EMBRACING OUR “CITY OF THE ARTS” James Sheppard’s Public Art Platform

Rochester is a City of the Arts:  From the Eastman Museum, Garth Fagan Dance, Eastman School of Music, Memorial Art Gallery, RPO, Geva, Rochester City Ballet, Rochester Lyric Opera to the countless organizations that celebrate local and regional talent, there are so many individual artists, right here, right now, contributing to the culture that is critical to our quality of life.  

But recent discussions regarding the development of Parcel 5 highlight the issue of whether the City has lived up to a decade-old commitment to publicly fund the arts. It also reminds us that we should expect more from private investors to include public art in their projects.

The City of Rochester has a Percent for Art policy.  It has been on the books since 2007, and requires that capital funds be allocated annually for public art installations. The law also stipulates that the administration develop and implement a process for the equitable distribution of funds for arts and cultural programs.   

The Sheppard Administration will adopt and fully fund the Percent for Art policy.

Public Art Installations

Every year, 1% of City capital funding will be set aside for public art – sculpture or other architectural enhancement. The goals of the Public Art program are:

  • To promote awareness of, and opportunities for, the development of Public Art.  

  • To create high quality public spaces through the integration of art, urban design and architecture.

  • To incorporate art into the public arena to contribute to the unique identity of the City of Rochester and to enhance the City as a location for diversified economic development.

  • To encourage the involvement of artists in the design and development of public spaces and streets by facilitating collaboration among artists, planners, architects, landscape architects, urban designers, and neighborhood groups whenever possible in the total design process.

  • To ensure that the selection of all Public Art is subject to a clear and equitable review process.

It is well-established that public art is a vital component to thriving, growing cities, and is essential for both economic development and quality of life.  The Liberty Pole and the Albert Paley Main Street Bridge enhancements are two prime examples of how our downtown life is enriched by public art.  We will create more of these opportunities throughout our city.

Arts and Cultural Programs

The City annually invests a significant amount of money and in-kind services to support a number of cultural events and institutions – for very good reason. Whether large (e.g., Jazz Fest, MusicFest) or small (e.g., RPO on the Town, Clarissa Street Reunion), these programs and events contribute to our vibrant city. But, these funding decisions are made without process. We must be able to communicate to the public why we support one and not the other.   

As called for in the Public Art ordinance, the Sheppard Administration will establish and implement a process that clearly lays out how program funds will be distributed. I am committed to implementing this policy to ensure that tax dollars are being spent appropriately and fairly without favoritism for events and organizations that matter to us all.

Public Art Committee (PAC) and Master Plan

I recognize that neither I nor most City staff members are experts in public art. We will engage City residents, artists, arts patrons, neighborhood groups, building and landscape architects, and urban planners to guide our Public Art planning, including the development of a Public Arts Master Plan. Successful integration of Public Art into City culture will result from the engagement of these interested parties at the earliest possible stages.

Under my administration, Rochester will truly reflect the value we have for our arts communities by resurrecting and fully supporting the Percent for Art policy, making a real commitment and celebrating our well-deserved reputation as City of the Arts.

Sheppard is looking forward to hearing the input from Rochester's arts community on the Parcel 5/Performing Arts Center proposal at the City Council's Arts and Cultural Committee meeting, which takes place today, Thursday, at 4PM in Council Chambers.

SHEPPARD: WARREN FAILURE KEEPS STUDENTS OUT OF SCHOOL - Monroe Students Forced to Spend Another Year Across Town

Rochester, NY – Mayoral candidate James Sheppard today called Mayor Lovely Warren’s educational record a “failure of integrity and leadership,” citing the delays in construction of the Monroe High School campus that have forced students to spend an additional year on the John Marshall campus in Northwest Rochester.

“This did not have to happen,” Sheppard said. “Lovely Warren was so busy trying to dismantle the Schools Modernization project that she single-handedly caused this project to fall apart. Students should be going back to school at Monroe this week. Instead, they are taking the bus across town to Marshall, and their families continue to wonder how long it will be before they can get back to normal.”

