Candidate profile | Byron Clark
What do you see as the greatest challenge facing Rochester at this moment? If elected, what specific position(s) would you take to address the issue?
DMC is the greatest challenge facing Rochester. There are so many ripple effects that are impacting our infrastructure, downtown, and affordable housing. With respect to affordable housing, we need to improve our current processes that are preventing affordable homes from being built.
Transportation and infrastructure also go hand in hand. Rochester needs to make sure that we have an effective transportation system that can support the city. Mass transit will have to improve hours of operation and convenience. We will still have to address concerns with pedestrian, biking, and vehicle traffic. There are too many specific positions to address here.
Tell us one decision made by the city over the past two years that you disagree with. What would you like to see done differently?
The North Broadway project is a good example of where the city did not act in a timely fashion dealing with the concerns of both businesses and citizens. The businesses that were impacted by the project gave their input early in the process, however, their concerns were not effectively addressed. The city council needs to do a better job communicating with affected businesses and citizens. Improved communication would go a long way to eliminate unnecessary controversy. In the end, I think the final decision that was reached works for everyone, but the process needs to be upgraded.
The city is experiencing an economic boom. Still, many residents and business owners remain concerned about affordability. How would you work to ensure the city's growth is managed responsibly?
It’s all about prioritizing our responsibilities in a way that maximizes Rochester’s available resources for the benefit of all stakeholders. Rochester is experiencing strain from all the growth in town. We need to continue to look at infill development to maximize our current infrastructure costs. Our community is not putting affordable homes on the market fast enough. The home shortage is driving up prices and making homes unaffordable. We need to close the gap of affordable homes while providing improved emergency services for our citizens. Our police and fire departments need to be adequately staffed to keep our community safe.
Some cities have decided to take the lead on issues such as minimum wage and paid leave. Do you feel Rochester should be doing the same, or are these issues best left to the state and federal levels?
I would leave this to the state and federal levels. Many businesses suffer when they are put at a competitive disadvantage against neighboring communities that have no such policies. It is better to raise the wage on a larger geographic area to level the playing field. In addition, Rochester would need to create an entirely new process around monitoring compliance. This cost would be difficult for the city to absorb.
The city council is responsible for oversight of the largest public-private partnership in Minnesota history. What criteria would you like to see applied to developers seeking public assistance?
I would be interested in requiring any project requesting TIF funds, to withhold a portion for affordable housing initiatives. Rochester could then use the pool of funds to waive fees on projects that meet affordable housing criteria. The city would also be able to use those funds to help make affordable housing projects more viable. If we combine that with a faster planning and permitting approval process for affordable housing projects, we could see improvement.
Destination Medical Center is focused on a relatively small chunk of the city. What initiatives or policies could be adopted to strengthen our neighborhoods outside the downtown?
When I talk to Ward 5 residents, they feel like their concerns are not being heard, and feel left out. Personally, I like to call it ‘Destination Rochester’, rather than a medical destination for visitors. We need to make this city work for all visitors, businesses, and residents.
Rochester city government needs to be more proactive in communicating the impact of DMC. The recent hire of a new communications manager for the city is a good start. We need to preserve our neighborhoods sense of identity and community, while making sure our residents still feel valued.
As you have been campaigning this summer, what have you been hearing from residents in your ward? Tell us how you would work to address at least one issue specifically affecting your ward.
DMC and taxes seem to rule most of my conversations, but safety is still an issue that is on everyone’s minds. The Parkwood Hills, Quarry Hill, Stonehenge, and Northrup neighborhoods have all spoken to me about incidents of crime. I have heard stories about problems in our parks at night. Rochester had a fatal shooting in Ward 5 this year over a traffic altercation. In the last budgeting round, the police force asked for ten new officers and only got two. We need to make sure that our police department has the resources needed to keep our residents safe.
What else should voters know about you?
My wife and I moved to Rochester 14 years ago. We are currently raising our three children and live in north east Rochester. I am a manager at IBM and was previously a state representative when I lived in North Dakota. I am running for city council because our community is working through a lot of change. I feel that I can bring a fresh perspective to Rochester’s city council.
There are a lot of challenges that the community is facing as we decide how we are going to move forward. I sponsored legislation that transformed downtown Fargo into a place that worked for the entire city. I have experience enabling businesses and individuals to be successful. I understand what it is going to take to address the challenges for the residents of Rochester. I am running because I want to make a positive difference for the residents of Ward 5.
Primary elections are on Tuesday, August 14. You can use your address to view a sample ballot on the Minnesota Secretary of State's website.