Gov. Dayton's Rochester visit draws big crowd
More than 250 people gathered Thursday at the Heintz Center on the Rochester Community and Technical College campus to hear Gov. Mark Dayton speak on the final stop of his "Meetings with Mark" events that have been held across the state in recent weeks.
Though Dayton provided an information sheet for audience members that outlined his budget proposal, the town hall meeting began with very little preamble. Citizens peppered Minnesota's top elected official with questions about Mayo Clinic's Destination Medical Center proposal, frac sand, education funding and — in a first on his whirlwind tour, according to a member of Dayton's staff — even delved into the University of Minnesota's penchant for expensive buyouts in recent years.
Barry Skolnick, of Rochester, urged Dayton to put a stop to "golden parachutes" for failed coaches. Tubby Smith, who was fired last month as Minnesota's men's basketball coach, received a $2.5 million buyout, while Minnesota is already scheduled to make payments to former coaches Glen Mason, Dan Monson and Tim Brewster through 2017. The Gophers football team also paid $800,000 to North Carolina in 2012 to cancel two football games planned for upcoming seasons.
Dayton said the university operates separately from the state government, per Minnesota's constitution, but that didn't stop him from leveling harsh criticism at the costly practice.
"It's appalling," Dayton said. "When they plunked down $800,000 to chicken out of two football games, they heard about it from me."
"There's a competitive marketplace for sports that's totally skewed from reality. It's absurd. … I don't like it, but when we have a team that's 1-12 in football or 5-25 in basketball, we aren't happy either."
While such candid responses have unfolded at similar venues in St. Cloud, Moorhead and Duluth since late March, a Dayton staffer said additional stops may be added given the strong positive feedback they've received. The legislative session has about six weeks remaining, which could make timing tight.
Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, who sat on the five-member panel, expressed his gratitude for Dayton's 90-minute visit.
"As the third-largest city (in Minnesota), I think we deserve this sort of attention," Brede said.
Two issues that have created numerous headlines across the state again took center stage Thursday night.
After receiving a video about frac sand from a Houston County woman, Dayton promised to make a personal visit to the area after the current legislative session is complete. The governor expressed continued concerns about road impacts and water consumption related to the hot-button industry, which is the subject of several different bills being considered at the state level.
Many of the 23 speakers also raised questions about Mayo Clinic's Destination Medical Center proposal, including a comment from Rochester Chamber of Commerce President John Wade in which he thanked Dayton for his support of the project.
Dayton reaffirmed his backing of the project. Mayo Clinic is seeking more than $500 million in public funding of infrastructure in exchange for investing $3.5 billion in Rochester medical facilities and leveraging another $2.2 billion in private money over the next 20 years. Mayo has projected the DMC project will create 25,000 to 35,000 new jobs.
"This is an opportunity we can't afford to refuse as a state, but certainly not for Rochester and Olmsted County," Dayton said.
Dayton, 66, said he's unsure if he'll still be alive in two decades to see the final product of the DMC project, but he's intent on getting the legislative bills passed so that can be his lasting legacy.
"This is the way we want to go," Dayton said. "Mayo has the preeminence and the ability to manage it's finances (in a way) to pull this off. I don't know if I'll still be around in 20 years, but your stewardship is what you leave behind and this is something I'll be really proud of."