• 29Apr

    For three years I have expressed concern over the inequity of our board appointment process. For the last year my objections have grown louder and louder. An analysis of our boards and commissions revealed that representation does not fairly take in the voices of young people, minorities, women, and low income individuals. Our policies often reflect the dominance of older affluent white males in local government. We also take no care to prevent active members of organizations that lobby the city from dominating certain boards.

    Prior to a closer examination of the process a couple council members made some comments that I found to be incredibly condescending, especially to women. These comments included, “we appoint the best candidates.” And, “our appointments reflect those that applied.” The last comment is double insulting as it exonerates leadership of failing to create a process that brings all voices to the table and upon further review is totally false. The problem appears even worse when you realize that a few boards (Civic Music, Library, Police Oversight) mask the even more disproportionate representation in the city.

    This boiled over when the Mayor and City Council passed over several highly qualified and underrepresented women and appointed an unqualified paid lobbyist to the Heart of the City Committee. This failure because more critical when it was revealed that several of the teams competing for the Heart of the City design contract are actually paying the lobbyist on that committee.

    As the people of Rochester have been increasingly willing to do they got together and discuss the issues and suggested solutions. I have asked some of these leaders to prepare a resolution that I intend to introduce on May 2. Many of these same people are planning a rally at city hall on May 2, at 6:30 PM. I plan to be there to thank them for their activism.

    Community Dialog on Board Appointments

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  • 27Apr

    This is one of those topics that is sure to be controversial so I wanted to make sure that I provided an overview of the current situation. Really we have 3 options; 1) Ignore the problem 2) Raise property taxes to cover needs 3) Use fees to cover needs Sidewalks are a pretty basic and needed city service.

    While we have been doing #1 for as long as I have been on the council, I don’t accept that this is responsible. Between #2 & #3 I think that #3 is more equitable and more effective in the long run. I lean towards doing this because I have many kids, seniors, and disabled constituents in the city that deserve safer walking routes.

    As a side note if you really want to prank someone, get some pink chalk and mark up their sidewalks right after they have a bunch of panels replaced. I had one person that directed some profanity at me personally after getting assessed. I used some chalk a few months later… After he calmed down, he acknowledged I got him pretty good. We called it even at that point.

    Pros:

    • Improved Public Safety.
    • Small stable fee, property owners never get large unexpected bill.
    • Reduces disproportionate property taxes downtown and other high value commercial properties are paying.
    • Funds sidewalk replacements.
    • Funds ADA Transition Plan prevent lawsuit potential.
    • Funds tree preservation for large mature trees.
    • Funds maintenance of existing and future trails along major roads.
    • Partially funds expansion of sidewalk systems to underserved areas especially be schools & transit.
    • Significantly less staff time required to administer.
    • Able to allocate in a much fairer manner than property taxes.
    • Shared among all properties including the many properties that don’t pay taxes.

    Cons:

    • New monthly fee (likely property tax statement possibly $6 per month range).
    • People who recently paid to replace sidewalks panels are hit twice.
    • For 1/3 taxpayers itemizing; slight reduction in deductions relative to property taxes (we are not 100% certain on this, businesses could likely still deduct).

    Currently we have substantial sidewalk needs that are going unfunded. Like much of Rochester, unsustainable sprawl has left us with more infrastructure than we have resources to maintain. If you think this is painful just wait until you see how streets are going to blow up city finances. (Hint we are more than $1 BILLION in the hole and digging it deeper every month). Currently we need about $3.6 million annually to meet sidewalk needs, we are only putting $350k per year into these items. $250k from property taxes & $100k from assessments. Here is where the money would go.

    • Sidewalk Defect Repair Program $1.4M
    • ADA Transition Plan $1.3M
    • Tree Preservation Related to Sidewalks $150k
    • Bituminous Sidewalk/Right of Way Trail Preservation $528k
    • Priority Gap Fill in Sidewalk System $225k

    Even if we go this route there is still a ton of details to work out like who which type of properties pay how much. Maybe we give a small rebate to people that have paid for panels in the last couple years. We could also start by covering 50% of needs and step it up over time.

