When the Hennepin County Board meets for the first time in 2014 on Tuesday, Mike Opat expects to be elected by his six colleagues to another term as chairman.

Opat would then begin serving his sixth consecutive year as chair, which he considers to be a sign of the board’s stable, “not exciting” leadership of Hennepin County, which is second only to the state government in size.

“We don’t have any panic. We don’t capitulate. We have our disagreements but we don’t become dysfunctional,” Opat said.

He credits the county with helping provide a regional vision that included building a new ballpark for the Minnesota Twins and leading the push on light-rail transit. Meanwhile, he said the board smoothly handled controversial matters like recounts, budget woes and Occupy Minnesota protesters.

In the coming year, the financial situation at Hennepin County Medical Center will be a major focus for the board. The safety-net hospital is trying to fulfill its mission of treating the indigent while facing decreasing reimbursements for care.

Two light-rail transit lines also lead the agenda for the county’s coming year. The proposed Southwest Corridor has run into resistance, causing delays and potentially more roadblocks. Meanwhile, the county has begun planning for the Bottineau line that will snake north and west from downtown.

“No matter how many folks want to slow that down, we just keep plugging along,” Opat said.

This year the county also will look to open a new outpatient clinic in the west after plans for the Minnetonka site fell through last year. Because the county is such a huge social services provider, Opat expects to work closely with the state on health care reform. Reconsidering the treatment of the mentally ill, a complicated and costly venture, will also get attention, he said.

Opat, 52, lives in Robbinsdale with his wife and three kids. He took office in 1993. He already has served eight years as board chairman in nonconsecutive terms. □


rochelle.olson@startribune.com @rochelleolson