $21 million?

Mary Jo McGuire: The 21,000,001 of the 21 million is set. Is that right? We’re working on that. I mean, we I, it’s but the.

David Martin: Net net result of all this, what’s, you know, how have you added housing?

Mary Jo McGuire: We we’re we’re working on it. Yes, we’ve added some housing. We’re continuing to add housing. A lot of this is in the development stages because the money has just become available to us. And, you know, it just takes time for those projects to get going. But I mean, I can’t give you the exact number, but we have added housing and we’re looking to add a lot.

David Martin: More, and I’m sure this adds jobs and puts people to work.

Mary Jo McGuire: Oh yeah. Adds the jobs in in producing the housing and producing all the things that go along with it. And, yeah. And then for the, for the people that need, need, permanent housing, it, it, you know, we know that we always say, home work starts with home. So to help our schools, it helps our families, it helps our, you know, helps with are.

David Martin: There programs for first time homeowners.

Mary Jo McGuire: And yes, we have great programs for that. Very good. Yeah.

David Martin: So there was something else I read about that I thought was just really cool. and maybe you can explain a little bit more because I just read about it briefly. The fix it clinic. You bring it. You broken? Yeah, yeah. Gets fixed. Tell me about this. This is.

Mary Jo McGuire: Fun. I love that you brought up one of my favorite projects. And this. I’m so excited about our new environmental services center that’s going in that because we’re going to have longer hours and more opportunities for people to bring their their work. And it’s that need that need fixing. And so something, you know, a lot of times they think they don’t work and then they just bring them, they bring them, they they put them in the garbage.

And we are very we are, we’re very focused on achieving zero landfill, you know, in the future. And so we have a lot of, we have a lot of work going on with, you know, recycling and reusing and, and reducing what we’re producing. that’s that needs to be, dealt with, you know, in our, in our waste stream.

But anyway, so.

David Martin: What what kind of things do people bring into the Fix-It center?

Mary Jo McGuire: Like, oh my gosh, what a great example. Sort of like vacuum cleaners that where they may just not remember how to turn it on. And what one great story is, a blender. You know how when you have these, these little, choppers or blenders and you have to lock it in place for it to start? Yeah, but people don’t remember.

They have to lock it in place. So they would try to start it and it wouldn’t start. So they would they bring it to the fixing clinic and they would say, oh, here, you can just do it. You know, this is how you use it. So some of it just how to use something. And the other is we have these electricians that give their time.

We have people that, you know, can just fix a few things and, and you know, it’s like, you know, electric brooms, it’s lamps, it’s, blenders and, and it’s any, any kind of. But we actually, I think are even starting, you know, where people can have their clothes fixed so they don’t have to, you know, they can, you know.

David Martin: There’s you have women in the back, sewing machines.

Mary Jo McGuire: And. Yeah.

David Martin: Really. Yeah.

Mary Jo McGuire: Just to try and put as and few things as possible into the waste stream.

David Martin: Well back to the day. Back in the old days, in the 50s, 60s, every town had like a fix it shop. Right. You know, you had a guy who could sort of, you know, work on fix anything. So is does this replace that this all.

Mary Jo McGuire: Well hopefully not. No. I mean, you know.

David Martin: It’s a job.

Mary Jo McGuire: There’s a there’s definitely enough to go around. But what we have now is like we have certain days in our libraries where we have a sick clinic and these days, like maybe for for a year at each library location that we have. And they have long lines, oh, you know, no one and you can’t get in because so many people bring their stuff.

So that’s why we we like that the service center will have more hours and more opportunities and I it will not they will not put any of these other people out of business because we have so much work to be done. Mainly these are, you know, people are just going to throw it away if they don’t, if they don’t get a these clinics are free.

So, you know, people are going to bring their stuff. Their two year.

David Martin: Old toaster down and go, this just doesn’t make toast.

Mary Jo McGuire: Exactly. Anybody there may not work. But but yeah. And work. That’s what we should be doing.

