A bid to change the duties of Rochester's mayor and city administrator listed in the city chartermet with mixed results.
In a series of votes, commission members redefined the role of city administrator, but left their hands off the mayor's duties.
In a discussion that largely centered on the mayor's role, commission members acknowledged recent mayors have failed to take full advantage of the duties outlined in the charter, which grants the elected official control over department heads.
A series of Rochester mayors have opted to leave many department oversight duties to the city administrator. A memofrom City Administrator Stevan Kvenvold, Mayor Ardell Brede and Assistant City Administrator Gary Neumann noted the current charter doesn't reflect practices dating back to 1965.
The proposed changes to the city administrator and mayor's duties stemmed from a request by the charter commission following a Jan. 10 commission meeting.
On Wednesday, Commission member Kellie Mueller suggested future mayors will need to take a stronger position.
"As Rochester grows, there needs to be more accountability for our mayor, and people are going to start voting on a platform. It is going to be the mayor's duty to be accountable to that platform and what they were elected on," she said, noting the mayor needs authority to guide the city and its staff.
Yet, commission member Kathy Meyerle said Rochester residents had a chance in 1995 to select a mayor who would have used the powers outlined in the charter, but voters made different choices.
"The candidate who was arguing that she ought to be elected because the current mayor and his predecessor had not followed the charter lost," she said, recalling the election in which Carole Kamper and Chuck Canfield sought to replace Mayor Chuck Hazama. Canfield won.
Meyerle said a similar case could be made for the last mayoral election, when Cindy Maves challenged Brede in 2014.
Calls for a mayor willing to operate under charter guidelines were heard from three Rochester residents during the commission's public comment period
"I hope that in the next election, should Mayor Brede choose not to be re-elected, we can find a mayor who can fulfill the true duties within the charter," Jessica Schmitt said. "I think we lose a lot in the city by weakening the mayor's role even more than it is as it stands within the charter."
Commission member Dave Senjem, a state senator and former Rochester City Council member, said he started the meeting with plans to support most of the changes with minor language tweaks but was swayed by discussions of future city needs.
"People don't look to the city council in a growing urban city," he said. "They look to the mayor as being the person they can either applaud or blame. In that sense, they need accountability."
He said that without the duties outlined in the charter, Rochester would have a mayor with perceived authority, but no responsibility.
Other commission members appeared to agree to some extent. The result was approving proposed changes to outline the city administrator's role as chief administrator with supervisory authority over department heads, as well as responsibilities for recommending an annual budget, preparing council meeting agendas and authorizing personnel decisions.
The changes largely align with duties outlined in city ordinance. Most of the related ordinance will be repealed if the council approves the related charter revisions.
The commission did not suggest altering the charter's description of mayoral duties, which grants supervision of city departments.
The next step for the suggested changes will be asking the city council to set a public hearing. If approved during Wednesday's council meeting, the earliest possible hearing date is during the March 20 council meeting.
After the hearing, the council will vote on the proposed charter changes, which require unanimous approval.
Last week, council member Michael Wojcik posted oppositionto the proposed charter changes, noting they would take oversight of city departments away from elected officials.
While he didn't have the opportunity to see the full proposal Wednesday night, Wojcik said he will oppose any changes if the city administrator position comes in conflict with city council authority or elevates the position relative to elected officials.
If the changes fail to receive approval of the entire council, the charter commission can request a public ballot during the city council election in 2018.