    Here is the city presentation.

    Sidewalk Improvement Districts

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  • 24Apr

    My personal sense is that this article written in the PB reads like a hit piece:

    Council Travel Expenses

    The information in the article is seemingly correct, but the Post-Bulletin had access to significant pieces of information that they chose to omit. Here are a few:

    1. The 2015 Total City General Fund finished $2.8 million under budget.
    2. The 2015 Total Mayor Council Budget finished $19,300 under budget.
    3. I estimate that the current council returns more than $100k in entitled but unused benefits to the city annually. In 2015, I personally was entitled to $19,435.44 in benefits that I gave back to the city. In short I alway give back more in benefits than my total expenses.
    4. I publish my travel expense for the world to see: 2015 Travel Expenses
    5. Because of my training I once caught a financial transaction which saved the city more than $40k in sales taxes by delaying a purchase 1 month. That one simple find has paid for every travel expense I have had in 8 years…

    All of these were known to the PB or public information but omitted from the article. If you want someone that doesn’t strive for competence, I’m the wrong candidate for you.

     

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  • 16Apr

    The improvements the city made to the (Denise Robertson ;-)) Uptown area continue to pay dividends. We took an blighted stretch of roadway that was unsafe for all users and turned it into an urban section that is safe for pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, and cars. The market is responding with huge increases in property values, a number of private developments are in the works, and sales of existing properties are off the charts.

     photo Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 10.46.29 AM_zpsshbz2a77.png

    The result is a district that is safer, more attractive, but also generates so much more in tax revenue that it will pay for the full cost of enhancements in less than a decade.

    I look forward to sharing several new developments with the public in the coming months.

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  • 04Apr

    As many of you know too much of government happens hidden from public view. One of those items came out today and was already approved by the Rochester City Council before you ever heard of it.

    Today we received notice that we were supposed to appoint 14 members to the “heart of the city” task force. The 14 were selected out of 95 applicants, most highly qualified. Some good news, the appointees are far more racially and generationally diverse than most of our boards. Now the bad: Once again women are horribly underrepresented on a civic board despite some incredibly talented people applying. In fact the woman behind the highly successful midtown conversations was not even appointed.

    In the end I was OK with 13 of the 14 members appointed. I however took exception to the Mayor and Council appointing a paid lobbyist that actively lobbies the City Council on Development Issues to this task force that will set development policy. This probably isn’t illegal, it may be ethical, but anyone possessing common sense knows this is wrong.

    As such I filed an official question, not a complaint, with the Ethical Practices Board, here is the text of that question:

    Should a person who is paid to lobby the city of Rochester on policy by a private organization (as their primary occupation), be appointed by the city council to serve on public boards steering public policy or directing public investment?

    It is important to realize that the board the person in question was appointed to deals with the specific policies that the person is paid to advocate on. Oh by the way, this was all done out of site from the public at the last minute. The information was not even in our council packet for this week. No one else from the council raised the issue, President Staver saw no issue at all and defended the appointment. Nick Campion did abstain from the vote.

    Edit, here is some technical guidance:

    A member of a city commission shall not “Represent private interests before the Common Council or any City committee”. City Ordinance ch. 13, subdiv. 2(E).

    Those that pay your salary get their interests first…

    I still believe cronyism is bad and integrity is important. This failed on both accounts.

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  • 02Apr

    Should Rochester pass a “Pollinator Friendly” resolution?

    Recommended Pollinator Policy

    I sent a note to the Parks Department to see if they have any concerns about the language. The same note was sent to Stormwater Management as well.

    I also asked the City Administrator to poll the council and see if there were 4 council members opposed. If not assuming the language is appropriate for Rochester AND I have a 2nd, we can bring this up for a vote.

    Let me know what you think of the attached policy!

    I personally manage my land in this way and actually treat much of my stormwater on site with a pollinator friendly rain garden!

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