Last year, Warren’s move to replace Facilities Board members and reject money-saving Project Labor Agreements sent the multi-billion dollar effort to modernize City schools into months of contract renegotiations, unnecessary lawsuits, and court time. The result? Continued delays and more taxpayer money wasted. 

Mayor Warren claimed that she wanted changes in the Schools Modernization project last year to improve minority hiring, despite the fact that independent auditors found that contractors had been exceeding the 30% MWBE goals. Given last week’s Democrat and Chronicle article that outlined the Warren Administration’s efforts to change an internal audit to make their own MWBE hiring record look better, Sheppard called Warren’s actions doubly shameful.

“For many of our students, school is the place they come to for stability,” Sheppard said. “And families have a hard enough time without having to worry about where their children will be going every year. Treating them like pawns in a chess game so that Mayor Warren can control this project is just plain wrong.”

I Condemn President Trump's Actions on DACA

I condemn President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program.

Nearly 800,000 young people in our country are now at risk of being deported--most from the only country they have ever known. This is a tragedy—not only for these families—but for all Americans. Ripping families apart for no good reason diminishes all of us. It also weakens our economy. But ultimately, as President Barack Obama reminded us, “…this is about basic decency.”

Congress has only six months to pass legislation to protect these individuals. I urge those who share my indignation to contact members of Congress. We need to express our support for passage of humane immigration policy which protects both our security and the values on which we were founded as a nation.

IT’S TIME FOR ANSWERS: SHEPPARD CALLS ON WARREN TO DEBATE Withheld Audit, Parcel 5 Among Issues Demanding Explanation

Citing the need for transparency on issues ranging from a secret audit on money spent in the City’s MWBE program to the future of Parcel 5, Mayoral candidate James Sheppard called on Mayor Lovely Warren to participate in previously agreed-upon televised debates before the primary.

“I’m sorry that she doesn’t feel well,” Sheppard said.  “But it’s a critical time.  As Mayor, Lovely Warren owes it to City residents to answer questions about changes made to the mysterious MWBE audit, about the unpopular and unfunded theatre at Parcel 5, and about the continued lack of transparency in her Administration.  It’s time to debate.  The election won’t wait.”

Sheppard further called on Warren to release the draft MWBE audit that was the subject of a Democrat and Chronicle article last week.  Sheppard says voters need answers on why the audit had been changed after it was reviewed in an obvious effort to soften the damning findings. In addition, it was very clear the harsh audit was being held until after the election and came to light only after it was obtained by the Democrat and Chronicle. Sheppard renewed his call for an overhaul of the Office of Public Integrity.  “Amending an audit at the request of the department under examination defies all commonly accepted principles,” Sheppard said, referring to the standards of the National Association of Inspectors General.  “And for the Director of Public Integrity to treat it as ‘business as usual’ is even more cause for alarm.”

Sheppard said that upon taking office, he would submit legislation to City Council to upgrade the Office of Public Integrity to meet national Inspector General standards.  Having these standards in place, he said, would ensure transparency and restore trust in City government.

“From the flawed Request for Proposal process that brought us an unfunded Performing Arts Center at Parcel 5, to this WMBE audit, to the hiring of unqualified friends and family, City taxpayers have lost faith in their government to do what’s right,” Sheppard said.  

“And unfortunately, Mayor Warren is avoiding yet another opportunity to explain her actions by withdrawing from the televised debates,” Sheppard said.  “As a leader, you don’t get to pick the time to lead.  You can’t say it’s okay to speak at one forum in front of business leaders but not in front of the whole community.  The time to lead is now.”  

Open Up The Process And Let The Public Ask The Tough Questions

I’d like to thank the members of the Rochester City Council for holding this forum and allowing the citizens of this community their first opportunity to share their opinion about this critical piece of downtown’s future. 

