Op-ed: Government transparency fails
Yesterday it was reported that Rochester was named the nation’s Best City for Women in the Workforce. That same day Mayor Ardell Brede announced, and the city council approved, the Heart of the City committee, a hand picked, 14 member group tasked with defining Rochester’s future. The group includes four women or just 28 percent of the committee membership. The full list of 95-some applicants that was just released shows that 47 percent of the applicants were women. This list of names, submitted last second by the mayor and approved by the council in a rushed vote, is just the start of the transparency issues that I believe are doing a huge disservice to the people of Rochester.
At Monday's Committee of the Whole (COW) council meeting, a packed crowd deeply interested in Rochester’s future waited in cramped, stuffy room 104 for two hours — despite the availability of the spacious, nearby main council chamber where meetings can be televised and live streamed. Then they skipped the last item on their agenda (Chateau Theater Historic Preservation RFP) and went to their regular dinner meeting.
To add insult to discomfort, the council said later it had reached consensus on the Chateau RFP at the dinner meeting. A meeting where there is no public agenda, no public record and no public input. How did the council arrive at a decision? You will never know.
Just like you will never know how the City and DMC arrived at the 14 member Heart of the City committee. Most applicants I’ve talked to report only that they were emailed online forms from the DMC office and that those forms stipulated they describe themselves in 100 words or less. That was it. No calls. No further contact. Did selected member and Kahler Hotel Group owner Javon Bea only get 100 words? Did selected member and Maine Street Development Co. manager Tom Hexum only get 100 words? Or how about the Rochester Area Builder’s paid lobbyist? More than 90 people from all walks of Rochester applied to be on the committee.
In the end the committee is made up of many of the same old people from the real estate community and Mayo Clinic, but only a few that represent neighborhoods or the community at large. And you and I have no idea how these decisions were made, only that they were made by people very cozy with Rochester’s status quo. Our citizens who are willing to volunteer their time deserve better.
I pledge to stop the terrible tradition of opaque dinner meetings. I pledge to make sure that people who apply to be on a commission are interviewed and that the process for selection of the finalists is clear to the public. No more walked-on agenda items. No more commissions that don’t look like Rochester. We deserve better and we can do better.
Sean Allen is a candidate for city council president.
(Cover graphic: The Med City Beat)