Metropolitan Council governance reform deserves robust debate

We welcome the recent public debate that has raised questions about the governance structure of the Metropolitan Council. We agree that membership through a partisan gubernatorial appointment process has led to suspicions and ever growing concerns with the lack of trust and credibility between the Met Council, local elected officials, and public stakeholders.

The body charged with the responsibility and authority to guide the region’s growth and provide important regional services deserves better.

In response to this growing unrest, a broad, non-partisan coalition of local elected officials from across the metropolitan area has been meeting over the past two years to address these and other concerns. The foundation from which we began was to better align local governments more closely with the Metropolitan Council and ensure that the Council is more accountable to the interests of citizens, represents local and regional issues and values more effectively, and benefits from continuity in leadership. We also considered how to address issues of public trust and concerns raised by the Office of the Legislative Auditor.

The result of that work was a proposal to change the way members of the powerful Metropolitan Council are appointed, bringing greater transparency and openness to its important work. For the Met Council to be most effective and accountable, citizens must feel that the body effectively represents their goals and values. Every other major regional planning organization in the United States has a majority of locally elected members. The Metropolitan Council is an exception with its membership comprised solely of non-elected individuals appointed by the governor.
The Metropolitan Governance Transparency Initiative (+), so named by the coalition of counties and cities supporting it, would expand the membership of the Council from its current 17 members to 27. Members would be chosen by the cities and counties they would represent on the Council. The only requirement of an appointee is that he/she must hold an election certificate of some type from the district they are chosen to represent.

As Democrats, we’re disappointed that this effort and the resulting legislation are being characterized as a scheme by Republicans that favors some communities over others. We’d argue that it’s a nonpartisan effort to restore public trust and remove the partisan nature of the current governance structure. A strong, respected and accountable regional governing body is critical to maintaining and strengthening the vitality of the metropolitan region.
Here is what the MGTI proposal would provide:

Greater Accountability to Taxpayers
Elected officials are representatives of and accountable to their constituents. This model would ensure the Met Council is accountable to a regional constituency of those impacted by its decisions and enable the Council to develop its own regional priorities.

Continuity and Stability in Regional Governance
This would provide stability and continuity within the Council for its ongoing initiatives and priorities, rather than being potentially reconstituted every four years. Service on the council would not change based on the governor and his/her partisan ideology.

Responsive to Local and Regional Issues
Local elected officials are already engaged in their communities and would bring greater awareness and connections with local and regional issues and an opportunity to leverage a greater mix of local perspectives. While some may say (delete reference to Duininck) local elected officials are unable to think regionally or long term, we would respectfully disagree. County Commissioners have worked for decades on many regional issues, serving on the Transportation Advisory Board, Metropolitan Mosquito Control District, and the Metropolitan Emergency Services Board, just to name a few.

Greater Efficiencies in Government
The Transportation Advisory Board could be eliminated as the Council could act on its own as the Metropolitan Planning Organization. This would streamline the process by eliminating a board in the region with overlapping planning and funding responsibilities. Federal law requires there be elected officials serving on the MPO.

We owe the public this discussion. The MGTI is good policy that connects the Met Council to the constituents it serves – and levies taxes upon – with openness and transparency, making it more effective in its important role of regional governance.
At a time when citizens are demanding greater accountability and transparency in decision making, we can no longer delay action on needed change.

Kathleen A. Gaylord serves as a Dakota County Commissioner and is the former Mayor of South St. Paul. Randy Maluchnik is a Carver County Commissioner who previously served on the Chaska City Council. More information about the Metropolitan Governance Transparency Initiative can be found at www.metrogovernance.com.