Rochester’s mayor wants the city’s Charter Commission to realize her job is more than part time.
“I wanted you to know this is a big job,” she told the commission members during their recent meeting. “We are a growing community. We are an important community.”
The commission is responsible for considering and recommending potential changes to the city’s home-rule charter, which provides the guidelines for city government operations.
While the document does not define the mayor’s role as a part-time or full-time position, Norton said she often receives negative comments from people who think it’s a part-time job.
She told the commission she averaged 60 hours a week in her first year, “sometimes more, very seldom less.”
She added that responsibilities have ramped up this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in setting up the city’s emergency operations center. The city charter states it’s the mayor’s role to oversee the operations.
She said the emergency operations oversight has actually helped improve her connection to other city departments. Whereas she was meeting with City Administrator Steve Rymer every other week before the pandemic, she suddenly started meeting with city staff at least once a day, seven days a week.
“I was kind of forced into working with our administration on a daily basis since mid-March,” Norton said.
While the meetings have reduced, she said her office continues to work with city administration as part of a unified team.
“I’m not sure where we would be today if the pandemic hadn’t happened,” she said.
As the end of her second year in office nears, Norton said she wanted to share her experiences with the commission because some members appeared to publicly question whether she earns her salary, which increased from $37,657 to $65,700 earlier this year.
“What I hoped to share with you is things have changed,” she said in defense of considering her position as more than a part-time job. “We are a growing community.”
Commission member Bari Amadio spoke up to defend a column printed in the Post Bulletin regarding the elected officials' salary increases. She stated it wasn’t meant to do anything aside from comparing Rochester salaries to other cities.
She ended the commentary with the question: “So, are these substantial raises justified for what has always been considered a part-time civic duty?”
Commission Chairman Fran Bradley, who also acknowledged questioning the salary increases as a city resident, sought to steer the discussion to the mayor’s duties, rather than pay.
“I don’t think this is a time we want to get into a debate about the salaries,” he said.
Norton said she only brought up the issue for clarification and to point out that the commission members’ opinions carry added weight in the community.
“It was really hurtful, because I consider many of you my friends,” she said.
Amadio also said she was attempting to clarify her intent to raise awareness of what happens in other communities.
In the end, commission members turned to the mayor’s role and formal relationship with the city administrator, who is hired and overseen by the council. In turn, the administrator oversees most city staff members.
Commission member Kathy Meyerle said the city’s charter adds some confusion to the issue by also providing the mayor, who is not a voting member of the council, some authority over city staff.
Similar issues were addressed in 2017 after former City Administrator Stevan Kvenvold announced his plans to retire, but discussions seeking to clarify the roles of the mayor and city administrator ended with limited charter changes being proposed.
Commission member Leigh Johnson said changes in the mayor’s role have been occurring since Chuck Hazama was elected to the position in 1979 and opted to take a more active role in the city and increase the investment of time in the job.
Several commissioners suggested the issue could be revisited, especially in light of changes in city operations and efforts to hire a new city administrator.
Commission member Jane Belau suggested Norton prepare recommended charter changes for the commission to consider.
“You are very different than our previous mayor,” she said.