Dakota County officials are split on whether to withdraw from the board of the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, the agency that manages transit in much of the south metro.

Other members of MVTA are pleading with the county to remain, saying its departure will hurt bus services and give the agency less clout against the Metropolitan Council.

The county formally joined the MVTA board just a few years ago, but is now concerned that the position creates conflicts of interest. Some officials want to return to a nonvoting role and just have an "informal liaison" attend transit board meetings. Others argue it's important to have input in MVTA decisions.

Commissioner Chris Gerlach said the informal liaison position would be "meaningless." Giving up voting power would leave transit decisions in the hands of others, he said.

"It feels to me like we're retreating from an ability to represent residents," Gerlach said.

But Commissioner Nancy Schouweiler argued the county needs to get out of an awkward and inappropriate position.

The county will be studying transit needs and has to collaborate with numerous service providers on the project. If it is a formal member of one of those service providers, that appears unfair, county officials wrote in an explanation of why they might end their MVTA membership.

And in 2008, Dakota County joined the Counties Transit Improvement Board, which allocates tax dollars to transportation projects. Participating in that group and MVTA, which gets money from the board, also presents a conflict of interest, Schouweiler said.

MVTA board members disagreed. In a letter to Dakota County, they said those tax dollars are a small portion of the transit authority's budget. They also pointed out that the county's participation does not present any more of a conflict than its participation in the Met Council's Transportation Advisory Board, which also allocates funds.

The county presence on the Met Council board is federally mandated, Schouweiler said: "We don't have a choice."

Schouweiler, along with Commissioners Kathleen Gaylord and Mary Liz Holberg, voted to leave MVTA at a recent meeting. Commissioners Gerlach, Mike Slavik and Liz Workman voted to stay with the transit agency.

Commissioner Tom Egan was absent, so the board decided to take the final vote at its Feb. 3 meeting.

Jessie Van Berkel • 952-746-3280