David Martin: Take a screwdriver and go oh here’s your problem. It’s just a disconnection here in the back. That’s that’s cool. All right. So now that we’ve we’ve done the easy part here’s the hard part. This is the questionnaire the the much discussed good government show questionnaire. All right. Are you ready? Here we go. Your philosophy of government is going to come out now.

All right. So remember, this is the good government show. from where you sit as both a county commissioner and I think you are a, state representative, as well prior to that. And you’re president of Naco. Define good government.

Mary Jo McGuire: Wow. Good government is working with the people to provide the, to provide what people need to, to thrive in their lives. And, but it’s working with others. It’s not just providing it, but it’s working with others to, to thrive in their lives. So good government is is doing the right thing and and working with, with the residents.

David Martin: But it’s not always easy to do the right thing, is it?

Mary Jo McGuire: No, no, we’ll have some, you know, it’s easier sometimes just it’s well, it’s way easier just to think you’re doing the right thing and to not work with your residents, to not talk to people, to not have the engagement that you need to you, you know, when you’re an elected official, some times think you know it, you know it best, and then you you just want to go ahead and do it.

But bringing in the engagement piece with others is is crucial to really getting it done right. But that’s it takes more time and effort and it’s harder.

David Martin: So it’s got to be frustrating as an elected official, when you study a project or you, you know, you you have an issue and you study it and you, you get expert opinion about that. And then you talk to other people about that, and you come up with a plan and some guy stands up at a meeting and says, well, I think it’s a bad idea because my sister’s cousin said that was a bad idea, you know, how do you combat that?

Mary Jo McGuire: Yeah. I mean, and then clearly you you always get those people, right? You you’ve done all this engagement, you’ve had all these meetings, you’ve invited them to everything. And then they’ll come at the very last minute, say, well, you didn’t talk to me. And we’ll say, well, we tried, because that’s the other thing is just actually getting to the people.

And and then they, they people will disagree. But if you’ve gone through a process, you know, the engagement, I think we’re getting better at it. I mean, there’s engagement where you have an idea and you and then you bring it to them and say, what do you think? it’s or and then it’s already done.

And then people think they still that it doesn’t matter what they think because it’s already done. We’ve really started in Ramsey County bringing bringing people in before we ever get you know, before we are done with the idea. Okay. You know, while we’re coming up with how what we’re going to do now after it’s done and saying, what do you think?

We say, how should we do this? So I think we, we, we just, have a process where we bring people in as early as possible, have them work with us, and you’re going to always get those people that come at the end and don’t like it. But if you can show, that you’ve actually had this, process, then, you just have to you have to go with it, then and you, you you’re going to get those people that disagree.

David Martin: How do you judge your success if you’re if you’re providing good government, how do you judge how well you’re doing?

Mary Jo McGuire: Well, if I’m, moving forward in a way that, you know, serves our residents where people are feeling that they’re being listened to, that they’re, like, you know, government is working with them and, and for them and that, it’s I if if we’re successful, I feel like people will trust the work that we’re doing. Trust is a big component of this.

Now, we really work to make sure that that, we’re developing that, that with our residents that they, will trust that we’re doing the best that we can and the and the work that’s best for them. And so I think, I’ll know it by, by seeing the outcomes were really outcome based in our county. And I think most counties are if we see the work moving forward, if we see stable, healthy families, if we have less people homeless on the streets, if we have people in jobs, all right, we have more affordable housing, we have good development, good roads.

So I think it’s how, you know, how we’re it’s an ongoing process. You know, I think we’ll just keep moving. You know, we have it’s it’s it’s ongoing work.

David Martin: It’s not so hard on your constituents, the voters. yeah. How should they know if they’re getting good government?

Mary Jo McGuire: Well, it’s one they okay. So I would say there would be that they’re feeling listen to that. They’re feeling like we’re responsive. So, you know, they call me and we say okay here we’re going to look at that. And then we we talked and we looked at it. And what we’ve done. And then if they either agree or disagree, but at least they’re you know that they know what we’ve done.

