In exit interview, outgoing City Council member says it’s ‘more dysfunctional than what you see on the outside’

Departing City Council member Jose Peo

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — When most people leave their jobs they get an exit interview. So that’s what we did with Jose Peo. After four years on Rochester’s City Council, his term expires on New Year’s Eve.

We met the councilman at his favorite spot in the city.

Brean: “So this is your exit interview from city council.”
Jose Peo: “Yes.”

I met Peo on the Charlotte boardwalk on what turned out to be the nicest day in November. Charlotte is in his district.

After one term on City Council, Peo thinks he’s figured out how the system works to effect change.

“And I don’t need the title for that,” he said. “I don’t need the nonsense of being in politics for that.”

Over four years I’ve talked to Peo for stories on business, missing children and gun violence. In the summer of 2022 we walked Clay Avenue where three people were shot the day before. And we talked to families living here.

“What is working in our city?” I asked.

“That is a very good question. What is working in our city? Oh man,” Peo said as he paused to think about it. “When I pay my taxes every year I expect a certain outcome out of that. I expect to have a quality of life out of that. I can’t say that when I pay my taxes every year, when it goes up I don’t feel my quality of life goes up.”

The total city budget has increased but over the last four years, the amount of property tax the city collected stayed exactly the same, just over $187 million. But COVID happened, and murders and car thefts spiked.

“So I’m hoping it’s growing pains we’re going through,” Peo said.

Peo says the city is better at outreach into the neighborhoods.

Brean: “Are there things you know now that you didn’t know on your first day on council?”
Peo: “Oh! A whole lot. Seeing it from the outside, being a regular citizen, you would look at City Council and look at City Hall and say it’s pretty dysfunctional, I don’t know how to get things done. Being inside of it I can promise you it’s more dysfunctional than what you see on the outside.”
Brean: “More dysfunctional?”
Peo: “More dysfunctional.”

In addition to this, Peo referenced housing and how long it can take to deal with vacant homes.

“There’s no sense of urgency. I think that is the number one thing I would get out of this. The sense of urgency is just not there,” he said.

Two years ago the city hired a dedicated housing attorney and formed a housing quality task force. And since Mayor Evans took office the city has had 141 home demolition hearings and demolished 119 homes.

When I asked for the one thing he wanted to do, Peo pointed to the empty canteens on the boardwalk.

The property and buildings are controlled by the county.

“We would see a minimum of two or three businesses right here, youth that are operating businesses. They’re learning, what they got taught in the city school district, they’re learning how to operate right here,” Peo said. “We have a boardwalk with no businesses.”

The county says a survey in the summer showed the number-one thing people wanted at the boardwalk was concessions. But the buildings we showed you aren’t in any condition to do that. The county says it’s looking into what it would take to make them usable.

Peo owns several businesses.

He didn’t rule out another run for office.