Rochester’s library director and parks and recreation director say the boards that work with their departments provide flexibility to respond to community needs.
"I really believe the system works well," said Audrey Betcher, the city’s library director.
Paul Widman, director of parks and recreation, said the same, noting the Park Board’s ability to set policy and work within a Rochester City Council-approved budget lets it make decisions without delays that could be caused by waiting for time in front of the council.
"We are more nimble to do that," he said.
The directors, who are hired and evaluated — at least in part — by their boards, spoke Tuesday in favor of maintaining the boards as defined in the city’s charter, which provides guidelines for various elements of city government.
The city’s Charter Commission has been discussing potential changes to how the boards operate, and the discussion is set to continue in January, during the commission’s next meeting.
"This has been a process of learning, I think," Commission Chairman Fran Bradley said of the conversation that started with a letter from Rochester City Council President Randy Staver.
Staver, a former Charter Commission member, asked the group to review aspects of the charter that give the park and library boards special powers, even though members are appointed, rather than elected.
On Tuesday, Staver told the commission of two specific issues that sparked his interest in requesting a review. Both centered on the Park Board.
The first was a 2018 proposal to purchase the former Biermann House from Olmsted County, using funds provided by Mark Hindermann of Pine Island. While the proposal wasn’t accepted by the county, Staver said it could have led to a purchase that required future funding.
The second issue involved the Park Board’s control of the former fire station in Silver Lake Park.
Since the station was built on park land, the Park Board took ownership of the building after it no longer housed fire crews, As a result, the City Council was required to seek Park Board permission when it was being considered as a potential home to a warming center.
"It created a little additional complexity," he said.
The nature of the Library Board also means the city would need permission from the nine-member board to relocate the library.
Sen. Dave Senjem, a Charter Commission member and former council member, suggested such authorities would be worthy of further discussion to determine which are benefits today and which might be outdated.
"We may have had one employee in the parks department in 1915, so we needed a board," he said, noting needs may have changed.
Bradley said the Charter Commission will have options ranging from taking no action to removing the boards from the charter. A variety of changes also could be possible between the two extremes.
While the commission members agreed to continue the discussion, at least one questioned the need.
"I think we have a solution at this point that is in search of a problem," Fred Suhler said.
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