A proposal to slow future Rochester City Council pay raises failed to find footing Tuesday.
Rochester Charter Commission member Bari Amadio recommended delaying future salary increases until after the following election.
“I think it’s a protection for the council and the mayor for the increases due to take effect after a succeeding municipal election,” she said. “No one can be accused of unjust enrichment.”
She pointed to community rancor that followed the council’s decision last year to approve salary adjustments that increased the mayor’s salary from $37,657 to $65,700, the council president’s pay from $27,743 to $47,300, and council members’ salaries from $21,712 to $39,420.
The city’s home-rule charter, which guides many aspects of city government, calls for waiting until after the ordinance reflecting the pay change is published, which can be done shortly after final approval.
Commission members, however, noted the proposed change doesn’t necessarily achieve the anticipated goal, since council elections rotate with three or four members facing re-election in a typical city election.
“If we say after the next election, we are still only going to have part of the city council affected by this particular change,” commission member Kathy Meyerle said.
Fellow commission member Ray Schmitz pointed out that in years when the mayor, who doesn’t directly vote on a salary change, faces re-election, only three voting council members would be on the ballot. The remaining four members would be enough to support a pay increase without being the subject of an election for two years.
Schmitz, a former Olmsted County attorney, also voiced concern about dwelling on the issue.
“We waste an awful lot of in governance looking at the salary of city council members, county commissioners, state representatives, who are responsible for managing, in the case of Rochester, literally hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, noting the focus should be on the issues and elected officials’ qualifications, rather than a specific salary decision.
“I think this reinforces that type of nitpicking in terms of what their compensation is, which probably isn’t adequate anyway,” he added.
Others indicated the proposal, which mirrors state statute that governs cities without a charter, likely needs to be tweaked before being considered.
Commission member Fred Suhler, a former Rochester city attorney, said several differences between state statute and charter rules exist, including the rotation of elections. He said those differences must be considered alongside proposed changes.
Amadio asked for time to consider the comments of her fellow commissioners to determine whether she wants to change her request.
“Some of my thinking has changed,” she said.
The commission targeted plans to revisit the issue during its May meeting.
In other action Tuesday, the commission asked Rochester City Attorney Jason Loos to discuss potential changes to the charter with City Administrator Alison Zelms, as well as the city’s park and library boards.
The Rochester City Council voted in February against recommended changes to how the two boards operate, but some council members left room for future discussion of changes that would better reflect current operations.
Charter Commission Chairman Fran Bradley said he didn’t support taking the issue to a public vote to override the council but voiced a desire to better align the charter with current park and library board practices.