I hope it is not their last opportunity.

This project deserves a full and open hearing, and deserved it from the very beginning.   This RBTL proposal was accepted by Mayor Warren without details, without financing, and without support.  In fact, it was common knowledge that the City was in negotiations with a different developer, who only learned that his proposal was no longer in the running from a newspaper reporter. 

This does not instill faith in the City’s development process, nor the people who lead it.  Even more reason to do everything possible to open up the process and let the public in on the deal.

But instead, very valid questions that have been raised by members of Rochester’s highly respected arts community -- and by so many others – from the appropriateness of the public investment, to the revenue projections, to the size of the building – have been met with defensiveness and deflection.

It is disingenuous at best for a Mayor who purports to lead the “City of the Arts” to shut out and shut down it’s own arts community.

What is the Administration afraid of?  That people might ask questions about how this City will support another public project, when so many others that were supposed to be self-sustaining – the Convention Center, the Blue Cross Arena, Frontier Field and the Soccer Stadium – are not? 

That an organization that sends 60% of its revenues out of the City will now own two major parcels of the Center City when they have had trouble operating one?

That the arguments the RBTL has used to garner support for the project – attracting shows like Hamilton, providing more space for operations, the revenue projections – have time and again proven to be false?

Yes, these are tough questions.  But like them or not, people have the right to ask them.  Just as they have the right to ask about so many other projects that have fallen on deaf ears – like Cobbs Hill Village, the EMMA neighborhood, and the Port. 

After all, this is not the Lovely Warren Performing Arts Center.  Or worse, Lovely Warren’s Fast Ferry.  The same people who paid for that mistake – the citizens of Rochester – have the right to demand that it not happen again.

Sheppard Demands Answers on Parcel 5

Mayoral candidate James Sheppard expressed support this afternoon for the arguments being made by Geva and other Rochester arts organizations regarding the need to slow down and answer questions about the ever-changing downtown performing arts center proposal being promoted by Mayor Lovely Warren and one of her senior campaign political advisers, Arnie Rothschild.

“Ever since Mayor Lovely Warren announced in April that she was completely disregarding the results of the City’s formal application and review process to select a new Performing Arts Center project that had never been evaluated for the parcel 5 site, there have been a growing number of unanswered questions about this backroom deal.”

“We should all be very grateful to the leaders of our arts community—from Geva to the RPO to the Arts and Cultural Council --for stepping forward to express their serious concerns and to ask the tough questions.  Frankly, these are the questions that the Mayor should have been asking from the beginning.  But she apparently has been more interested rewarding a supporter than in looking out for the taxpayers of Rochester.”

Chief among the questions that demand answers are:  How would this project be funded?  What would be the impact on City taxpayers?  How would a project of this scope impact Rochester’s arts community beyond its only beneficiary: the Rochester Broadway Theatre League? Will the project even fit on the site?   What will happen to the Auditorium Theatre?

“Over a month ago I called on the Mayor to go back to the table on Parcel 5 and conduct a full and transparent process that takes into account the real costs and benefits to our community. Today’s news conference reinforces exactly why so many have lost confidence in this administration and their commitment to do what is right.  We must demand a new and objective analysis marked by transparency and community involvement."

Warren Sets Dangerous Precedent for Future Candidates - NYS Campaigns Will Never Again Be Bound By Contribution Limits

Rochester mayoral candidate James Sheppard today called on Mayor Warren to completely address her campaign’s illegal fundraising activities before the New York State Board of Elections and the New York State Attorney General’s office are forced to step in.

“Last week, Lovely Warren returned the $21,000 in funds to several donors her campaign accepted that were above the legal limit,” said Sheppard. “While it is good that media stories and negative public opinion of these illegal overages finally forced her to do the right thing, the issue is hardly “off the table” as the mayor asserts.”

