Mayoral candidates seek to address change amid growth
Destination Medical Center-fueled growth was at the forefront Tuesday for Rochester mayoral candidates.
Kim Norton and Charlie O’Connell answered a variety of questions during a forum Tuesday at Little Thistle Brewing, but topics involving growth and DMC filled much of the hourlong discussion.
“As Rochester does continue to grow, there’s going to be some challenges with it, because Rochester has always been a community that has that small-town, Midwest feel,” O’Connell said, noting the mayor should seek to maintain the “fabric” of Rochester.
Norton, a former state lawmaker, was part of the effort to create the 2013 legislation that put DMC efforts into action. She said she sees running for mayor as a continuation of that work.
“The DMC bill is one of the reasons that I’m running for office,” she said. “I feel a great responsibility that it is done well and it is done right for the people who live here.”
She added that she worked on the legislation to ensure the city, along with the state’s DMC Corp. board, had decision-making authority when it comes to how public funds are spent.
Under the DMC legislation, Rochester’s mayor has a voice on the board. One of eight seats is filled by “the mayor of the city, or the mayor’s designee, subject to approval by the city council,” the statute states.
Norton said her efforts in St. Paul would provide insight into the role.
“I’m in the unique position of knowing what the expectations were for DMC,” she said.
As a security intelligence specialist for Mayo Clinic, O’Connell said he’s asked for an official opinion on whether he’d be able to fill the DMCC seat currently occupied by Mayor Ardell Brede.
While Rochester City Council President Randy Staver, a Mayo Clinic employee, has designated another council member to fill his seat, O’Connell said after the forum that he’d serve on the board, if allowed.
If not, he said appointing someone else allows the opportunity to get the best possible representative on the state board.
O’Connell, who plans to keep his full-time job while serving as mayor, said he doesn’t see a conflict, noting he sees the mayor’s role as focusing on the needs of all residents and businesses in the city, not just the city’s largest employer.
Norton said she also sees a need to balance the interests of city government, it’s largest employer and the rest of the community, but she differed on whether the mayor’s position could be filled with split focus.
While it’s defined as a part-time job, Norton said Brede averaged approximately 1,350 meetings and events a year while serving as mayor. She said she put “everything aside” to run for the office.
“I think with the DMCC board and with the growth that is going on in this community, there will be plenty of extra policy work that I can dig my teeth into,” she said, noting she plans to tackle more policy issues than previous mayors.
Such efforts, she said, could include finding ways to address housing needs and the potential creation of an Office of Neighborhood Involvement to improve communication with residents.
O’Connell also cited a desire to delve into policy, and said his family will help him balance his roles as mayor and employee, just as they supported him during his three military deployments.
When it comes to policy, he said he specifically wants to look at DMC plans and other existing city plans to ensure they don’t create conflicts for community expectations.
Doing that, he said, will ensure change brings benefit without conflicting with the city’s roots.
“We have to continue to be very agile, we have to be flexible, and most importantly we need to listen to the concerns of who it’s impacting and those are the citizens of Rochester,” he said.
The forum was hosted by Med City Beat and former Post Bulletin Executive Editor Jay Furst.