Four suburban counties and 41 cities across the Twin Cities area have passed resolutions contradicting the group of mayors who wrote “ ‘Tweaks’ are, in fact, the best model for Met Council” (May 9), defending the current model of gubernatorial control of the Metropolitan Council.
Those mayors argue that the current model is working well, needing only a few changes to the appointment process, and that any move away from gubernatorial control is ill-advised and impractical. They give the impression that counties and cities are working in a “highly responsive” partnership with the council.
We, the undersigned, reject that conclusion, and note that objections to the council’s governance model are principled and long-standing. We offer a very different, more democratic model and invite remaining metro counties and cities to join us.
The council has broad authority, including the ability to levy taxes, charge fees and set regional policy. Cities and counties are the entities most directly affected by decisions of the council, making them the council’s primary constituents. Yet appointment of council members resides solely with the governor, effectively making the governor the primary constituent.
The council’s scope of authority and involvement in regional issues has expanded significantly over the years. In order to be effective, a governmental entity — particularly one with taxing authority — must be credible, responsive and accountable to those it represents.
Many cities and counties believe that the council lacks accountability and responsiveness to them as direct constituents and that the authority to impose taxes and set regional policy should be the responsibility of local government elected officials.
Reform is necessary. We have resolved that the council, due to its taxing and policy authority, should be accountable to a regional constituency of those affected by its decisions and should not operate as a state agency answerable to only the governor, as it does in its current form.
We support reform that adheres to the following principles:
• A majority of council members shall be elected officials, appointed from cities and counties within the region;
• Metropolitan cities shall directly control the appointment process for city representatives to the council;
• Metropolitan counties shall directly appoint their own representatives to the council;
• The terms of office for any members appointed by the governor shall be staggered and not coterminous with the governor’s;
• Membership shall include representation from every metropolitan county government, and
• The council shall represent the entire region; voting shall be structured based on population and incorporate a system of checks and balances.
The mayors in their commentary suggested that elected city and county officials could not handle the workload or think “regionally” while representing both their municipality and a Met Council district.
In fact, county and city officials make regional decisions all the time. We sit on joint-powers boards such as the Metro Emergency Services Board, the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District, the Counties Transit Improvement Board and the Transportation Advisory Board. Cities form joint-powers agreements for police and fire, lake conservation districts, and so on that affect multiple cities. These are entities that in some cases make decisions for the entire region and in others for smaller regions, and it works quite well.
For example, one of the mayors, Jim Hovland of Edina, recently chaired the Transportation Advisory Board. Was he unable to manage the workload as mayor of Edina and chairman of that board?
Second, every other major metro area in the country, and in Minnesota, follows a “council of government” model. None has adopted the current Met Council model.
Finally, adding elected officials was just the first step to solving the council’s credibility crisis, as identified by the Office of Legislative Auditor in a detailed report on transit governance issued in 2011.
We acknowledge the mayors’ concern about workload, created by the council’s broad scope of authority over regional systems. As the legislative auditor’s report advised, changing who sits on the council, while a good first step, may not be the last word on reform. Failure to tackle this problem has led to paralyzing disagreements in the Legislature for the last several sessions, leaving the state’s economic hub without a consensus on issues that will affect our mobility and prosperity for generations.
If the Legislature accepts our sensible approach, it will open a dialogue with knowledgeable officials around the region to tackle urgent policy issues such as the long-term regional transportation plan, but also deal with questions regarding the council’s proper mission.
Scott Schulte is an Anoka County commissioner. Chris Gerlach is a Dakota County commissioner. Jeff Lunde is mayor of Brooklyn Park. This commentary was also submitted on behalf of the following local government officials. County commissioners: Rhonda Sivarajah, Matt Look, Julie Braastad and Robyn West, Anoka County; Tom Workman and Randy Maluchnik, Carver County; Liz Workman and Nancy Shouweiler, Dakota County; Jon Ulrich, Scott County, and Jeff Johnson, Hennepin County. Mayors: Mark Korin, Oak Grove; Kelli Slavik, Plymouth; Jim Adams, Crystal; Jeff Reinert, Lino Lakes, and Dave Povolny, Columbus. City Council members: Jim Goodrich, Andover; John Jordan, Brooklyn Park; Jeff Kolb, Olga Parsons and Elizabeth Dahl, Crystal; Dave Clark and Jason King, Blaine; Brian Kirkham, Bethel, and Bill Krebs, Columbus.