Still outstanding is the basis of the formal complaint that Sheppard filed back in April with the New York State Board of Elections and which he forwarded to the State Attorney General’s office last week. Warren clearly co-mingled funds from her campaign committee, The Friends of Lovely Warren (Campaign fund) with funds from the Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC (Warren PAC) she set up for non-election purposes. That is illegal and a flagrant abuse of state law, which has been condemned publicly by the nonpartisan Directors of both Common Cause NY and NYPIRG.

In 2016, all the proceeds of the Mayor’s Ball that support her re-election bid, as she clearly stated in writing on her website, went directly into the Warren PAC. By law, any contribution from the Warren PAC to her campaign fund could not exceed $8557. Yet, the Warren PAC funded the entire cost of the Ball, far exceeding the legal limit. Indeed, the PAC wrote a check to the Convention Center alone for $53,278.

“As we have seen from this mayor in the past, she believes she is above the law, blames others, and only takes action when forced to by public pressure,” said Sheppard. “Even when caught in the act, she plays the victim and cries politics. It’s not politics, it is New York State law, and as a lawyer who spent much of her career working in Albany, she cannot claim ignorance of it.”

Lovely Warren’s record in this area is not one of a few innocent mistakes. Indeed, it represents a pattern that has continued for years. 

Mayor Warren's 2016 Mayor's Ball Invitation with Warren For A Strong Rocheser PAC listed.

  • 2013 - Her first mayoral run received $40,000 from a mystery PAC headed up by lobbyist Robert Scott Gaddy and the now deceased Assemblyman Bill Nojay. The shadow company set up by Nojay that funneled the money to the PAC is still under investigation.
  • 2014 & 2015 & 2017 – The Mayor’s Ball served as the main fundraiser for the Mayor’s campaign fund. The Friends of Lovely Warren funded and received the revenue from it.
  • February, 2016 – The Mayor’s Ball, again as promoted by the Mayor’s own words on the Ball Website, served as a fundraiser for the Mayor’s reelection. But this time, Warren chose to fund the Ball through her PAC and the PAC received and kept the revenue—a clear violation of state law.
  • July 2016 - The Mayor’s campaign finance filings showed her PAC funded invoices from the convention center, printer, mailings and various vendor costs for the 2016 Mayor’s Ball well in excess to the legal limit. $53,278 was paid to the Convention Center alone.
  • January 2017 – The Mayor’s filing shows donors contributed $19,329 over the legal limit.
  • April 2017 – James Sheppard files a complaint asking for a formal investigation with the NYS Board of Elections citing the illegal co-mingling of funds, with the same individuals exercising actual and strategic control over the day-to-day activities for both the campaign and Warren PAC. Both organizations function as Committees authorized by the same candidate operating in the same election cycle.
  • May 2017 - The NYS BOE acknowledges the Sheppard complaint.
  • July 2017 - Friends of Lovely Warren refunds a total of $10,879 of contributions accepted over the legal limit, the day before the Gotham Gazette’s article criticizing the campaign’s fundraising practices was published.
  • July 2017 – Warren filings show a $30,000 fund transfer from the Warren PAC to the campaign fund. Cited as a “PayPal mistake.”  Warren blames her volunteers. Later it’s found that the $30,000 was actually $25,000 and Warren returned the $5,000 to the PAC. Still unexplained as how the transfer, more than three-times the limit, is legal. Also unanswered is how PayPal could have been responsible for these errors.
  • July 2017 – The Sheppard campaign finds yet another set of over-the-limit donor payments to Friends of Lovely Warren in the amount of $21,000. Incredibly, some of the overpayments came from the very donors who just had donations returned to them because they were over the limit.
  • July 2017 – By the July filing, the number of donors whose contributions exceeded the $8557
    limit to Friends of Lovely Warren AND Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC or to her PAC alone had risen from 15 in January to 23.  Those donors gave a combined total of $131,159 if jointly applied to the legal limit in funding Warren’s re-election bid.  (Except for one $8557 contribution from her PAC to her Friends of Lovely Warren account, not one more cent can be lawfully spent on any Warren Campaign related expenses, contrary to what has been occurring.)
  • July 24, 2017 – The Sheppard campaign cites the overpayments and reissues call to NYS BOE and the NYS Attorney General’s Office to investigate Warren’s illegal campaign fundraising.
  • July 28, 2017 – Following the calls from the Sheppard campaign to return illegal contributions, which she dismisses as just “politics”, and the subsequent media stories about it, Warren refunds $21,000 in payments and says “I’m taking this issue off the table.”

