By DREW HOWARD
Rochester City Council member Ann Peterson described the actions of her fellow members as “deplorable” and “disgusting” following a heated conversation over the election of a new RARA board member on Monday, July 9.
The council found itself stuck and unable to move forward following a split 4-3 vote to re-elect longtime RARA chairperson Bryan Wright. Council members were once again in disagreement over the next available board candidate – the current owner of Rochester Play – due to concerns over a possible conflict of interest.
Mayor Pro-Tem Kim Russell voted against electing Wright for the purpose of introducing new blood into the board. She argued that electing someone with a fresh perspective would mark a welcome change of pace considering RARA’s financial troubles late last year, in which the organization experienced a significant loss to its fund balance.
“This has been a long and arduous thought process for me,” Russell said. “We’ve had some fiscal bumps in the road… it’s been difficult in the last couple years to get this momentum going, especially with the new property, so at this point I think there needs to be some freshness.”
Russell said replacing Wright would also help safeguard programs “near and dear” to her heart such as those for special needs individuals and low-income communities.
Council members Ben Giovanelli and Ann Peterson were in strong support of keeping Wright on the board, with both vouching for his strong reputation and commitment to RARA.
“The city should be so lucky to have someone so dedicated to the effort,” Giovanelli said of Wright. “I have full confidence in his ability to lead.”
Peterson, who serves as the RARA liaison, argued that many council members did not attend RARA meetings and thus were not knowledgeable enough to even vote on the matter. “I would sit here and be happy to entertain everyone’s comments if you had participated and come to the events RARA held so you would understanding and learn what the program and entire institution is about,” Peterson said. “You did not.”
With four votes against Wright and three in favor, the council switched gears to discuss its second RARA board candidate, a man who happens to also be the owner of Rochester Play.
Six out of seven council members agreed that electing the owner of Rochester Play to the RARA board would present a conflict of interest. According to City Attorney Jeffrey Kragt, the Rochester Play owner would be faced with the possibility of recusing himself from conversations to the point where he would be unable to perform his essential duties.
Peterson condemned her fellow council members for failing to elect Wright and once again postponing the RARA vote, hinting in the process that she was unsure she still wanted to serve on the council.
“It’s really wrong – what you guys did tonight is deplorable,” Peterson said. “I would like to move forward so I can go home, because I don’t know if I want to sit up here anymore with people who are going to be wishy-washy on their votes on stuff that’s important, and not do their homework ahead of time.”
“We postponed this for a month so people could be here to vote. If this is what we postponed and wasted valuable citizen time for, I’m disgusted.”
Peterson also took aim at Russell’s concerns over safeguarding certain programs, arguing that several council members did not have a full understanding of how such programs are funded.
“If you knew how the place operated and knew the dollar amounts, and knew how much millages were and what everything else contained in RARA is about you’d be making a different decision,” Peterson said to those against Wright. “And you wouldn’t be placing the blame on people who stand on the board making good decisions the whole time.”
“If you want to postpone a meeting next time, make sure you show up and get your information so you can make an educated decision.”
Council members agreed to work toward electing a new RARA board member candidate at its next meeting on Monday, July 23.