Rochester council looking to tweak rules and code of conduct

Nov. 12—ROCHESTER — Proposed tweaks to Rochester City Council's rules of procedure and code of conduct include an effort to clarify how council members interact with staff when responding to residents' concerns.

"In day-to-day community interactions, council members need not act as intermediaries between city teammates and community members when advocating for a community issue brought directly to the council member," the proposed revision states. "Council members may connect community members to the appropriate city resource when contacted about various issues by reaching out to administration or department heads and requesting follow-up as needed.

"Administration or Department Heads shall address the issue or delegate it to the appropriate teammate for follow-up. Further follow-up with the council member by administration or department heads for informational purposes may occur if necessary."

Rochester City Administrator Alison Zelms said the rules and code will clarify the role of administrative day-to-day operations and council's policy-making responsibilities.

"They are intended to create some deep respect, having the ways we interact as a common council and as a staff, so we are representing the whole when we do that work, and it provides that clear role and expectation down through the organization," she said during a March 13 study session when some of the changes were discussed following a 2022 council request to consider updates. "We want to be able to focus our time and resources on the priorities you have collectively."

The council's current code states "generally, all (council) interactions with staff members should flow through the city administrator." It adds that administration or department heads will determine how to proceed with requests, and some council members said they will follow up on requests, while others have said they leave the work to staff.

Council member Patrick Keane said it can be difficult for elected officials to find the correct point to disengage in the conversation with residents and let expert staff take over. As a result, he requested the potential tweak.

"If there is a good way of saying 'this is where it should end for best operations of the city,' and this council agreed to it, that would be beneficial going forward," he said during the March 13 discussion.

The issue was raised in the March 6 censure of council member Molly Dennis, and that action by the council has required her to start all communication with the city administrator or department heads through the end of this year. Dennis has said she considers the restrictions in the censure to be unfair and discriminatory.

Council members will be asked during their 3:30 p.m. study session Monday whether they agree to the revised guidance in the council rules, along with other changes designed to clarify the rules and code, as well as better conform to state statutes.

City Attorney Michael Spindler-Krage said the guidance that council work with the city administrator or department heads, rather than directly with other staff members, is intended to reduce potential conflict with established council policies, since council directives require at least four members to be in agreement.

"There are a variety of pitfalls in (council members) remaining in that conversation," he said of times when council members have failed to step back, which can be seen as being unduly involved in the work of employees or seeking to advance someone else's interest.

The city's charter, which governs much of how the city operates, gives the council direct authority over two staff members — the city administrator and city attorney. The remaining staff is typically overseen by administration, with the intent that actions will be dedicated by council policies.

During the March 13 meeting, Rochester Mayor Kim Norton said the distinctions are important.

"We have to remember we are policy makers," she said. "We are not the staff."

Among other proposed changes to the council rules and code are potential meeting changes, which would move regular council meetings to start at 6 p.m., instead of 7 p.m., and schedule study sessions only on Mondays when there isn't a council meeting.

Upcoming meetings

Meetings scheduled to be held during the week of Nov. 13 include:


—City Council study session, 3:30 p.m. Monday in council chambers of the city-county Government Center, 151 Fourth St. SE. The meeting will livestream at

and be available on Spectrum cable channel 180 or 188 and Metronet channel 80. Special meeting will be held at the same time to canvass Nov. 7 election results.

—Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, 6:30 p.m. Monday in room 104 of City Hall, 201 Fourth St. SE.

—Charter Commission, 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in room 104 of City Hall.

—Ethical Practices Board, 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in room 104 of City Hall, 201 Fourth St. SE.

—Library Board, 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in the first floor meeting room of the Rochester Public Library, 101 Second St. SE.

—Police Civil Service Commission, 3 p.m. Thursday in room 164 for the Police Department North Station, 4001 W. River Parkway.

Rochester Public Schools

—School Board, 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the boardroom of the Edison Building, 615 Seventh St. SW

Destination Medical Center

—DMC Corp. Board, 9:30 a.m. Friday in the Mayo Civic Center, 30 Civic Center Drive SE.