“Lovely Warren cannot return a few over limit payments and declare the issue is over, because it is not,” said Sheppard. ”She cannot declare that she is not under investigation – as only the NYS BOE and Attorney General’s Office would know that. And she should not cavalierly dismiss the very serious concern that she has permitted two separate committees to act interchangeably as vehicles to support her re-election bid, in direct violation of state law. This concern has been expressed not just by me but by the heads of two of the most highly regarded good government organizations in NYS, Common Cause and NYPIRG. It is clear from even a cursory review of her campaign disclosure reports that the value of funds, goods and services received by Friends of Lovely Warren from the Warren PAC far exceeds the amount permissible under controlling law.”

This mayor is playing a shell game with her campaign funds and believes she can defy the law by dismissing any scrutiny as ‘politics.’  I will continue to speak out about this ongoing abuse because I feel strongly that it undermines trust and confidence in our electoral system.”

The Sheppard campaign is once again urging the NYS Board of Elections and the NYS Attorney General’s Office to act with all speed and seriousness in investigating the financial activities of these two interconnected entities supporting Mayor Lovely Warren’s re-election campaign. Sheppard reiterated his belief: “I fear that inaction in this egregious case would set a dangerous precedent for future candidates, since it means that campaigns would never again be bound by contribution limits.”

Sheppard: Back to the Table on Parcel 5 - Leadership, Not Politics is Needed Now

  • Another example of the lack of leadership
  • Another example of the lack of transparency
  • Another example of lack of community involvement

Days after thousands of Rochestarians crowded Parcel 5 to hear local superstar Danielle Ponder and dance to The Hooligans, Monroe County Legislator and Rochester Mayoral candidate James Sheppard called on Mayor Lovely Warren’s administration to go back to the table on plans for Parcel 5.

“There is still an opportunity to show some leadership and bring this community together on a viable, sustainable and shared future for this key parcel of our center city,” said James Sheppard.  “Instead, we are presented yet again with a secret plan that is politically driven and based in fiction.”

“From Day One, this process has been compromised,” Sheppard said.  “In fact, the chosen developer, a week after being asked to approve a press release to announce his successful bid, found out from a reporter that Mayor Warren had scrapped it to play politics. This project has only gone downhill from there.”

Instead, Mayor Warren’s choice is an unfunded, unplanned and unsupported Performing Arts Center, a project that has been unfunded, unplanned and unsupported in this community for more than 30 years.  As has been demonstrated in the past, the new plan will also benefit a political supporter of the Mayor. 

A leader needs to bring the community together and explain the options and seek buy-in from the stakeholders, not make secret deals and force them on the community.  This Mayor refuses to be transparent in how deals are made in City Hall.

“We still don’t know what this project is, how it will be funded, or what its impact on the city will be,” Sheppard said.  “There have been no detailed plans released, no commitment on funding beyond Mr. Golisano’s generous pledge, and no opportunity for public comment.  This is no way to decide the future of the crown jewel of downtown.”

Here’s what we do know:  the building will have a huge footprint with virtually no open space; it will be of limited value to the majority of Rochesterians who will not be able to afford to see shows there; it will have a huge impact on car and truck traffic and parking in an already dense area; it will be expensive to operate; and it will leave a hole at the Auditorium Theatre site on East Main Street.

