The recent criticism of the Metropolitan Council and its structure (“Met Council needs more than tweaks,” April 28) suggests that the Legislature create a council “with a more limited scope of authority and majority input from elected officials and stakeholders” — a model distinctly different from the one that exists today. Kim Crockett of the Center of the American Experiment and Kevin Terrell of Kantana Consulting, like representatives of four suburban counties, argue for appointing local elected officials to the council under the flawed premise that the council currently is not accountable or credible.

The Legislature established the Met Council in the 1960s to solve regional problems that were challenging at the local government level — namely adequately treating wastewater community by community, as well as a geographically inadequate bus system. The Legislature created this regional unit of government and granted it important, yet limited, authority to plan and operate regional wastewater handling and treatment, transit, and park systems. The law required the council to coordinate with local officials and others within its scope of authority.

The result has been regional issues within its purview addressed with more efficiency, at a lower cost and with high coordination — indeed partnership — with local governments and counties within the seven-county metro area.

As mayors in the region, we have firsthand experience that the council is required to be highly responsive to the Legislature, local governments and citizens. Clearly, the council is accountable to the governor who appoints its members, and it is also accountable to the state Senate, which confirms them. It is further accountable to the Legislature, where committees are devoted solely to overseeing the council and its operations.

The council is also indirectly accountable to local units of government, which have elected officials who serve on advisory boards and committees to provide input on regional issues. For example, there is the Transportation Advisory Board, a majority of whose members are elected local officials or county commissioners, who, along with citizen members, make recommendations on the use of federal transportation funds flowing to the region.

Laws that govern the council by their very design tether it to local units of government to ensure that regional decisions are balanced with local needs and that concerns are addressed with a high degree of local input. Local governments are a highly organized constituency and they pay close attention to council actions, making it responsive to local concerns.

The governance model proposed in the Crockett-Terrell commentary could undermine the effectiveness of processes necessary for sound regional decisionmaking — something this region is envied for throughout the country.

By law, the Met Council is a governmental unit, just as a statutory city is legislatively created as a governmental unit. Having the council governed by local elected officials could create undesirable consequences and potential conflicts, not just for those elected officials serving on the council, but for the council’s regional planning functions as well. Local officials serving as council members would face divided loyalties when having to make regional decisions that affect local communities, especially their own, to which their foremost fiduciary responsibility lies.

Serving in dual roles, local officials would be both the regulator and the regulated. They would necessarily have to vote in two local subdivisions of government. For the same reason that local elected officials cannot serve as county commissioners or legislators, and vice versa, neither should a local elected official or a county commissioner serve as a Met Council member.

As pointed out in the Star Tribune editorial (“Met Council reform could be a deal maker,” April 23), council members spend 20 to 30 hours per week in their public-service capacity. Being a county commissioner is a full-time job, and for local elected officials, even mayors, we serve on a theoretical part-time basis and also hold day jobs.

We see no conceivable way that a local elected official could add another 20 to 30 hours per week to their schedules and make certain the work is properly done at the Met Council level to effectively serve the needs of the region. Serving in both functions is simply not compatible or practical and clearly not in the best overall interests of our metro area.

Those of us whose communities interact with the Met Council support the thoughtful recommendations crafted by a Citizens’ League Task Force, whose recommendations are supported by metro cities and the Star Tribune Editorial Board.

These recommendations include staggered terms for council members and more transparency in the process for selecting them. Such changes would provide for politically diverse opinions to transition between gubernatorial administrations and would maintain a continuity of knowledge on the council appropriate for a long-range planning body. Adding more local government voices and transparency to a nominating committee’s recommendations also would enhance credibility of the selection process.

The Met Council can and should continue to improve itself through its outreach and partnership with local and county officials, staff and state lawmakers. At the same time, it must retain the independence necessary to make difficult decisions that are important to achieving the regional outcomes necessary to advance the prosperity of our metro area. The Citizens’ League recommendations embody the best model. The Crockett-Terrell proposal does not.

 

Jim Hovland is mayor of Edina. Jim Sanborn is mayor of Waconia. Terry Schneider is mayor of Minnetonka. This article was also submitted on behalf of the following mayors: Dave Bartholomay, Circle Pines; Myron Bailey, Cottage Grove; Jo Emerson, White Bear Lake; Mary Hamann-Roland, Apple Valley; Scott Lund, Fridley; George Tourville, Inver Grove Heights; Janet Williams, Savage; Gene Winstead, Bloomington.