A long-brewing battle over the future of the Metropolitan Council intensified Tuesday, as leaders from four suburban counties called for local control over seats on the regional planning agency.
A coalition of local leaders from Anoka, Carver, Dakota and Scott counties wants the Met Council to be made up mostly of elected officials chosen from cities and counties throughout the region, rather than representatives appointed by the governor.
“Minnesotans take pride in having an active role in the decisionmaking process when it comes to public services, but the current structure of the Met Council keeps their voices silent,” said Rhonda Sivarajah, Anoka County Board chairwoman, in a statement.
“It’s time to get out of the ’60s and have elected representation on the council.”
The issue has been a complaint of local government leaders for years but would require action by the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton.
Created in 1967, the Met Council handles policymaking and long-term planning for the metro region, making decisions about housing, transportation, regional parks and water resources.
“The council’s governance structure is something that has been debated since the council was created nearly 50 years ago,” said Kate Brickman, Met Council communications director, in a statement. “Ultimately, the council is a creation of the Legislature — any changes to our governance structure is a decision for the Legislature and the governor.”
A Dayton spokesman said the governor has not yet reviewed the coalition’s proposal.
The coalition is asking metro-area counties and cities to support a list of principles for reform such as staggering council members’ terms so they’re not the same as the governor’s, and having representation from every metro county government.
Some communities have already formed opinions. Burnsville included support for a “council of governments” model on its 2016 legislative agenda and added that it “opposes any expansion of Metropolitan Council powers.”
Minnetonka, however, has raised concerns. The City Council passed a resolution last month in support of the Metro Cities association’s position on Met Council governance, which recommends more local involvement in the selection process for Met Council members but not a council of elected officials.
“Once you’re elected, then you start to look out for yourself, I think, versus the broader region,”Minnetonka Mayor Terry Schneider said.
In September 2014, leaders from all five suburban counties confronted the Met Council after it released its long-term transportation plan. Suburban and rural communities said the Transportation Policy Plan largely ignores the roadways and rail lines they rely on.
Though complaints about the Met Council’s governance structure are nothing new, the transportation plan spurred suburban leaders to examine the issue more closely, Dakota County Commissioner Chris Gerlach said.
“That really was a catalyst that you know, something is not right here,” he said.
City and county leaders have been meeting informally to discuss the issue since last fall, Gerlach said. Washington County hasn’t been involved because its county board is divided on the issue.
This legislative session, coalition members intend to support legislative efforts to remake the Met Council in the image they’ve laid out — or something like it, anyway.
Scott County Commissioner Mike Beard, a former Republican legislator and coalition member, said he thinks there’s an appetite at the Legislature for those kinds of reforms.
“I would be willing to predict we would be happy to get behind something that gives us even 70 percent of what we think we need,” he said. “The Legislature created this; the Legislature’s going to have to clean it up.”