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Candidate’s forum won’t include chiefs

August 10, 2018

A planned town-hall meeting to address public safety in Rochester will continue tonight without the city’s police and fire chiefs.

Charlie O’Connell, one of seven candidates running for mayor, organized the event for 7:30 tonight at the VFW’s Gold Star Venue, 2775 43rd St. NW.

City Administrator Steve Rymer said city administration and the chiefs came to a mutual decision to back out of the event.

He said the move is in keeping with how similar requests from candidates were handled.

“We have had a couple requests for city teammates to participate in forums/events hosted by this year’s candidates,” he wrote in an email this morning. “We have politely declined these invitations as it is not appropriate to participate in campaign-related events in our official capacity as city employees.”

Fire Chief Eric Kerska said he was never scheduled to attend the meeting, noting he had communicated with O’Connell about he event but had not committed. He said he wanted to check with city administration first and eventually had a conflict that would not have allowed him to attend, even if he had been given permission.

Rochester City Council Member Michael Wojcik cited his objections to the chiefs’ potential participation in a Facebook post Wednesday evening, calling it “grossly inappropriate for executive level city staff to participate in a forum orchestrated by a candidate for office who holds no position within the city.”

“This is naked, inappropriate politics and a poor decision by our Police and Fire Chiefs,” he added.

O’Connell said he objects to Wojcik’s effort to publicly shame him and the chiefs. He added that the event was never considered to be a campaign event and would not include signs or campaign material.

“It was about people being able to ask questions of someone running for mayor and two top officials,” he said, noting he has heard growing public-safety concerns from community members and wanted to provide a forum for the chiefs to hear directly from the public.

He said no one has been able to point to a city ordinance or campaign rule that would be violated by the chiefs appearing at a town hall meeting he has organized.

“When we become candidates, why does that automatically preclude us from being citizens?” he asked, comparing his event to one that featured a discussion of immigration issues with Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson and then-Interim Police Chief John Sherwin.

That event was hosted by Communities United for Rochester Empowerment (CURE), which officially endorsed mayoral candidate Regina Mustafa earlier this week.

Tonight’s town hall follows a similar forum hosted last week by mayoral candidate Kim Norton. That event focused on affordable housing issues, but did not include any current city employees as speakers.

O’Connell said he considers tonight’s event a chance for public engagement by all participants, which includes his fellow candidates. He said he will document public-safety concerns expressed and send them to the chiefs.

O’Connell, Mustafa and Norton are joined by Brent Coggins, Jordan Glynn, Spenser Goetzman, and George Rownd on the primary ballot for Rochester mayor.

The primary election is Tuesday and will reduce the number of candidates to two.

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