Even more troubling:  it is being proposed by the same man who has pushed it unsuccessfully for 30 years.  And the same man who provided the media and public relations consulting for Mayor Warren’s campaign for Mayor in 2013.  In a Sheppard Administration, this deal would be investigated by the Office of Public Integrity.

“This smells like payback to me,” Sheppard said.  “All the more reason to go back to the table.  The process was flawed, the plan undefined, negotiated in secret and the funding questionable.  This is not leadership, this is old fashion backroom politics where the political friends and supporters are taken care of at the expense of the public good.”

A true leader listens to community and creates consensus. In fact, Sheppard said, the recent Jazz Fest concert provided yet another reason to reconsider the current proposal.  “People love Parcel 5 as a community space.  What more proof do we need?  They are literally voting with their feet!”

Sheppard Calls for Overhaul of Office of Public Integrity

Citing Mayor Warren’s reductions in staffing and the potential conflict of interest in the current Office of Public Integrity, Monroe County Legislator and Rochester Mayoral candidate James Sheppard today outlined his plan to restore public confidence in City government with a new Office of Public Integrity.

“We have seen all too often over the past few years what happens when power goes unchecked,” Sheppard said.  “From the nepotism in hiring her uncle for her security detail and attempting to hire her friend to lead the Rochester Housing Authority, to meddling in the School District’s Facilities Program and hosting a job fair to benefit her former Chief of Staff’s company, it’s time to set aside Mayor Warren’s personal interests and focus on the good of the community.”

Under Mayor Warren, the Office of Public Integrity has been substantially weakened. No longer staffed with investigators from the Rochester Police Department, as was previous practice, the office has been reduced to performing audits. Even that function has been compromised, however, as the OPI budget was further cut and staff reduced in Mayor Warren’s recent budget.

“In the Sheppard Administration, the Office of Public Integrity will be robust, proactive and transparent,” Sheppard said. “We will adopt the nationally-recognized standards of the National Association of Inspectors General, ensure the independence of the Office, and institute a five-year term for its Director.”

Sheppard noted that a potential conflict of interest was uncovered by a recent Democrat and Chronicle report.  Timothy Weir, the Director of the Office of Public Integrity and the person charged with providing independent oversight of City government operations, was a contributor to Mayor Warren’s election campaign.  “That will not be allowed in the OPI,” Sheppard said.  “Nor will senior managers in a Sheppard administration be allowed to engage in outside employment.” Several members of Mayor Warren’s administration, including the Director of OPI, the Deputy Mayor, and the former Corporation Counsel, currently hold or held positions outside of City Hall.

“City taxpayers deserve the complete focus of the Mayor and her staff,” Sheppard said.  “After all, there is plenty to do.  And while the poor get poorer, crime in our toughest neighborhoods continues to increase, and schools continue to fail, taxpayers foot the bill for salaries that are often four times what they make themselves.”

Integrity is a key tenant of Sheppard’s campaign for Mayor. He served as Director of the City’s Office of Public Integrity in 2010, and pushed for a stronger OPI for Monroe County as a County Legislator last year. 

James Sheppard's Plan for City's Office of Public Integrity

To ensure the City’s Office of Public Integrity is held to the highest professional standards, I would require that it be certified by the National Association of Inspectors General.

Other major improvements will include:

  • A five-year term for the OPI Director

  • To ensure independence, Director cannot be fired without cause

  • OPI’s authority, jurisdiction, and powers will be defined in the City Charter

  • Formal adoption of the nationally recognized Inspector General standards

  • AIG peer review and accreditation

  • Full transparency and public reporting

  • Full access to all City departments, boards and commissions so the Office can:

    • Examine books and records
    • Conduct criminal investigations with subpoena power
    • Issue administrative subpoenas, administer oaths and compel attendance of witnesses
    • Review any relevant data, information or statements, unless prohibited or limited by law
    • Conduct regular inspections to prevent and detect waste, fraud and abuse


Without true independence and the tools necessary to investigate properly, an Office of Public Integrity is toothless and ineffective.  Similar concerns are why I voted against a proposal to enact an OPI at the County level that did not provide that level of independence.

