Rochester City Council dinners: A good thing?
Nick Campion submitted a column to the Med City Beat and Michael Wojcik later made public comments regarding the inappropriateness of Mayor Brede’s city council dinner meetings. Questions regarding lack of transparency, public access, selection of locations, no agenda minutes, and compensation of council members were cited as cause for discontinuing the dinner meetings. If valid, these matters are certainly cause for concern; therefore, I went to work to determine if what Campion and Wojcik have said is accurate.
According to Campion, Mayor Brede’s dinner meetings “....failed to meet the spirit of the state’s open meeting law, if not the letter of the law”. The open meeting law chapter 773, section 1 states [paraphrased] 1. The public must be provided means to be fully informed about a public board’s decisions or to detect improper influences; 2. To assure the public’s right to be informed; and 3. To afford the public an opportunity to present its views to the public body. In other words, the council shall not meet in secret where the public does not have the opportunity to inform themselves. I contacted city officials in Charlotte, North Carolina, Shoreline, Washington, at random, to better understand the legality of council dinners and I learned a lot. I found Mayor Brede’s dinner meetings do in fact meet the letter of the law as they are open to the public, accessible via public transportation to restaurants such as McDonalds, Bilotti’s, The Country Club, Olive Garden, and Victoria’s. Despite these facts, Mr. Wojcik contends the meetings are not accessible.
Strangely, Campion’s argument “....transparent government doesn’t just happen” defines exactly what I think Mayor Brede is trying to accomplish with the council – transparency through trust. As an organizational development consultant, transparency requires trust that in-turn requires development of relationships which are nurtured in non-formal settings like the dinner meetings. In fact, The International City/County Management Association, which is a national association dedicated to advancing local government worldwide for achieving excellence in local governance, cites these kinds of meeting “retreats” as probably the most important activity of the governing body. Mike Conduff, who is ICMA’s senior advisor governance, considers team building activities such as council retreats to be of significant importance.
Mr. Campion and Mr. Wojcik have stopped attending the dinner meetings which befuddles me:
- Do Campion and Wojcik have a duty to attend the meetings on behalf of the citizens they represent?
- Why have they used public media to argue their points? Do they lack the necessary interpersonal skills to talk to their council teammates and the mayor about these issues?
- Are they focused on contributing to the council team or personal gain? After all, while it might be politically expedite for someone to argue for transparency, to do so myopically is to rebut the very argument.
The fact that council dinners are not compensated and are informal ~ no minutes, screams relationship for which Mayor Brede’s dinner meetings seek to maintain. The dinners are indeed a good thing and I applaud Mayor Brede’s leadership!
Jim Walters is a Rochester resident and business owner.
(Cover graphic: The Med City Beat)