Saturday, August 27, 2016

"Unfortunately, the council seems unwilling...."

Raymond Schmitz Raymond Schmitz: Dave, have you filed for a copy under the public record act, if not I will!
Dave Beal Dave Beal: Since you seem to know what that is, by all means.
                                                                                                                           Facebook post 08.26.16


from the Webb Management Services Incorporated Chateau Theatre Reuse Study, August 2016
Context: Arts + Culture in Rochester
✲ The City of Rochester has an active and lively, but segmented, arts community.
✲ On one hand, the city has a number of well-established organizations and institutions with long legacies in the community entities - like the Rochester Community Band and Chorus, the Rochester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale, Rochester Art Center, and Rochester Civic Theatre, all of which provide regular programs and have dedicated rehearsal/programming/ performance space. On the other hand, however, can be found what might be referred to as Rochester’s ‘independent scene’ - multiple arts groups, artists, and ethnic cultural communities, all struggling for funds and space (but mostly space).
✲ As a side note, space is not only important because artists and arts organizations need places to work and produce - it is also a crucial part of the Southeast Minnesota Arts Council granting process. Grantees are required to have a public capstone. Without a guaranteed, final, public showing place at the time of application, a potential grantee will not be funded.
✲ According to arts groups, the need for arts and gathering space has increased significantly since the announcement of the DMC. While a handful of artists and organizations had space in downtown Rochester, the DMC has raised property values, leading to rents that many can no longer afford.
✲ Further exacerbating the problem, many of the community’s rentable spaces are either too expensive, too big, or have low availability. The Library, for example, is already booking for April 2017.
✲ In March 2016, the City opened a Request for Proposals for the Senior Center/Armory. The Arts and Cultural Initiative (ACI), an extension of the local arts advocacy group, Rochester Arts and Cultural Collaborative (RACC), submitted a proposal suggesting that the facility be converted to a multi-tenant, multi-use art space. The results of the RFP have not yet been decided on, but many art and cultural community representatives feel that, if the ACI’s proposal is unsuccessful, Rochester’s independent arts and culture community will be completely displaced. [ page 9 ]
User Demand
 ✲ Cultural Community: Rochester has a very large cultural community that has significant need for affordable gathering space. Flexibility is key for these users, both physically and in regards to operating policy (i.e. catering policies that allow them to work with a caterer of their own choosing or cook food themselves and bring it in). Many of these groups would like to have kitchen space. [ page 74 ]

2. In addition to making it the heart of the ‘Heart of the City’, make the Chateau the anchor facility of an arts and culture district or trail, one that includes the Armory as a home for Rochester’s small arts and cultural groups and independent artists. There is an acute need for small organization support in Rochester. The Chateau will be able to meet the needs of some of the community’s arts groups, but not all of them. We would recommend that the City give RACC’s Armory proposal significant thought, particularly within context of developing an arts and cultural district in downtown Rochester and the DMC. [ page 90 ]


This consultant's report that contained a recommendation regarding the Armory re-use was going to become public at some point. Eventually one assumes it will be on the Chateau Re-use Task Force agenda - the task force the Mayor chairs.

As chair it is hard to believe having received the report on August 16 (as we now know he did) that the Mayor had not seen this report and was not aware of its contents at the Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting on Monday, August 22.

At the COW meeting the Mayor was asked directly by the council president if he had anything he wanted to contribute to the Armory re-use discussion. Knowing the recommendation from the consulting firm his Task Force enlisted, and, contrary to that recommendation, all he offered was his opposition to the proposals. Fine. He's under no obligation to accept the consultant's recommendation. (That's pretty much what we do around here anyway, hire expensive consultants and then ignore them.) 

But he decided not to share the information that he did know with most of his colleagues who did not know. The Chief Executive Officer of the city thus denied these elected officials with whom he serves the opportunity - the courtesy, the comity - of reaching their own conclusions based upon that information.

But we were all going to see this report at some future meeting of the Task Force, so what was to be gained by withholding the recommendation and the data that supported it? What was to be gained once the existence of the report was made known by continuing to suppress it for several days until a copy was obtained through a request made under the public record act?

If the propriety of releasing or even acknowledging the report existed prior to a task force meeting was so important, then staff should have informed the council that they needed to delay their discussion and any subsequent action until this new information could be made available to them. But, that was not what happened. One of the report's recommendations was shared. Now it is clear that another even more pertinent recommendation was suppressed. So much for propriety.

Vox publica

There are increasing calls from the public and the press for the council to reconsider their intentions to reject the proposals before it and put the Armory up for sale. Calls to finally engage with citizens who they are elected to serve.

From a petition to the council currently in circulation:
The people of Rochester Minnesota call on the Rochester City Council to reconsider their rejection of the Arts and Cultural Initiative (A.C.I.) proposal for the community based use of the historic building now housing the Senior Center (Armory) at 121 N Broadway Ave, Rochester, MN 55906. 
We, the undersigned believe that the A.C.I. proposal has great merit and that it’s uses of the building as a space for inclusiveness, community building, interfaith and intercultural gatherings and education would add greatly to the quality of life for Rochester residents.

In addition the building will (Under the A.C.I. proposal) be used for visual arts displays and receptions as well as a venue for performing arts of any and all kinds.

We the undersigned believe that we cannot let this opportunity slip away. We must send a clear message to the City Council that this proposal will serve our community on a variety of levels and that this location is ideal for cultivating a downtown rich in myriad cultures, arts, ideas, humanity and simple human connections.
From a recent Post Bulletin editorial:
Unfortunately, the council seems unwilling to ask the questions and let the two groups better define their intentions, which could end up cementing council and community support for either project. During their presentations, members of both groups acknowledged the city's request left room for assumptions on the presenters' part.....

The council has two proposals, and they're proposals council members refuse to call bad. They are from groups willing to revise and hone their plans; they simply want an opportunity....

Additionally, it is unclear whether a sale would serve the public good. Council member Michael Wojcik noted Monday both proposals in hand seek to create an inviting community atmosphere. Would a new owner do the same?...
Ideally, they will seek answers to the first set of questions by engaging with the two groups. It could mean the armory building remains an active part of downtown, rather than sitting dark until the elected officials find an acceptable option without too many questions attached.

"First Class City. First Class Service" 

Though it required a bit of lawyering, the suppressed report is now available to the public. In the end, its continued suppression just corrupted further an already corrupted process.  A process characterized thus far by needless delay, the circumvention of the council's own rules, the suppression of information by high city officials, and an all too familiar disregard for good order, good manners, and good government.

"No ox left ungored" might be a better city motto.

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