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Irene Kao just completed her first legislative session as intergovernmental relations counsel for the League of Minnesota Cities. (Photo: Todd Nelson)
Irene Kao just completed her first legislative session as intergovernmental relations counsel for the League of Minnesota Cities. (Photo: Todd Nelson)

Counsel serves cities big and small

Name: Irene Kao (pronounced Gow)

Title: Intergovernmental relations counsel, League of Minnesota Cities

Education: Bachelor of Arts in English and psychology, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; master’s in college student personnel, University of Maryland; law degree from Hamline University School of Law (now Mitchell Hamline School of Law)


Q: What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A: I am an approachable person, or at least I hope that people think I am. A simple “Hi” is enough.

What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

I do a lot of binge watching of television. Something a little bit more mindless that can take me away in the last hours as I’m trying to settle in. I’m a fan of “House of Cards,” but outside of the session I don’t know if I need that.

What is a pet peeve of yours?

When people aren’t honest. One thing that I pride myself on is being able to read people fairly well. It has really been tested this last session. In working with legislators or other lobbyists, the thing that I valued most is when they are upfront with me. If we’re going to disagree, that’s fine. I’d just rather know upfront so we can have a good relationship as we continue to work through any issue or bill.

If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you always take them to see or do?

I was born and raised in Fergus Falls. My parents have since retired and moved to the Cities. If they were still there, the place I would take people is the Chinese restaurant that my parents owned for 23 years, Thomas Kao’s Chinese Restaurant. [When I was] 10, my mom wanted me to start taking money at the till. While I was not getting paid at 10, one night the till was short by a quarter and she made me pay it. Apparently I was cute enough at 10 that I got some tips, so I was able to pay the quarter that I was short. I was a server there all through high school.

Where do you like to eat lunch?

I really love finding hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Given the location of the league, I have access to so many great places on University [Avenue]. Some of my favorite places are some Vietnamese and Thai restaurants. I’m often at iPho by Saigon or Bangkok Thai Deli.

What is a highlight or lowlight of your daily commute to work?

Given the league’s proximity to the Capitol and the fact that we have a pretty decent-sized parking lot, when we have city folks or other lobbyists in, it’s a good place to talk as you walk over to the Capitol. I really value those few minutes to get to know folks or get a read of what’s going on.

What’s something very few people know about you?

Most people don’t realize that I used to be a college administrator. My favorite part was working with students, but sometimes you have to work with students in crisis. A lot of the skills I gained in terms of listening and trying to understand where they’re coming from are the same skills that I use at the Capitol. Hopefully, things are not nearly at that crisis point.

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