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What misperceptions do first-time council members bring to office? Outgoing members share their insights – Post Bulletin

ROCHESTER — Brooke Carlson was launching her campaign to become the next Rochester City Council president four years ago.

Today, she’s watching other candidates take similar steps, occasionally offering a bit of advice.

“It is important to go into a campaign with clearly defined core values that are non-negotiable and true to who you are,” she said of the advice she offers when asked. “However, it is also important to truly listen to community members and be flexible in your perspectives as you learn and grow in your candidacy.

“Ultimately, you represent a constituency, not yourself. In other words, you should bring your values to the position, but the position isn’t about you, it’s about the community you represent.”

Ward 2 council member Mark Bransford offers similar insights when asked about gearing up a campaign. He said attending neighborhood meetings and paying attention to council meetings are key to understanding the issues facing the ward and city.

“Above and beyond attending neighborhood meetings, one of the things that I did was just walk the neighborhoods and try to talk to people,” he said. “That is what stuck out to me. It was COVID, so I didn’t door-knock, but I don’t think I would door-knock now. I don’t know how many people appreciate having their doors knocked on.”

Carlson and Bransford have announced they will not be seeking second terms in the Nov. 9 election.

With the two-week filing period for four City Council seats starting on May 21, Ward 4 council member Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick and Ward 6 council member Molly Dennis have indicated they are at least considering seeking second terms.

Since Carlson and Bransford aren’t considering new campaigns, it seemed like a good time to ask them to reflect on the past four years and what candidates could be facing. As potential candidates, Dennis and Kirkpatrick were not included in this report.

The two outgoing council members encouraged council hopefuls to keep open minds and realize it takes a majority of the council to approve policy, which frequently requires a level of collaboration.

“Be open to new perspectives,” Carlson said. “Some of the best policy discussions we’ve had on the (council) dais are when there is not a ‘right’ answer. When you’re open to constituents’, staff’s, and your colleagues’ perspectives, you are open to growing and finding the best solution possible.”


Mark Bransford, city council member, second ward, listens to speakers during a Rochester City Council meeting on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, at the city-county Government Center in Rochester.

Maya Giron / Post Bulletin

Here’s some more of what they had to say:

What about the office or the role of being a council member surprised you?

Carlson: “As someone who has spent a career focused on collaborative leadership, I was surprised at how difficult it was to collaborate with my council colleagues. Some of that is by design through open-meeting laws and ensuring policy work is done transparently on the dais. Some of it was due to difficult council dynamics.

“I found it much easier to work with our partner organizations on cross-agency work. This is a time in our community where it really takes collaboration to move our community forward so that was very fulfilling for me.”

Bransford: “(I was surprised by) how much people want to make it partisan and expect you to take sides based on political stripe.”

How have your perspectives about city government changed during the past four years?

Carlson: “With all of the complex problems in our world, the ability to support change at a community level is even more critical. Our city is doing transformative work related to transitioning to renewable energy, redeveloping our downtown riverfront, improving our parks system and advancing our housing and transportation priorities. These efforts matter in people’s daily lives and will make our community so much stronger.”

Bransford: “It’s that issues are never cut and dried, that most points of view have merit, and you need to look through a systems lens. You also have to be able to differentiate between the squeaky wheels and the true sentiment, (which is) very difficult.”


Brooke Carlson, City Council President, listens to speakers during a Rochester City Council meeting on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, at the city-county Government Center in Rochester.

Maya Giron / Post Bulletin

What misperceptions do you think first-time council members bring to office?

Carlson: “When you’re elected, you think you will be able to make major changes right away so it’s an adjustment when you realize that your campaign platforms may or may not be doable. The ones that are doable will take time and require at least four votes to make happen. An individual councilmember does not single-handedly enact change.”

Bransford: “Often people run due to some level of advocacy, or have run into council decisions that affected them personally. However, as a councilperson elected to listen to all voices, you cannot be that person at the podium with a crusade or strongly held one-sided position.

“You have to be even-handed, and side with constituents if the overwhelming majority take a position. If you go against a majority of those who elected you to represent them, you’d better be able to justify that your position is so overwhelmingly for the greater good.”

What has the biggest challenge been in your term?

Carlson: “Besides the challenging dynamics on council, the hardest thing for me is making decisions that you know will let people down. When you represent a city of 122,000 constituents, there is simply no way to please everyone. My approach is to gather as much information I can in the time I have available and to center the values of our city when making difficult decisions. As council president, I try to think about the benefits to the community overall even if I know some people will be upset with how I voted.”

Bransford: “Balancing points of view among my colleagues and staff, and wearing many hats to make the best decision. There are a lot of competing pressures, and hopefully, you do what is right, not what is easy. Not amplifying echo chambers to your point of view, and being able to know when you are.”

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