AP NEWS

Are charter boards still needed?

May 17, 2019

Rochester’s Charter Commission decided Tuesday it needs more information before discussing a request by Rochester City Council President Randy Staver.

In a Jan. 24 letter to Commission Chairman Fran Bradley, Staver requested the commission consider reviewing three existing charter boards — the Park Board, the Public Utilities Board and the Library Board.

“Please note that I am not making this request on behalf of the City Council,” Staver wrote in the letter. “I am only raising a question in my role as a council member, and the commission may choose to handle these items as they see fit.”

Each of the three charter boards has a level of responsibilities not seen among the city’s 18 other volunteer boards and commissions. While the City Council approves budget amounts for the departments the boards oversee, each board has decision-making powers regarding how the funds are spent.

Charter Commission member Fred Suhler said each board was put in place for a reason.

“There are historical reasons why these three boards are somewhat separate and somewhat independent,” said Suhler, who is in his sixth term on the Charter Commission.

He noted the Park Board helps ease the City Council’s workload and the Public Utilities Board typically requires members with specific knowledge related to Rochester Public Utility needs.

Staver, who is a former Charter Commission member, said the goal of his letter was to spark discussion of whether the historic purpose for the boards remains in play.

“In raising these questions, I want to stress that I am not implying in any way that the current oversight as provided by the charter boards is an issue,” he wrote. “I have a great deal of respect for the individuals sitting on the boards and the work they undertake.”

Ultimately, the Charter Commission does not have the power to change the status of the charter boards. It, however, could vote to recommend a change to the city’s charter, which governs aspects of city operations, including the existence of the charter boards. Such a change would require unanimous City Council approval or an affirming public referendum.

It’s a change at least one Rochester resident wants to see made. Paula Hardin raised questions during Tuesday’s meeting about the power of one of the three charter boards.

“Please vote to revoke the special status of the Library Board from having sole authority, ipso facto by the library director, to the detriment to the fate of the jewel of the city, which is the Rochester Public Library,” said Hardin, who voiced concerns regarding the temporary removal of handicap parking spaces in front of the library when street and sewer construction started earlier this month near the city facility.

Charter Commission members questioned whether the street-side concerns were related to a library decision or under the direction of Public Works, which answers more directly to the City Council.

They noted it was among the reasons for postponing a discussion regarding Staver’s letter.

“We need a good deal more information,” Charter Commission member Ray Schmitz said.

Suhler and Rochester Deputy City Attorney Dave Goslee said they’ll gather background on the three charter boards for discussion during the next commission meeting.

The next Charter Commission meeting is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. July 9 in room 320 of City Hall.