So we’re transparent. we’re, responsive, that they, they see that the work that they expect us to do. So counties generally do public public health, public safety, parks, roads, libraries and everything in between. So they they have a library system that they like if their roads are generally good. I mean, we have a huge issue in Minnesota.

We have we have a lot of roads that need a lot of repair because we get a lot of potholes here. But, you know, where are.

David Martin: And you have weather how, you know, snow.

Mary Jo McGuire: We’re always working on that, right? Yeah. We have if people feel safe and so I think, you know, I said I did a League of Women Voters meeting last night and we had a great conversation with them. And they they care about secure elections. And, and, you know, they they care about the environment and, you know, all the things we’ve been talking about housing.

And so it’s really having those conversations with them and them feeling like we’re listening and we’re moving forward. You know, we’re we’re just doing the best we can to to be in the in the direction that they think we’re moving forward in the direction that they they think we should be moving. So if my residents feel that way, then they’ll keep electing me and well, and we’re done.

David Martin: Feel like you’re moving in the right direction and they don’t like what they’re hearing. Yes. You know, what should they do?

Mary Jo McGuire: Yeah, well, they should talk to their representative. They should talk to their local elected officials. They should be involved. They should be on our commissions. They should volunteer to to serve on our advisory councils. They should let us know, we can’t do this work alone. It’s all about partnerships. It’s all about community engagement. And, you know, let us know.

I said, if I hear from ten people on an issue, that’s a lot. Yeah. So let let us know. I mean, I think people sometimes you’ll sit back and just complain and don’t do anything about it. And I’m a huge supporter of civic education, for one thing. So people know what it means to be a part of our democracy, and also that they are engaged in their government.

Like, this is not just us doing this work. This is, you know, we the people. I’m a huge supporter of, that that we are the ones that, should be in charge of this government. And we have elected officials, but we are informed by the by the public and by people. So I, get involved in as many ways as you can in this process.

Vote for people, get involved in what and how government is working for you or not.

David Martin: So you were a state representative, correct? For hum. How long did you serve for?

Mary Jo McGuire: 14 years in the House and two in the Senate.

David Martin: Oh my. And now you’ve been county commissioner for, I think, 12 years.

Mary Jo McGuire: Yeah, this is my 12th year.

David Martin: So you are absolutely a government insider. What would you like people to know about government and about how government works from the inside?

Mary Jo McGuire: That’s such a good question. Well, I would say that government, I, the people that I know want to do the they, they want to do the right thing for their residents. Now, that may be different for different people, and it may not be what the residents may say. Well, you’re not doing what I want to do. You know, you’re doing what other people want to do.

So, but I would say that generally the people that serve in office and I disagree with some of them, they’re they’re trying to do the right thing for, for them, for, and, and they’re good people that, really, they need the partnership of the other residents and the partnership with each other. So I don’t feel like they’re all out there, not, you know, not wanting to hear from everybody.

You know, you got, insert yourself into, into this process. That was what I want the public to know. You’ve got to insert yourself into this process. Hopefully, elected officials will make it easy for you to do that. Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t. But, I would say that what I want people to know is that our government is theirs, that this is their government, and they should hold us all accountable.

They should be involved in and pay attention to what we’re doing and call us on it. And they should call everybody from the president, all of us. They we should call people that aren’t doing the work. What we see should be done. that’s their their government.

David Martin: So who’s your political hero? Who inspired, who inspired or inspires you?

Mary Jo McGuire: Wow. well, I would go back to, you know, my I’m, I’m involved with, the Mount Vernon Institute a bit. I’m actually going to a a symposium on democracy this coming weekend in Washington, DC. So I’ve been, you know, I’ve been learning a lot about George Washington’s leadership. You know, Abraham Lincoln’s, you know, I mean, our for our, our, our, the people that started this country.

