Metropolitan Council Member, District 13
Chai Lee was appointed to the Metropolitan Council by Gov. Tim Walz in March 2019. Lee lives in Saint Paul and represents District 13, which includes the eastern half of Saint Paul, Lilydale, Mendota Heights, Sunfish Lake and West St. Paul.
Meet your Council Member
What issue or interest compelled you to apply for a seat on the Council?
First and foremost was the opportunity to work on issues related to racial equity and greater equity work with the Council. I am also passionate about being a voice for transit issues as we build out more into the East Metro, which is my area and I am very excited about that. The ability to affect important policy issues which touch all of us, including affordable housing and a greener future with greener policies/resources, is also a big part of my passion.
What are you most looking forward to during your service at the Council?
Building relationships of trust and working together across the region for good — working with my colleagues, staff, board liaisons and board/committee members to help build a strong Council that continues to do good work in the community as we strengthen our region.
Most of all, I am a people person and I am passionate about making connections and connecting people, be it to help diversify boards with my community connections or to strengthen my networks and working relationships with staff to keep the Council running smooth and doing its great work with integrity. I want to learn, grow and help advance the Council's work in general.
Within the Council’s work areas, what do you think is most on the minds of people in your district?
All of these are important, as the East Metro has a few great, important bodies of water as well as magnificent parks. But immediately, the pressing issues are water quality, housing issues as we plan for the retiring boomers and a newer, younger workforce, as well as transportation issues that will decide our fate as a competitive region in the next decade and for the next generation.
Considering your primary committee assignments, what will be your priority focus area in 2019?
I want to do as much as I can on issues relating to transportation and community development. We need strong, revitalized communities, and we need to resource a meaningful Equity Advisory Committee. Our region is booming and we need to be ahead of the curve on great ideas and innovation in transportation today.
Can you share your vision of the priority changes you’d like to see in the Twin Cities region by 2040?
I want this region to retain its talent and stop the "brain drain" of people who move here briefly for college or jobs and then move elsewhere. I want our region to be bustling and competing with the greatest metros in the world. We can only do this with a great standard of living, with well-maintained transit and infrastructure, enough housing for all income levels, and most of all, quality social programming and systems such as beautiful parks and safe, healthy water resources.
We must have the most welcoming environment and atmosphere to all peoples, where equity is laced throughout all our systems, policies and actions. We can't let infrastructure fall into disrepair and water quality diminish. We must be on the cutting edge of green energy to decrease our carbon footprint, from our energy plants to our fleets.
Companies will not relocate to or be headquartered and start here if we don't have these things. Young families will not stay here. Great folks who have worked a good life will not want to retire here. So we need them to love our great region, and we can only do that with careful policy planning and decision making in all areas of the systems we touch.
More personally, what do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love watching movies, and (go ahead and laugh) reading nonfiction (especially history). I know. I'm a nerd.
Chai Lee is a Program Coordinator for Nexus Community Partners. There he helps recruit, interview and select people for the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI). The BCLI is a seven-month cohort leadership program, which trains people of color who wish to get appointed to publicly appointed boards and commissions. Previously, he was a constituent service representative in the office of Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
Among his community activities, Lee serves on the District 1 Community Council in Saint Paul and the Gold Line BRT Community and Business Advisory Committee. He is also a youth soccer coach for the Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Department. He has also served on Saint Paul’s Long-Range Capital Investment Budget Committee (the CIB), which reviews, ranks and recommends capital improvements to the City of Saint Paul.
Lee is interested in the intersections of the Council’s many responsibilities; for example, how the region balances environmental concerns with the need to house people and provide a robust transportation system. He also has a strong interest in the Council’s role in addressing the region’s affordable housing crisis.
“I have worked hard to keep community voices at the table wherever I have served and have always worked on the side of racially equitable policies,” Lee said. “As a Council member, I want to elevate my interests in future policy planning through an equity lens, whether we are making decisions about housing, transportation, water resources or any other issue.”
Lee was born in Thailand and moved with his Hmong family to the United States when he was a year old. They lived in Fresno, California, until 1998, and then moved to Saint Paul. Lee graduated from Humboldt High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in International Relations and Political Science from Carleton College. He enjoys photography, reading, going to movies, and watching mixed martial arts. He’s also a history buff, both military and general history.
390 Robert St. N.
St. Paul, MN 55101