The first year is winding down for the freshman class of the Minneapolis City Council.
The Council, with its fortuitous blend of first-term progressives and pragmatic veterans, has a chance to become a leading Council of recent decades.
But to achieve its potential the Council—like other local jurisdictions—needs to do more than execute the policies percolating up through the municipal government chain-of-command. True excellence of the Council will emanate not from the belly of the bureaucracy, but from the hearts of the elected officials who oversee it.
In an era of emerging plenty, with tax collections accelerating and private investment in full-throttle expansion, elected local leaders have a chance to put their stamp on lasting public policy.
But that will happen only if individuals in public office step up and initiate broad policy advancements.
Hennepin County is the poster child of elected-Board activism. LRT, the Midtown Greenway, the Twins ballpark, county-wide curbside recycling and the development of the Stone Arch Bridge were products of enterprising commissioners, not staff.
Local officials need to know their power. And exercise it.
Every local office-holder knows that 10% of Minneapolis students are homeless or highly mobile. This is a social problem, not a school problem. Yet coordinated efforts between the city, schools and county to deliver stable housing, special services and prevention solutions are inexcusably fractured.
It is time for a locally elected leader of those jurisdictions—preferably from the City or County—to stand up and organize the votes to commit joint resources to attack the biggest problem affecting student performance. The solution will help save our kids and will also relieve long-term burdens on the justice system and social-safety net.
Local governments are also missing the boat on solar energy.
The new Community Solar Garden law allows any Xcel Energy customer, including local governments, to purchase their electricity from solar sources, and at a discount from traditional electricity.
Yet despite urgent time pressures, not a single local jurisdiction has moved to capitalize on this environmental and economic bonanza. Every local government can convert to up to 100% solar power and collectively save millions of tax dollars. The issue needs an elected advocate.*
Next year will find local governments continuing to struggle with many other intractable issues.
Most of the solutions they find will percolate up from the desks of capable staff who make their judgments based on priorities, rules and mandates. That is as it should be.
But it is select elected local leaders who can and must seize the moment to pull crucial issues to the top of organizational agendas and coax colleagues and constituencies to drive solutions.
That is also as it should be.
Every era has a legacy. Every era has its political stars. The legacy of these times will be created by leaders who see a way to do the near impossible of curing incurable ills that bring lasting benefits to all.
It will be interesting to see which leaders choose to stand aside and which ones choose to stand up.
*I am an advocate. My business, GreenMark Solar, is a developer of solar projects in our state.