Carter makes unconventional pick to represent St. Paul on Metropolitan Airports Commission

The communication from St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter’s office to the St. Paul City Council adds up to little more than 200 words, but it packs a small surprise. Effective Thursday, Carter has appointed a recent college graduate and City Hall staffer, Ikram Koliso, to represent him on the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which oversees Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and six smaller airports in the Twin Cities.

Koliso, who graduated from St. Catherine University a year ago, does not live in Highland Park, like the city’s previous appointment to the MAC board, former City Council Member Pat Harris. Instead, she lives near Robert Street on St. Paul’s West Side, putting her closer to the downtown St. Paul airport, Holman Field, than MSP International. Her recent background includes training in public health, public policy and social work, as well as advocacy for Muslim students and other underrepresented groups on campus.

The choice has raised some eyebrows with several members of the St. Paul City Council, though they have no formal say over the mayoral appointment.

“The MAC is a really important position for not only all of St. Paul, but particularly Highland Park because of our proximity to the airport and airport noise,” said Council Member Chris Tolbert, who represents Highland Park and had stressed the importance of the position to Carter. “It’s a major operation that they run there, and they’re in the middle of a major construction project. It’s particularly important on a neighborhood level because of all the airplane noise issues.”

Tolbert said he had met Koliso only briefly.

The airport, which is building a 5,000-stall parking ramp expansion and hotel, employs many Muslim and East African workers as baggage handlers and aides, and the two groups are also heavily represented among Uber, Lyft and taxi drivers that frequent the airport.

In his letter to the council, Carter notes that Koliso serves as a policy associate on his team. She was previously an Urban Scholar in the office of Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Governor Tina Smith, as well as with the city of Minneapolis and CommonBond Communities. She completed educational field work with Hennepin County and United Hospital.

Koliso is a graduate of St. Paul Central High School and St. Kate’s, where she received the university’s most prestigious leadership award, gave the commencement speech and was one of the valedictorians in her graduating class. At St. Kate’s, she helped launch the Emerging Scholars program — which matches students of color and others from historically underrepresented groups with mentors — and served as the president of the Muslim Student Association, among other leadership positions.

She holds a bachelor’s of science degree in public health with a concentration in public policy and social work.

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