The Brede Bunch: Mayor just fine with handpicking the Chateau task force
Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede has been a strong voice in the fight to preserve the Chateau Theatre. There's no question about that. However, comments made at Monday night's city council meeting raise questions about whether he has too much influence over the project.
Let's back up a bit.
In case you haven't been following this closely, the city's recent purchase of the historic downtown theater is a BIG deal for Rochester. It allows the city to return the 88-year-old theater — most recently a book store — back into a venue for arts and entertainment.
But it's an even BIGGER deal for Mayor Brede. He once said he "would stand in front of the door before a wrecking ball would ever hit" the Chateau. And I would take that statement literally.
So it's only natural that the mayor would take the lead on this issue. When I spoke to him a couple weeks ago about the Chateau, he told me that he was in the early stages of developing a steering committee for the building. He said the group would consist of representatives from a wide range of backgrounds, from arts to business to historic preservation.
It sounded to me like it was on the right track.
Then came Monday night's council meeting. The mayor put forward a proposal to create a 12 to 13 member task force that would be responsible for making recommendations to the council and DMCC Board regarding the reuse of the Chateau. And as you probably guessed, he would be the group's leader.
He explains his thinking in the written proposal:
I have had a conversation with Tina Smith, the Chair of the DMCC Board, about the proposed reuse Task Force and she indicated that since I am the Mayor of Rochester and a DMCC Board member, I will serve as the DMCC Board representative on the Task Force. I would also like to serve as the Chairperson of the Task Force.
OK, fine. So what if he wants to put himself in charge. What's the point of being mayor if you can't have a little fun?
Mr. Brede went on to give the council a list of organizations he would like represented on the board. It was a solid group, made up of small arts and historic preservation groups, in addition to regional leaders like Mayo Clinic and the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce.
Council members responded with a couple suggestions of their own. Ed Hruska said there should be more representation from the tourism and hospitality industry; Michael Wojcik pushed for greater diversity; and Mark Bilderback commented that it's important to keep the task force small, likening a large committee to having "too many people in the kitchen."
But overall, the council was grateful for the mayor's leadership on the issue. And Mr. Brede, though a little defensive at times, said he would take into consideration the recommendations brought forward.
The council unanimously voted in favor of a measure to direct the mayor to take applications for the creation of the task force. The council agreed to vote on the mayor's selections at a future meeting.
Everything's good up to the point, right? Well, here's where I get frustrated.
Right before the council gave its OK to move forward, Mayor Brede made some comments that caught my attention:
With some of the other task forces we've had in the past, we've kind of hand-picked people ... In this case, I certainly would bring names back for approval, like we do with others ... I think if we open this up ... this sounds selfish ... if we run an ad in the paper, I think we're going to have 50 to 75 people that will all want to be on this. And that may take two months to go through all of those.
You can hear the full comment by playing the audio clip above.
The mayor is essentially saying there is too much community interest in the project, and the best response is to ignore it all. He can take care of it; he knows the right people; he can make the connections.
That process stands contrary to how our city government should operate. Each person who pays their taxes here has the right to be a representative of their peers — that means getting them the information they need in advance.
I challenge you, Mr. Brede, to:
- Open up more than just one board position to the public
- Broadly release all announcements related to the task force
If the problem is you'll get too many applications, I recommend upgrading your technology. If the problem is a newspaper ad is too expensive, well, I'll help you get the word out for free.
About Sean Baker: Sean is the founder and editor of the Med City Beat. Under his direction, the site has transitioned from a small news blog to one of the most widely-read publications in the city. Prior to launching the site in 2014, Sean spent about two years producing television news in Green Bay and Rochester. His office is above a brewery, so please excuse any typos. Twitter.
(Cover photo: The Med City Beat)