Rochester City Council asks whether members should sit on boards receiving city funds

“Historically, we’ve not done a good job articulating the responsibility to the council of a council member sitting on a board because of the council position,” said council member Nick Campion.

The question came up earlier this year as the council discussed various assignments.

Council member Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick voiced interest in sitting on the Rochester Community Theatre Board, which has received annual city contributions of $200,000 in the past and is slated to receive $300 in support this year due to planned changes in operations within the city-owned Mayo Civic Center.

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Kirkpatrick, who served as the theater’s costume designer when she raised concerns about worker safety, said she feels she could provide oversight for the organization as practices transition.

“I have no qualms about holding people to the bar they are supposed to be held to,” she said, citing other experience in community theater operations.

Campion pointed to past concerns involving council members who sat on boards and gave the appearance of conflict, even if there wasn’t one.

The perceived conflicts led the council to make such assignments voluntary, and most members have opted not to take board seats in recent years.

“I think there is a potential there for awkward co-management,” he said of having one council member sit on a board while the entire council is tasked with overseeing contributed city funds.

City Administrator Alison Zelms suggested the council could consider an all-or-nothing approach, which would either ban council members from the seats or require assigning a council member to each board receiving funds through the city’s community reinvestment efforts.

She said adding council members to the boards would make the city a partial partner, rather than a financial contributor to organizations providing community benefits aligned with identified city goals.

This year, the city is directly supporting a dozen organizations with a combined $650,000.

The council’s Outside Agency Oversight Committee — Campion, along with council members Shaun Palmer and Mark Bransford — has recommended the council adopt a policy against such appointments.

“I think the most conservative approach is probably the best one,” Bransford said, adding that he reserved the right to change his mind as the full council discusses the issue Monday.

As the discussion occurs, city staff is also working on plans to seek applications for 2022 funding. The council had previously voiced the desire to accept applications from any community groups meeting requirements for available funds.

Requirements include being a non-government organization that delivers community services that meet city goals. Organizations are required to submit financial documents to the city for public review, and a minimum of 75% of the organization’s total budget must be allocated for direct service delivery expenses.

Organizations currently receiving funding include Rochester Art Center, 125 Live, Diversity Council, RNeighbors and the History Center of Olmsted County, among others.

Applications for funds are expected to be available in May.

As that process gears up, the City Council is also slated to take an early look at 2022 budget priorities and impacts during Monday’s council meeting.

The discussion is expected to include an option for adopting a two-year approach to the city’s spending plan, as well as a look at potential lingering pandemic impacts.

The meeting is slated for 3:30 p.m. Monday, and will livestream at www.rochestermn.gov/agendas and be available on Spectrum cable channel 180 or 188 and Metronet channel 80.

Upcoming meetings

Meetings scheduled to be held during the week of March 15 include:

Rochester

  • City Council, 3:30 p.m. Monday. The meeting will livestream at www.rochestermn.gov/agendas and available on Spectrum cable channel 180 or 188 and Metronet channel 80.
  • Fire Civil Service Commission, 3:15 p.m. Tuesday. Information on connecting to the meeting is available at www.rochestermn.gov/agendas.
  • Park Board study session, 4:45 p.m. Tuesday. Dial-in information for listening to the meeting live can be requested by emailing parknrec@rochestermn.gov. Video will be posted online following the meeting.
  • Library Board, 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. Video of the meeting will be posted online at www.rochestermn.gov/agendas the following day.

Olmsted County

Rochester Public Schools

  • School Board, 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the boardroom of the Edison Building, 615 Seventh St. SW. Meeting will livestream at YouTube.com/ISD535.