A leadership shake-up at the Metropolitan Council and Metro Transit has raised questions and, from some, concerns about the regional planning organization and its oversight of one of the nation's most extensive transit systems.
Meredith Vadis, who was unanimously approved by the council on Wednesday as its new regional administrator, had served as the agency's deputy regional administrator before taking a two-month leave to work on Gov. Tim Walz's transition team. Before originally joining the council in 2011, she had been an aide to Walz when he served in Congress.
Vadis replaces Wes Kooistra, who will now report to Vadis as general manager of Metro Transit.
Kooistra replaces Brian Lamb, who had been general manager since 2004. The moves surprised some at Metro Transit and the Met Council as well as several key stakeholders in transit who held Lamb in high regard. Apparently, so did the American Public Transportation Association, which named Metro Transit as its 2016 "System of the Year."
Metro Transit riders were on board, too — literally, as the system grew from 80.7 million rides in 2005 to a peak a decade later of 98.8 million. By 2017 ridership declined to 95.4 million. The council blamed the drop on several factors, including a fare increase necessitated in part by tight budgets and declining farebox receipts, which were among many challenges that Lamb and his Metro Transit colleagues faced.
There were major accomplishments, too. During Lamb's tenure, projects including Green Line light rail (between the downtown areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul) and A Line rapid bus service (between south Minneapolis and Roseville via Snelling Avenue in St. Paul) were completed, and approvals were granted to start the Southwest light-rail line (between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie) as well as Orange Line bus rapid transit (between Minneapolis and Burnsville).
That track record makes the opaque nature of Lamb's exit puzzling to several people directly involved in Twin Cities transit who spoke to an editorial writer. While each offered different perspectives on Lamb being replaced, all agreed that his departure comes at a critical time for Metro Transit as it seeks to advance the Southwest and Orange Line projects, while also seeking approvals for the Bottineau Line (between Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park), among others.
Nevertheless, the timing of Lamb's departure makes sense, Nora Slawik, the new chair of the Metropolitan Council, told an editorial writer.
While lauding Lamb as a "great leader of Metro Transit for many years" who "built a great team and established the regional system we have today," Slawik said that "part of my charge is to implement the Walz-[Lt. Gov. Peggy] Flanagan vision of 'One Minnesota,' and I think creating a vision for the future with new key leaders is one way to do that." Slawik added: "This is about leading, and leading at times is about change, and this is a change that I think will help us to lead better in the future."
Every leader, including Walz, Flanagan and Slawik, has the right to select their own team, and Vadis and Kooistra bring their unique experience and perspectives to their new posts. But by removing a key leader such as Lamb, the burden of proof is on the governor, Slawik and her new leadership team to seamlessly deliver results for Metro Transit, the Metropolitan Council and, most important, the Twin Cities.
A world-class transit system is required for a world-class metropolitan area, which is what the Met Council and those responsible for the One Minnesota vision should be striving for.