‘I overruled him.” Overruled. That’s the term Gov. Mark Dayton used to describe how a recent, hastily-assembled Southwest Light Rail funding plan came together. The pronoun “him” referred to Metropolitan Council Chair Adam Duininck. This, despite earlier assurances from Duininck that such a plan was a “bad option” and he did not want to move SWLRT forward without legislative approval.
Why is this cause for concern?
Do the non-elected Metropolitan Council’s chair and members really have autonomy, or do they feel compelled to comply with the wishes of the person who appointed them — the governor? From the looks of it, they fell in line with the governor’s wishes and approved the Certificates of Participation to move SWLRT forward without the Legislature’s OK.
For us, leaders who along with our fellow County Board members represent more than 1 million people in Anoka, Carver, Dakota and Scott counties, the fact that Dayton has demonstrated that he can call the shots on important decisions being made by his appointees on the Metropolitan Council amplifies the need to reformulate this body to allow locally elected officials to serve as members.
We believe it’s critical that members of the council be accountable to constituents throughout the region and not just to the person who appointed them. Minnesotans expect nothing less.
Some brief background: the Metropolitan Council is the Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), established in 1967. MPOs plan and manage federal funding for regional transportation projects and programs. At the time, it was decided that the 17 members of the council were to be appointed by the governor and serve at his or her pleasure.
However, in 1991 and again in 2012, Congress provided renewed powers to MPOs and required that their membership include elected officials, among others. The Federal Transit Administration and Federal Highway Administration have allowed the Metropolitan Council to continue to operate in its current form. However, a 2015 letter from federal transportation officials stated that they encouraged the Met Council to reform its structure in order to be “more directly accountable to its public.”
We, the elected leaders of Anoka, Dakota, Carver and Scott counties believe that time has come.
We agree that regional governance is important and the Metropolitan Council has done a great deal of meaningful work in its 50-year history, especially in its development of water treatment and mass transit. But when its members can be overruled by their appointing authority on a decision to spend nearly $130 million per mile on a project such as Southwest LRT, it’s time to take another look.
Matt Look is an Anoka County commissioner. Randy Maluchnik is a Carver County commissioner. Nancy Schouweiler is a Dakota County commissioner. Jon Ulrich is a Scott County commissioner.