And I’m going to say forefathers and foremothers, the people that really worked on, setting up our democracy, they are my, my heroes that, took a new country and, tried to make it as good as they could a John really did a good job. We have some things we need to work on. and and just that they, that they really tried to make our democracy work.

And so I would say that I’m very, anyone who is working to, hold our democracy together are heroes of mine. So there’s a number of elected officials that are working on that, secretaries of state that are really working on that, making sure our elections are, secure. And I think they are, because counties run them and, so I have a number of number of heroes in, in different, in different areas.

I would say, you know, the I, my mother, is, my mother and father were amazing, people. I was lucky to be in a part of an amazing family.

David Martin: Where they played.

Mary Jo McGuire: Just because I had I, they were not in politics, but they taught us some really, lifelong lessons. And I think if you. Well, if you heard me give my speech, I do it all the time. And I talk about a timer that we used when we were growing up because we had six kids, and my parents thought it was important that they hear from everybody, not just my sister and I, who talked all the time that they should hear from my brother.

So we passed three minute egg timer and I actually have one around. And we just, you know, we learned that everyone has a voice. Every voice matters. And then the importance of listening, because when you had your turn, then you had to listen to everyone else’s turn. All right. So I would just say that that that they are heroes of mine and that they saw that that was an important thing to to instill in us as young people.

David Martin: And I bring in parents yet. So good for you, I know. All right. So I read somewhere that you were in when you were in college. You were part of the student government. Is is serving in office something you always had in mind? Did you want to be president when you were a kid? You know, I mean, well.

Mary Jo McGuire: I did not want to be I did not think about being president when I was a kid, but I knew I wanted to be in charge. I knew that I wanted to be where decisions were made. Okay. So right when I was young, you know, I was the teacher. I was the priest. you know, I would get all the kids together and I would, you know, I just knew that.

Well, I thought I had a good ideas about what should be done, and I wanted to get them done. So when I went to school and I went to Saint Kitts, I said, well, government, student government is where we’re asking the questions, where we’re helping decide what things, happen for our school. I want to be a part of it.

So I got my, you know, I was elected to the executive board early on, and I, you know, I, I like being, where at the table where decisions are made. So, when I was in law school, I did the same thing, was involved in student government. So I, I find out those decision making bodies and then try to be a part of those, so I can help direct things because otherwise I would complain.

I said, well, I can’t complain if I’m not if I’m not trying to help make it better.

David Martin: Yes. You can’t complain if you don’t vote right now.

Mary Jo McGuire: Right?

David Martin: So, as I said, I have never been to Saint Paul yet. I am coming at.

Mary Jo McGuire: You need to come to say I’ll show you around.

David Martin: All right. Well, that’s your next question. You’re going to show me around. Where are we going? What are we having for dinner? What? What is a what is a Saint Paul? What is the ultimate Saint Paul?

Mary Jo McGuire: Oh, I love it.

David Martin: What do we have?

Mary Jo McGuire: Right. Where do I love it? Okay, well, if when you come to Saint Paul, we will just take you around to our courthouse. We have a beautiful Indian. Got a piece in our courthouse. All right. We have, we have amazing, capital I, we have one of the most beautiful capitals in, in the country. I mean, I don’t think anything is more beautiful.

There may be some that are as beautiful we have. We have beautiful, you know, History Center and just amazing, you know, public buildings, we have amazing parks and and like, you know, we take you on a bike route. I don’t know.

David Martin: What do we have it and we’re going.

Mary Jo McGuire: To go and we’re going to have some really good, Asian or Hmong, food. Okay. And then we’re going to.

David Martin: not what I, I mean.

Mary Jo McGuire: We’ve got this thing called the Afro Deli, which has great African American food. Okay. and, and we have such great ethnic food. Indian food. we have the we have some of the best food. And we have we have great culture. So I would take you to the history theater and different places. I said, we have the greatest, combination of of the most culture you could ever want, but also not all the, not all the traffic that and not all the, the, the people that that the Chicago’s in the LA’s in New York.