Warren Budget Balanced On Backs of Neighborhoods

Monroe County Legislator and Rochester Mayoral candidate James Sheppard called on Rochester City Councilmembers to reject Mayor Warren’s 2017-18 City budget proposal today, saying that it delays necessary projects in the interest of politics.

“Once again, Mayor Warren has chosen to put her interests ahead of our neighborhoods,” Sheppard said. “Instead of fulfilling promises – from completing the police reorganization to making investments in Bull’s Head and La Marketa – she is diverting already earmarked funds and using them to plug holes in the budget and help her re-election bid.”

The City’s 2017-18 budget proposal uses more than $20 million in capital spending and $10 million in other funds to cover the operating deficit. That means spending on street improvements, police section offices, and neighborhood development projects like Bull’s Head in the Southwest and La Marketa in the Northeast are delayed – again.

“Even the Democrat and Chronicle called this an ‘election year budget’ – putting off the hard decisions and using one-shots to cover the gap,” Sheppard said. “In fact, this budget closely resembles the budgets Republicans in Monroe County have been presenting for years, which has led to credit rating downgrades and increased interest rates for taxpayers.”

Mayor Warren promised that after years spent in Albany as Assemblyman David Gantt’s chief aid, she would be able to secure more State funding for Rochester. But this year, the City is actually getting $6 million less in State aid – a cut not shared by other upstate cities. Combined with other revenue hits like the loss of funding from the Bloomberg Foundation and declining property assessments, the City’s financial future isn’t nearly as rosy as the Mayor would have voters believe.

One financial outlook that continues to look very positive – Mayor Warren’s bank account. She voted to raise her pay the month before taking office, and now earns a base salary that is $40,000 more than the Mayor of Buffalo. With a salary of more than $143,000, four times the median salary of the average Rochester resident and second only to New York City Mayor, one thing is for certain– Mayor Warren is doing fine with this budget. 

“While the poor get poorer, crime in our poorest neighborhoods continues to increase, and schools continue to fail, Mayor Warren and her top staff are prospering,” Sheppard said. “We need a leader who will set aside their personal and political interests, make the tough decisions, protect our taxpayers and invest in our neighborhoods when they need it most – right now.”

Updated 6/22/17 (from the Democrat and Chronicle)

City Hall salaries in spotlight during election year

Near the end of his city budget critique this week, mayoral candidate James Sheppard took aim at Mayor Lovely Warren's salary.

The argument, in short, was that Warren and her senior staffers are generously compensated  — the mayoral salary being among the state's highest  — while the city and its residents struggle to make ends meet.

While there were some problems with his argument, it nonetheless struck a chord. 

There has been on-and-off talk of a salary commission to review the city's top-level salaries — including mayor, City Council and senior management — and City Council member and Finance Committee chairwoman Carolee Conklin said Thursday that she plans to revisit that conversation with her colleagues. 

Such a proposal would come out of her committee and Conklin, who is retiring this year, has nothing to gain or lose in proposing it.

"I'm more than willing to put it out there again," she said, in a conversation that moved from something that could be done in the future, to something that should get started now. "Now is a good time."

So, backing up for a moment, this is what Sheppard said in his budget critique:

One financial outlook that continues to look very positive — Mayor Warren’s bank account. She voted to raise her pay the month before taking office, and now earns a base salary that is $40,000 more than the Mayor of Buffalo. With a salary of more than $143,000, four times the median salary of the average Rochester resident and second only to New York City Mayor, one thing is for certain — Mayor Warren is doing fine with this budget. 

“While the poor get poorer, crime in our poorest neighborhoods continues to increase, and schools continue to fail, Mayor Warren and her top staff are prospering,” Sheppard said.

Warren was elected mayor in 2013, and resigned her City Council post that November. The vote to set the mayor's salary came a month later. And there was no raise.

