Tensions rise at Rochester City Council

(ABC 6 News) – What started as a typical city council meeting in Rochester on Monday quickly turned tense during a discussion of one particular agenda item.

That issue: Council Member Molly Dennis’s travel budget.

The City Council travel and training budget for 2023 is $24,597 and each Council Member can spend up to $3,513. Council Member Dennis wants to attend the National League of Cities meeting in Atlanta next month but doesn’t have enough in her allotted budget to pay for it.

During Monday’s meeting, council members considered a motion whether to approve additional funds for Dennis’s travel expenses.

During the discussion, Dennis was then given the opportunity to make her case. She spoke on the value of collaborating with city leaders across the U.S. who can provide insight on certain policy decisions that could be applied in Rochester.

“There’s nothing I think that you can do better than take people who really want to bring back ideas and create a better world in Rochester for our residents.”

She also raised the issue of whether these travel expense budgets, which were reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic as a cost-saving measure, should be returned to pre-pandemic levels.

But then, Dennis took things further, seemingly accusing fellow council members and Mayor Kim Norton of not prioritizing information gathering made available by nationwide conferences and collaboration.

“I think this is needed. Not just for the mayor, who isn’t a policy maker, mind you, but not just a mayor to go and who has not brought back information,” said Dennis.

Once Dennis concluded her comments, the conversation turned to Mayor Norton, who quickly moved to shut down Dennis’s apparent accusations.

“I wish I didn’t have to say anything, but I do. It’s really not okay to say things that aren’t true.”

Norton not only said she makes reports and additional information available for the council when attending meetings, but that Dennis never seeks out those reports.

“Not once has Council Member Dennis asked for or come in any information and I am more than willing to share it.”

Multiple members including Council President Brooke Carlson, said they were willing to approve Dennis’s request to go over her budget, but said her comments on the matter made them think otherwise.

“I came inclined tonight to support the request. That charity on my part has dissipated and in large part council person Dennis because of what President Carlson has said. I feel a little shamed sitting here,” Council Member Norman Wahl said.

Once the agenda item concerning Dennis’s travel budget was complete, the council president appeared to walk out of the meeting, and did not return.

In the end, Mayor Kim Norton was assigned to be Rochester’s delegate during the National League of Cities conference in November.