Metropolitan Council Chairwoman Nora Slawik announced her resignation Friday after just 10 months on the job leading the powerful regional planning agency that’s tasked with steering the Twin Cities’ long-term growth.
In a resignation letter to Gov. Tim Walz, Slawik cited health issues that have arisen as the result of the “demands of the job.” Her resignation is effective Nov. 15.
A seven-term lawmaker from suburban Ramsey and Washington counties, Slawik most recently was the mayor of Maplewood from 2014 through 2018. She generally kept a quiet, low-profile presence on the regional council.
Slawik’s departure, long rumored, comes as the politically appointed council grapples with extending the region’s mass transit system — particularly the ongoing construction of the Southwest light-rail line — a dearth of affordable housing, and long-range plans submitted by cities across the metro area.
Under her tenure, the council continued to clash with opponents of the proposed light-rail line to Eden Prairie. It has faced other criticism in recent years, particularly from suburban counties and Republican legislators, for being out of touch with local concerns.
Mary Pattock, president of the Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association and longtime opponent of the $2 billion Southwest LRT project, said that while she had no problem with Slawik, her departure gives the governor “the opportunity to change the culture at the council into one that is more communicative with the community.” The new chairperson, Pattock added, “should have an attitude of service toward the community.”
People close to the council were reluctant to speak publicly about the reasons for Slawik’s departure Friday, but several said privately that Slawik struggled to navigate the agency’s complex policies and clashed with senior staff.
Council aides said she was out of the office Friday afternoon and unavailable to respond.
Slawik also has her defenders on the council.
“I thought Nora was a good chair,” said Council Member Robert Lilligren. “I thought she was a smart and strategic choice, being from the east metro. She certainly understood the political and legislative processes that impact the Met Council.”
Others said they understand the stresses of the job overseeing an agency with such a diverse portfolio.
“It takes a toll,” said former Met Council Chairman Adam Duininck, now a lobbyist for the Carpenters union. “You feel like you’re always disappointing people as you navigate difficult issues. It’s a hard job because it’s hard to get to consensus on complex issues like transportation and affordable housing because it’s such a diverse region.”
Slawik’s tenure began with an abrupt leadership shuffle in January when she ousted Brian Lamb, the longest-serving general manager and public face of Metro Transit. Slawik also promoted a longtime Walz aide, Meredith Vadis, to be the council’s new regional administrator. Vadis previously held several leadership posts at the council.
In a statement issued after her announcement, Walz thanked Slawik for the “important perspective” she brought as a former suburban mayor.
Vice Chair Molly Cummings will serve as interim chair until Walz appoints a permanent replacement. Pahoua Yang Hoffman, executive director of the Citizens League, will head up the search, Walz’s office said.
Slawik is the second member of the Walz cabinet to leave during the DFL governor’s first year, while a third was issued a formal reprimand. Tony Lourey resigned in July as commissioner of the Department of Human Services during an extensive leadership shuffle at the agency. Walz reprimanded Mark Phillips, commissioner of an Iron Range economic development agency, for circumventing hiring rules to install a DFL operative.
The Met Council is a vast agency that operates the region’s transit and wastewater systems, guides land use and oversees a network of regional parks. The governor appoints both the chair and the members of the council who represent 16 districts.
The Met Council is often a flash point among the building lobby, suburban counties and Republican legislators, who view it as unrepresentative of the region and overly focused on urban priorities.
Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, a leading GOP voice on transportation issues, said, “I hope it’s not a sign of dysfunction in the bureaucracy. We’ve seen it at DHS,” he said, referring to the state’s beleaguered social service agency. “This comes on the heels of dismaying news about the way light rail is being operated,” he said, referring to a recent Fox 9 report showing assaults at light rail stations are up sharply this year.
Rep. Brad Tabke, DFL-Shakopee, declined to comment on Slawik’s tenure. He said the next Met Council chair should have broad knowledge of the council’s diverse issue brief, including affordable housing, transit and water infrastructure — and a willingness to work with the Legislature to make headway on those issues.
The Met Council’s $1 billion budget is funded by the motor vehicle sales tax, transit fares, wastewater charges and a variety of other sources. It employs about 4,400 people, the bulk of whom work in the transit system, and its regional sewer pipes span 600 miles, bringing wastewater from across the Twin Cities to eight treatment plants.
Staff writer Janet Moore contributed to this report.