So. Okay. But, yeah, I would take you right down Grand Avenue for all of our, great restaurants there. And it would be I, I’d start with a lot of our ethnic. Oh, I’d probably take it to the, while I on grand because I should have you have some Minnesota food. So I guess you’re right.

David Martin: That that’s what’s Minnesota.

Mary Jo McGuire: Well, I and wild rice and. Yeah. So. Yeah.

David Martin: All right. I used to listen to Prairie Home Companion. Are we going to have cream of mushroom soup? Jello mold. What?

Mary Jo McGuire: Oh, yeah. chicken wild rice soup is so amazing. Yeah. Cream of mushroom soup for sure. Well that’s great. we have, great Minnesota. You know, we’re Scandinavian, so there’s a lot of Scandinavian influence, but I, I would say that in Saint Paul, where we have so much, we have a lot of other ethnic restaurants that we would.

Well, that.

David Martin: There is a good Irish pub there too.

Mary Jo McGuire: That’s a good Irish pub there. And we have and I’m also German, so there’s some really good German guest houses and things and yes, a lot of great Irish.

David Martin: Okay. Great. all right, so, this is the good government show. We like to bring it back to good government. Give me an example of a great government project you’ve been involved in.

Mary Jo McGuire: Wow. well, I would say one, well, I, I work really hard on for, let’s see that I, I would, you know, because all everything I do is with, is with a group of people, you know, like, I.

David Martin: Just want to. Let’s just talk about a good project. Let’s leave everyone a happy note.

Mary Jo McGuire: Okay? So I’m going to. I’ll just say we.

David Martin: I want to know. Government working and Ramsey government working.

Mary Jo McGuire: I love it. Yes. So I, work really hard on early childhood education. And so we have a great family stability program where we work with the families to make sure that their kids are, getting, the services that that they’re getting, the services they need. And we know that we can’t just have kids in, in Head Start, but we need to work with the family.

So we have a great family stability program where we mentor the the parent, you know, the parents and really help them be, you know, strong parents. So, that’s something that I, I’ve always advocated for the legislature and we were doing it at Ramsey County. I also I’m a huge physical activity person. So active living is where we, we promote biking and walking and, you know, and every public works project that we have now, it’s always like, let’s make sure that we’re addressing the least mobile to the most mobile.

Like most public work projects focus on cars, but we want to focus on biking, walking and then cars. So we’re very we we work on that. I would say I worked on cars.

David Martin: Okay. Is a good thing, right?

Mary Jo McGuire: Yeah, yeah, I worked on getting to the Oval. I mean, this is a special project that we got into Roseville, but it’s a speed speedskating oval that our community needed because we had all these Olympians training and they were going to Milwaukee, and we needed them in Saint Paul. So I thought really hard to get a speedskating oval in my, in our community.

And it’s, you know, it’s a nationally known and we have national organizations there. I also.

David Martin: We got some speed skating.

Mary Jo McGuire: On it. I, I’m a I’m a skater. I’m is not as much a speed skater as I’m a hockey player and I’m a regular skater. And then and we just got better.

David Martin: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Stop right there. Do you play hockey?

Mary Jo McGuire: I do, in fact, I wait.

David Martin: Wait wait wait wait wait wait wait, slow down a bit. Are you still playing hockey regularly? And I’m.

Mary Jo McGuire: Just. I’m just going to say I played hockey till about a couple of years ago because I value my head now. You know, I have full gear, I helmet and and we played every Sunday night till about a couple years ago. I stopped because I just didn’t want to hurt myself anymore. But I love to skate still and I’ll do pick up hockey, but I don’t do my organized hockey anymore.

So I do love to skate, though. And you know, I in Minnesota you grow up skating, but I love to cross-country ski. I love to snowshoe. I love the winters here. So. But yeah, I’m, Yeah, I love to play hockey and and skate. And we just put in a.

David Martin: So so you do play. You play every once in a while and I.

