Rochester’s three City Council president candidates agree recent council salary increases should have been handled differently, but they differ on what should have happened.

“That was a mess, and it has turned so many people off to the process,” candidate Brooke Carlson said during a recent League of Women voters candidate forum when asked whether a different process should have been used.

In January, the Rochester City Council voted 5-2 to increase the mayor’s salary from $37,657 to $65,700. The council president also saw a pay increase from $27,743 to $47,300, and council members’ salaries rose from $21,712 to $39,420.

The salaries are based on percentages of the area median income for a single worker, with the mayor’s salary matching the state-defined income, the council president earning 72% of the salary, and other council members earning 60%.

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While the city’s charter assigns the council the responsibility for adjusting the salaries of elected city officials, Carlson said a different method should have been used, but didn’t define the change she would suggest.

Candidate Kathleen Harrington said an outside entity should have been tapped to review and validate any raises.

“When you are raising salaries that much, I think it would have been advisable to bring in a third party to do the analysis,” she said. “Many do that, obviously, in the private sector.”

Candidate Vangie Castro said the need for change started long before January.

“If they had given themselves pay raises since the ‘80s, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation right now,” she said, pointing to a need for salaries that match the expectations of the job.

She said the lack of raises in the past has defined who could run for elected office.

“If you limit the amount of what City Council makes, then you limit who gets to be on City Council, and I think that was all planned to insure only certain folks — who are independently wealthy — can be on the City Council,” said Castro, who has worked as a community organizer for several local agencies.

She said restricting access leads to catering to special interests, rather than opening opportunity to residents who may need to put keeping their jobs ahead of public service.

Carlson, a small-business owner, agreed that the salary increases have opened opportunities for more people to seek a City Council seat.

“We have created space for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to run for council because they would have to leave a paying job to do so, and that’s not possible for everybody,” she said, adding that it creates equity in the process.

Harrington, president of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, did not specifically state whether she thinks the current salaries are appropriate, but she did say she hopes the council reconsiders a proposed second salary increase, which could increase salaries by approximately $13,000 in 2021.

In June, Harrington told the Post Bulletin she would seek to rescind the pay raises and begin a new, transparent process to determine appropriate pay.

The three Rochester City Council president candidates are on the Aug. 11 primary ballot, which will narrow the candidates to two for the Nov. 3 general election.

The candidate forum was streamed live online, and remains available for viewing at http://rochestercitymn.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx.

Four more forums are planned for local candidates that will appear on the Aug. 11 primary ballot. Those events are:

  • Olmsted County District 5 at 7 p.m. Monday
  • Rochester City Council Ward 2 at 7 p.m. Tuesday
  • Rochester City Council Ward 4 at 7 p.m. Wednesday
  • Rochester City Council Ward 6 at 7 p.m. Thursday

The forums will be available live at https://rochestercitymn.iqm2.com/Citizens/Media.aspx.