The Metropolitan Council was born out of crisis.
Confronted with a patchwork of failing sanitary sewers, the Citizens League proposed creating a regional council whose power would cut across city and county lines to manage a metrowide sewer system.
Now, nearly 50 years later, the Citizens League says it has the best solution to revamp the Met Council, now a powerful — some believe too powerful — planning agency for the Twin Cities metro area.
“We are asking for greater accountability and more involvement,” said Sean Kershaw, the Citizens League’s executive director.
Leaders with the Citizens League, a nonprofit policy group, say their plan will shine light on the entire Met Council selection process and hold the governor more publicly accountable for appointments. They say it offers a better compromise than other reform plans that have pitted some city leaders against county commissioners.
And it’s a plan that Gov. Mark Dayton may actually sign into law, they say. Three former plans to reform the Met Council were vetoed by three different governors — including Dayton.
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, has agreed to cut and paste most of the Citizens League’s proposal into an existing Met Council reform bill.
Under the reform plan, the governor would still appoint the entire 17-member Met Council. But an expanded 13-member nominating committee would vet the candidates and make its recommendations public.
The nominating committee would include three city representatives, three county representatives and seven others of the governor’s choosing. If the governor rejects their recommendations, the public would know, Kershaw said.
The Citizens League also is recommending staggered terms for Met Council members, so the entire council doesn’t turn over with each gubernatorial election.
“There is this perception that the nominating process goes underground,” said Pahoua Yang Hoffman, the Citizens League’s policy director. “This is reaction to criticism we’ve heard from cities and counties that they don’t have enough of a voice in the nominating process.”
Currently, the governor selects a seven-member nominating committee, which recommends candidates without releasing their names to the public.
That process, laid out in state law, long has fueled cries of “taxation without representation,” because the Met Council has taxing authority, controls a $987 million annual budget and oversees regional planning in 188 communities.
Over the years, rumors have swirled that governors have quietly rejected some or even all of the recommendations and made their own appointments. Frustration with the selection process has prompted nearly annual efforts at the State Capitol to change it.
“It creates this perfect storm for disagreement,” Yang Hoffman said.
Criticism of the council’s makeup has become so acrimonious that battles now are being waged on two fronts — in St. Paul and in Washington, D.C.
Commissioners from Anoka, Carver, Dakota and Scott counties have pooled resources and offered a plan that would require the governor to appoint elected county and city officials to the Met Council. A reform bill in the House calls for that.
“Personally, I do not believe it’s enough,” Anoka County Board Chairwoman Rhonda Sivarajah said about the Citizens League plan. “We would encourage the House and the Senate to be bold in their reform instead of nibbling around the edges.”
The four counties have hired D.C. lobbyists to tell federal authorities that the Met Council lacks legitimacy and should no longer be eligible to receive federal transportation dollars. So far, the U.S. Department of Transportation has rejected that argument.
And the four counties have their own critics.
Metro Cities, a lobbying group that represents 91 cities, including Minneapolis and St. Paul, strongly opposes the four-county plan, fearful that it would create conflicts of interest for elected officials who would have to wear two hats.
Metro Cities Executive Director Patricia Nauman said the Citizens League’s position is closely aligned with that of her organization.
“I would view those changes as good government,” she said.
Met Council Chairman Adam Duininck has met with Citizens League officials about their plan.
“I think they did a great job of putting together a diverse group of people,” Duininck said. “I am not surprised where they landed.”
Kershaw said that, with feuding over the Met Council pitting cities against counties and reaching as far as Washington, the time has come for change.
“There is a lot at stake here if it goes bad,” he said.