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  • Kevin Elliott

Charter amendments, ballot proposals debated

Rochester City Council on Monday, October 29, discussed potential ballot proposals and charter amendments that may be undertaken in 2019, but stopped short of taking any action until a later date.

The discussion involved three main issues, including whether or not to pursue a fire millage, a ballot proposal regarding the sale of property and a ballot proposal regarding possible departure from the state's Municipal Employees' Retirement System.

Council has previously discussed whether or not a charter amendment should be pursued that would remove the city's charter requirement that a vote of the people is required for the sale of unwanted city property. If such an amendment were adopted, the city could more easily dispose of unwanted tracts of property.

Rochester City Manager Blaine Wing told council members that staff is working on a citywide map that would include color-coded parcels owned by the city to provide a clear inventory of property.

Councilwoman Kim Russell said such a map would be important in order to know what is owned and what is able to be sold, and for the public to understand the city wouldn't be trying to sell any usable land, such as parkland.

"We aren't selling the Community House," Rochester Mayor Rob Ray assured at the meeting.

Another item council should address, said city labor attorney Steen Schwartz, is how the city's fire chief is hired and who the chief answers to, in terms of administration. Currently, he said, the city's charter is set up on a more volunteer structure.

"You have a structure that was historically a volunteer department, when you were a village and surrounded by township, then the communities grew around you," he said. "Then you progressed to a paid, on-call department and recently made a decision to have a full-time department, or a hybrid thereof.

"That's a very different operation than in the late 1800s when the people left the hardware store to put out a fire. I's a very different operation, and there's an extremely high likelihood that after you hire all your full-timers, they will form a union and have the opportunity to bargain collectively the way the police officer's union does. You want a fire chief with a management perspective and who works directly with the city manager. I can't think of any department where (firefighters) effectively pick their chief. If you left it in the charter, the only way to get it out is to bargain it out."

Wing said he would work with the fire chief to bring more specifics to council at a later date.

"I also listed the fire department as one of the top items to discuss," councilwoman Nancy Salvia said. "Second is the sale of property, but we have to be careful that this isn't perceived as selling off assets."

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