Hamline News

Alumna Elected to Hennepin County Board of Commissioners

Angela Conley MPA ‘16 never forgets her own experience as a young recipient of food, housing and childcare assistance. Those memories drove her to improve the situations of the people she served as a social worker and administrator for various Hennepin County assistance programs.

“I wanted to make sure to help the folks on the margins,” Conley said.

After more than ten years on the job, she felt compelled to increase her impact and work on a macro level, which required more schooling.

“In order to make a difference, I needed to be a position where I can make changes and for that, I needed a degree.”

She decided to get a Master of Public Administration (MPA) at Hamline University.

Conley was drawn to Hamline’s program because the instructors work or worked in the public sector.

“I liked that Hamline uses people who are in the work teaching us about the work,” she said.

On the first day of classes Conley announced her intention to run for public office in Hennepin County. She found support for that goal within her MPA program. Chris Owens, who taught her administrative law class, provided Conley with detailed information about what it takes to serve as a commissioner.

Conley noted, “She was really helpful. She made sure I had enough information to do what I wanted to do.”

Conley also made an impression on faculty. Professor of Practice and former Saint Paul mayor Jim Schiebel said "Angela brings to [the] county administrative skills, but more importantly a passion to develop and pass policies that will improve the quality of life for all citizens in Hennepin [County].”

Conley’s fellow students also recognized her passion, and some, including Nicole Juan, volunteered for her campaign. According to Conley, people in her cohort told her that they knew she would run, but didn’t think it would be only two years after completing her degree.

The campaign was tough for Conley, a mother of four. Conley described it as a “13-month job interview with a thousand people.” Unseating Peter McLaughlin, a 27-year incumbent with more than twice the campaign cash, took people and time.

“When you run on a platform of the people and you’re organized, it’s not about organized money, it’s about organized people,” she said.

“We went to people’s doors and asked what was important for them. I wanted to know what people who are impacted said, what they needed,” Conley said.

Her people-focused approach was successful. She won by a 14% margin.

Now that she’s in office, Conley has plenty of new work to do. Hennepin County commissioners will allocate a $2.4 billion budget for all of the critical services that residents need, from mental health to housing to garbage collection.

Conley continues to be people-centered.

Representing an area that includes Augsburg College and the University of Minnesota, Conley has placed a priority on food insecurity, an issue students raised with her during the campaign.

She recently rode the light rail with Hamline’s Saint Paul Councilmember Mitra Nelson as a way to dig into housing -- and the lack thereof -- which is a shared core issue. Their goal was to begin to understand the experience of the estimated 200 people who sleep on the trains every night.

“Instead of government officials saying what is going on, we need to talk to the people who are impacted,” said Conley. “I want the voice of the people impacted involved in every decision I make.”


Written by staff