Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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Rochester launches pilot program intended to increase diversity on local boards

Rochester launches pilot program intended to increase diversity on local boards

Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede is launching a pilot program aimed at encouraging more diversity — age, income, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc.  — in the city's volunteer boards and commissions.

Brede developed the program after working with the city's human resource department to learn about different tools to improve the recruitment process, according to a news release from the mayor's office. 

The online application process uses NEOGOV, the same software the City uses for accepting job applications. This allows for residents "to be notified when an opening occurs on a city board or commission if they fill out an online job interest card, demographic tracking, and blind scoring," said Brede.

More than 100 people voluntarily serve on boards and commissions, ranging from planning and zoning to parks and music. The mayor is responsible for interviewing candidates and making recommendations to the council.


“Over the years, I’ve received hundreds of applications and conducted just as many interviews,” said Brede. “I am always looking for the right fit for each board, and often we have a high number of qualified applicants for just one position. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have more people apply."

He added: "I am committed to represent the city’s welcoming culture when it comes to making these recommendations.”

In April, three organizations — Med City Beat, RNeighbors and Rochester Public Library — co-hosted a community workshop on addressing diversity in local government. Attendees cited concerns with the current system, from a selection process that relies largely on the mayor and a "musical chairs" shuffling of the same individuals from board to board, to a lack of advertising about open positions and an inconsistent application process.

As council member Campion said at the time: "The key is to take frustration and to turn it into positive action." And this appears to be the first step forward. Brede said he will continue to gather input from citizens and city leaders and modify the program "to make sure it is successful."

There are now two open positions within the city: Appointments to the Joint Airport Zoning Board and Library Board. To apply for a position or to sign up to be notified when board openings occur, click here.


Changes being made

To learn more about just how the pilot program will benefit residents, we asked Audrey Betcher, director of Rochester Public Library. Below are the four ways the initiative could help reach more people, according to Betcher:

  1. Ability to sign up to be notified when there are openings. Now anytime there is a board opening, you can sign up to be emailed immediately.
  2. Demographic tracking. The previous system did not have any demographic tracking. But now when the question is asked about who is applying, we will be able to run reports. Candidates have an option to self-report gender, ethnicity and veteran status.
  3. Simplifies the process. There are improvements for the candidates applying and there are improvements in the reviewing the applications. For a candidate, he/she can create an account once and then apply at different times without having to re-enter information. For the Mayor's office it will be easier to see who meets the qualifications. For example, if the candidate has to live in a certain ward, it will be easy to view just those candidates who meet that qualification.
  4. Broader distribution. I do believe the new system makes it easier to share on social media. The system can create automatic distribution lists for notifying when there are openings on boards and commissions.

It's also worth noting that citizens who do not have internet access may apply for an open position at the downtown library.

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(Cover photo: File / Canva)

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