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Is Rochester's council part time? Not officially

Patrick Keane said his perception of a Rochester City Council member’s job was incorrect when he was elected last year.

Rochester Mayor Kim Norton and Council Member Patrick Keane are seen during a city council meeting Monday, May 6, 2019, at the city-county Government Center in Rochester.
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Patrick Keane said his perception of a Rochester City Council member’s job was incorrect when he was elected last year.

"I really did believe this job was defined as part time and the (county commissioners’) jobs were full time," the first-term council member said. "None of that is true. There is no language in there."

The belief has been shared throughout the years by elected officials, council candidates and others.

Former Mayor Ardell Brede frequently referred to the job as a "full-time joy" when asked about the part-time or full-time status of the job, and council candidates have run on platforms to convert what they saw as part-time positions into full-time jobs.

Most recently, the Post Bulletin published a report incorrectly stating the elected city positions are defined as part time, something that can be found in other articles throughout the past decade.


However, Rochester City Attorney Jason Loos said Keane is correct. No definition exists for how many hours a council member or the mayor must work and whether it is a formal part-time or full-time position.

He said he’s not aware of anything that defines specific duties of the job outside the recently adopted council rules, which largely outline actions during meetings and interactions between staff and members of the public.

On Monday, before council members opted to move forward with more than doubling their salaries, Rochester resident Barry Skolnick asked them to consider defining the responsibilities of a council member under what many residents view as a shift to full-time pay.

"I’ve seen some council members who do a full-time job, but I’ve also seen some who definitely don’t," he said, noting he’s been a regular attendee at council meetings for more than a decade.

Part of the misperception may stem from the council’s salary history. For at least five years — 2009 through 2013 — council members earned $19,097 a year.

Spread over a 40-hour week, that would calculate to $9.18 an hour. With limited increases during five of the next six years, a similar hourly calculation puts the pay at $10.44 per hour.

However, council members say the 40-hour comparison fails to reflect some of the work done, which includes oversight of a variety of city functions and budgets.

"We have seven people who are basically the CEOs or the board of directors for the city," Council Member Shaun Palmer said.


Leading into the 6-1 vote, with Keane opposed, to initiate the pay increase, several council members said they put in the hours to reflect the proposed salaries.

"I go to meetings all day long, late in the morning, mid-morning and sometimes early morning until late at night," Council Member Mark Bilderback said.

At the same time, he noted that as a retiree he has more flexibility than some of his peers.

Council Member Michael Wojcik also acknowledged differing time commitments among sitting council members.

"I think it’s a fair point that different people put in different levels of effort," he said. "There’s maybe some ways to address that, but for me it’s typically been more than 50 hours a week and it’s pushed away the time I can spend on my business and time with other interests."

Council Member Nick Campion said the salary increases are one way council members can be sure they aren’t torn between their public service and jobs or businesses that provide the bulk of their incomes.

"You will get better people who are more equipped to engage the office on a daily basis by paying them a reasonable rate," he said.

Palmer, who voiced concern about moving to a higher salary days before the vote, said it was pointed out to him how much time the job requires.


"Not everyone can make that sacrifice," he said, noting he’s talked to past council members who have seen business losses while serving due to the added commitment.

Rochester Mayor Kim Norton, who didn’t have a vote Monday, added that each elected official is responsible for defining the job.

"It’s for each of you to determine how much time the job requires, and I see each of you working very, very hard at your job, giving it what you have given each of your very unique circumstances," she said.

City Administrator Steve Rymer echoed the sentiment.

"From my experience working with and observing our mayor and council members, they individually invest a significant amount of time serving our community above and beyond the formal City Council meetings and weekly study sessions," he said. "This includes their formal involvement on committees and boards, as well as directly working with individuals, community organizations, and our business community on various matters."

Council President Randy Staver, who joined Bilderback in 2015 to block a pay increase, said his approach to public service mirrors his work experience before retiring from Mayo Clinic this year.

"I was paid a salary, but I was expected to work a minimum 50 hours a week and respond when needed, nights, weekends, holidays, whenever," he said of his clinic career. "That was OK. I signed up for that and that became my normal."

He said the same goes for his city position.

"For me personally, I’ve never thought of it as a full-time or part-time job," he said.

Monday’s decision was the first step to increase council members’ annual salaries from $21,712 to $52,560 for 2020.

Under the proposal, future salaries will increase or decrease based on federally defined median earnings of a single-person household in Olmsted County. Council members will earn 80 percent of that figure, which is currently $65,700.

The mayor will earn 120 percent of the area median income, increasing her salary from S37,657 this year to $78,840 next year, and the council president will earn 92 percent of the defined median salary based on added duties related to running meetings and filling in for the mayor. His salary is set to increase from $21,712 to $52,560.

For comparison, Olmsted County commissioners currently earn $43,820 a year. They will set their salaries during the first meeting of 2020, with current plans to adopt an increase similar to those seen by other county employees, according to County Administrator Heidi Welsch.

The Rochester City Council approved a salary increase Monday, which won’t start until a second vote on the measure in January.

Here’s a look at how the elected officials’ salaries have increased since 2013, following several years without increases:

2013: Mayor $33,123, Council President $24,403, Council Member $19,097

2014: Mayor $33,785, Council President $24,891, Council Member $19,479

2015: Mayor $33,785, Council President $24,891, Council Member $19,479

2016: Mayor $34,630, Council President $25,513, Council Member $19,966

2017: Mayor $35,582, Council President $26,215, Council Member $20,515

2018: Mayor $36,650, Council President $27,001, Council Member $21,131

2019: Mayor S37,657, Council President $27,743, Council Member $21,712

2020 (proposed): Mayor $78,840, Council President $66,565, Council Member $52,560.

Rochester City Council members, including Nick Campion, Randy Staver, Mark Bilderback and Shaun Palmer during a meeting Monday, May 6, 2019, at the city-county Government Center in Rochester.

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