Mary Jo McGuire: Don’t play with my family. Oh now I’ll play. Yeah. Now, now we’ll just every winter like it’s.

David Martin: Just on the ice. Are you, are you like the enforcer. What.

Mary Jo McGuire: I’m I we, we we we keep our training easy now because we’re all getting a little older. Although, I will say my brothers still play organized hockey, but, we, Yeah, we keep it pretty easy. but, almost every everyone, everyone skates and everyone plays. Yeah. So it’s very fun, but, I want to just say another project we had is we just had Battle Creek, and I was, our whole board supported it, but I wanted to make sure it happened.

Was a, a snowmaking in, in Saint Paul, which got a lot of hassle. But we we need consistent snow for our cross-country ski park. We have a really beautiful park that is cross-country skiing, but we don’t get consistent snow even in Minnesota. So now that we have snowmaking, with the help from the legislature and with alpine, Ramsey County, now we have a, cross-country ski trails that we’re going to now have international events in Ramsey County.

We and our kids are our kids in the East Metro don’t have to drive an hour and a half to, you know, snow or that the people have made in Minneapolis. So now we have a place in Saint Paul, and I.

David Martin: Got to go to Minneapolis for.

Mary Jo McGuire: Another reason, right? We don’t want to go all the way over to Minneapolis and do that hour and a half drive over there. Now we can do it and.

David Martin: Say, well, Mary Jo, McGuire. Ramsey County commissioner, Naco County president. it was a pleasure to have you. I glad we finally got this together. We we we started this conversation in, about four months ago in Austin, Texas, and we finally got it together. So thank you for your time. And hey, good luck.

Mary Jo McGuire: Hey. And when you come to say, bro, when you come to Ramsey County, I want to show you around. Yes, yes, great things to do. All right. And just thank you so much for your good government show. We all care about good government. And, I really appreciate it. So, thank you for for letting me be on your show, and it was great.

David Martin: Thank you for coming.

Mary Jo McGuire: Thanks. Take care.

David Martin: What is it the county government does? That’s the question County commissioners get asked the most. And the simple answer is everything on the good government show. We’re so lucky to have talked with so many county commissioners and other county officials that have shown us how effective county government is. County government dates back to get this 1634, making it one of the oldest forms of government in the United States.

Think about it. Roads. Highways. Hospitals. Schools. Recycling. Law enforcement. Water. Sewers, and most of the county. Those services are maintained by the county that’s county government. The National Association of Counties represents all 3069 counties across the USA. Naco helps county government work better together through things like sharing best practices. When county government works well, well, that’s just good government.

After you get done with this episode, hear more good government stories with our friends at How to Really Run a City for mayors Kasim Reed of Atlanta and Michael Nutter, a Philadelphia, and their co-host, journalist and author Larry Platt, talk with guests and other mayors about how to really get stuff done in cities around the nation. Check them out where you’re listening now or through their nonprofit news site, The Philadelphia Citizen.

Org slash podcasts.

You have to respect a county commissioner who played league hockey until recently and still gets out of the ice, and that’s just part of her active profile. Mary Jo McGuire is an active bike rider, cross-country skier, and even strapped on speed skates. This is clearly not someone who’s sitting around, but is active both in government and in her own life.

Good for her, better for Ramsey County, and even better for the USA in her role as NACo president. A busy year for her. Well, that’s our show. Thanks for listening. If you like the show and of course you do, share it with your friends, like us and comment on us on your favorite social media platforms. Help us continue to tell stories of good government in action.

Thanks for listening. I’m Dave Martin and this is the Good Government show.

The Good Government Show is a Valley Park production. Jim Ludlow, Dave Martin, that’s me and David Snyder are the executive producers. Our show is edited and produced by Jason Stershic. Please subscribe then share us and like us and reviews. That’s the best way to make sure we’re able to keep telling these stories of our government working for all of us.

Then listen to the next episode of The Good Government Show.

**This transcription was created using digital tools and has not been edited by a live person. We apologize for any discrepancies or errors.