The mayor's salary is set by City Council at the start of each four-year term. Council members followed established practice by freezing the salary for one year, then allowing for cost of living adjustments in the subsequent three years.

A more recent practice had been for the mayor to accept the established salary in their first year, then refuse subsequent increases. Duffy declined raises his last two years in office. Mayor Thomas Richards declined throughout, staying at $133,814, which is what makes it appear that Warren — in accepting the established but frozen salary — got a pay bump when she took office at $140,861.

Warren took modest pay increases in 2015 ($2,367) and 2016 ($172), and her salary increased to $143,399. She declined an increase this year, city officials said, when her salary would otherwise have climbed to $145,837. 

This is what we reported in December 2013:

Warren, in an emailed statement, said the mayoral salary is not under the mayor's control but that she would "follow the practice set by the past two incoming mayors ... and will hold at the current rate for the next year." Asked for clarification, Warren said through a spokeswoman that she did not want to speculate about the future. It's worth noting that while they declined raises, Richards left Rochester Gas and Electric with a $10 million payout, mostly in stock and stock options, while Duffy also received his $70,255 police pension.

Sheppard is challenging Warren in a Democratic primary that also includes former WROC-TV (Channel 8) reporter/anchor Rachel Barnhart. 

He is the city's former police chief and a current Monroe County legislator, and he collects a $87,294 pension in addition to his county salary, records show.

In a statement Thursday, he apologized for "inadvertent inaccuracies" in the earlier release. That included overlooking the salary of the Yonkers mayor. Here's a quick look at mayoral salaries, by city, according to See Through NY (records are for 2016):

New York City* (Bill de Blasio) $223,799

Yonkers* (Mike Spano) $156,099

Rochester (Lovely Warren) $143,261

Albany (Kathy Sheehan) $134,765

Syracuse (Stephanie Miner) $115,000

Buffalo (Byron Brown) $104,317

*Cities have mayoral control of public schools

Buffalo hasn't raised the mayor's salary since 2000, according to a spokesman for Mayor Brown. Back then, the two cities' mayoral salaries were more closely aligned, with the Rochester mayor paid $106,512, records show.

"As mayor, I will freeze my salary and that of my senior management team at 2010 levels," Sheppard said. "I will also explore reallocating my salary to the Summer of Opportunity program to employ more city youth.  Regardless, I will not accept both the mayor's salary and my pension."

When it comes to City Hall senior management, Warren's team has seen salaries increase 7 percent overall during her tenure, records show. The median salary for her Cabinet-level appointees is $133,358.

We have that data because City Council member Molly Clifford (and Sheppard supporter) requested the records during the recent budget hearing process. The request was made as Clifford and Conklin questioned the administration about changes in the Office of Public Integrity, why some employee positions and salaries had changed, and whether there was supporting documentation for upgrades and downgrades.

The lowest-paid members of Warren's senior management team are newly hired Chief of Staff Alex Yudelson, with a salary of $112,490 as of January (his predecessor, Jeremy Cooney, left with a salary of $132,038), and Corporation Counsel Brian Curran, who moved into the role in 2015-16, and today is paid $130,552.

"The city of Rochester over the years has tried to establish fair rates of pay for every employee ... all the way up to the mayor," said city spokesman James Smith, whose salary has increased $9,300 since he arrived in 2015, to a current $133,358.

Smith pointed to the administration's achievements. And he added that human resources discourages freezing pay at top levels as "payroll compression" can create an imbalance.

Sheppard charged that it was "irresponsible" for the mayor and her Cabinet to be paid four times the city's median income, which the census puts at $30,960.

These salaries are set according to a salary schedule that provides established steps across a specified range. Warren brought her team in below the top step but has moved all but Curran and Yudelson to the top mark, just as Richards and Duffy did before her, including for Sheppard, who records show was being paid nearly $130,000 when he retired.