Amid conflict about the Metropolitan Council’s structure and authority, Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday tapped council member and well-connected DFL insider Adam Duininck to lead the regional planning agency.
Duininck’s appointment as chairman — questioned by Republicans — comes at a critical juncture for the Met Council. The agency is finishing long-term plans for housing, parks, transportation and water in the metro area.
He will oversee the implementation of those policies while grappling with questions of just how much power the council, which also oversees Metro Transit, should wield. Meanwhile, he must try to broker peace with suburban governments that feel their needs have been ignored.
Dayton said he chose Duininck because of his experience on the Met Council, including chairing the Transportation Committee. Dayton said Duininck was overwhelmingly recommended for the post, “despite some of these issues that I knew would be raised, because he’s the best person for the job.”
Duininck’s appointment still needs Senate approval, and Republicans have expressed concerns about his qualifications and ability to represent the entire metro.
Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, a critic of the Met Council, said he would give Duininck a fair hearing.
“I certainly hope this person has the skills and qualifications to lead. I guess I personally would have liked to see someone with some previous local experience as an elected official,” Osmek said. “Just appointing a political operative may not be the best thing for the people of the metro area.”
Duininck, 34, has served on the council since 2011, representing eastern Minneapolis and the City of St. Anthony. He lives in the Standish neighborhood of Minneapolis with his wife, Jaime Tincher, who is Dayton’s chief of staff.
Dayton brushed off concerns about Duininck’s marriage, saying two people have a right to their own careers.
“I don’t think there will be any conflicts,” Duininck said. “My family life is my family life, and my work life is my work life.”
Duininck resigned this week from his job as executive director of WIN Minnesota, an organization that fundraises for Democrats in state and federal races. He previously was the legislative and political director for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49.
Before that, Duininck worked in construction. He studied political science at the University of Minnesota but did not graduate.
Duininck is replacing Susan Haigh, who said in November she would step down. Haigh’s role leading the Met Council was labeled as part-time, and she received $61,414 a year.
Duininck will make $145,000 as a full-time employee. It’s a change many Met Council members said was necessary to lead the agency that has about 4,200 employees and a 2015 budget of $935.8 million.
“I think the job has grown to be very, very demanding,” Met Council member Sandy Rummel said. “You can’t make anybody happy. But it’s an important job.”
Council’s role questioned
Dayton appointed Duininck at a time when some Republicans in the Legislature and local government officials are calling for the Met Council’s power to be reined in.
The Legislature created the Met Council in 1967 to coordinate growth in the region, but some politicians say the appointed board has overstepped its authority in its long-term plans for development.
Osmek introduced a bill this session to change the appointment process for Met Council members. In addition to Senate confirmation, the bill would require each new council member — apart from the chairman — to secure votes of support from at least 50 percent of the city councils in their districts in order to retain the position.
Duininck said he will not rule out such changes but said members of the council should be able to take a regional perspective.
Representatives from Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Scott and Washington counties have begun meeting monthly to discuss concerns about the Met Council. County officials have repeatedly admonished the council’s regional plans, saying they prioritize transit over roads and concentrate resources in the urban core, neglecting the needs of the suburbs on issues like affordable housing and transportation.
In February, Duininck will begin a seven-week tour of the seven-county metro area, aiming to build trust with local leaders.
“I’m just a firm believer that where you live is one thing, but where you spend a lot of your time doing work and being visible and being out is another thing,” Duininck said. “I’m going to make sure I’m in all corners of the region.”
One of the biggest challenges Duininck will inherit is the $1.65 billion Southwest light-rail project. The project, which would run light-rail from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, has stalled. It faces opposition at the State Capitol and a federal lawsuit from a local organization that says the council has not complied with environmental laws.
In a letter to Dayton, 10 of the 17 Met Council members expressed support for Duininck, stating: “Whether we are discussing racial inequities in the region, balancing housing priorities, advocating for transportation funding, or tackling problems like wastewater and water supply, we each will vouch for Adam’s ability to be both a firm voice and a collaborative listener.”
Star Tribune reporters Patrick Condon and Abby Simons contributed to this report.