Days after leaders from four suburban counties took aim at the Metropolitan Council’s priorities and structure, Met Council Chairman Adam Duininck acknowledged Thursday that the agency needs to do a better job building metro partnerships.
“The council unquestionably needed to strengthen its relationships with the elected leaders and the communities we directly impact, which is why building those partnerships has been and will continue to be a top priority for me,” he said in his first State of the Region address.
The suburban location of the speech — the Ames Center in Burnsville — was an intentional nod to Duininck’s partnership agenda. He spoke for 40 minutes to about 200 attendees, a who’s who of municipal leaders that included St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin.
“We are honored the chairman came south of the river to be inclusive,” said Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz. “I hope you all enjoyed the free parking.”
Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Duininck chairman in January 2015, making it a full-time position for the first time since the regional planning body was formed in 1967. The council’s long reach involves policymaking and long-term planning for the metro region, making decisions about housing, public transportation, regional parks and water resources.
In his first year, Duininck has made diplomacy a cornerstone of his tenure, working to quell long-simmering tensions with some suburbs. Some believe that the Met Council’s task of guiding big-picture, long-range planning comes at the expense of individual communities.
Earlier this week, local leaders in Anoka, Carver, Dakota and Scott counties called for the 17-member council to be composed mostly of elected officials, not the governor’s appointees.
Duininck’s speech also contained news — the announcement that Metro Transit’s A Line bus rapid transit (BRT) will begin service on June 11. The A Line will run between the 46th Street Blue Line light-rail station in Minneapolis and Rosedale Center in Roseville, traveling along Snelling Avenue for much of its length.
Duininck still needs to persuade legislators to ante up $135 million for the controversial Southwest light-rail line, which would link downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. The Met Council and other transit advocates support a metro sales tax to help pay for the project, which cannot proceed without state support. The Orange Line BRT, which links Burnsville with downtown Minneapolis via Interstate 35W, needs $12 million in state funds, as well.
“This session is really a make-or-break moment for our transportation infrastructure,” said Duininck, who took light rail and a bus to the Ames Center.
Duininck also has focused on hiring and serving communities of color in the Twin Cities area, noting that racial equity would continue to be one of his top priorities. He called the racial disparities in the state “shameful,” “unacceptable” and “immoral.”
About 31 percent of the Met Council’s workforce is made up of people of color. The Metro Transit Police Department, which was 95 percent white and male in 2011, now has nearly a third who are either women or officers of color, Duininck said.