Leaders of four suburban counties want changes to the way the Metropolitcan Council is put together – letting residents vote, rather than leaving it up to the governor.
These leaders – from Anoka, Carver, Dakota and Scott counties – put out a news release as a coalition Tuesday, outlining what they want to see reformed.
They believe that representatives on the Met Council should be elected by the people they govern instead of just appointed by the governor, and that there should be a better system of checks and balances in place, according to the release.
The purpose of the reform, according to the news release, is to hold the Council more accountable to its decisions and improve future regional planning, growth and economic development.
What is the Met Council?
The Council was created in 1967 by the Minnesota Legislature in order to coordinate the growth of the metro region. It's now in charge of wastewater treatment facilities, transportation services, aviation, affordable housing and regional parks.
It has 17 members - one chair and 16 seats that represent 16 districts - all appointed by the governor. Those districts cover the state’s seven metro counties: Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, and Washington. The Met Council is funded through regional taxes, fares, user fees, and some state and federal funding, operating on an annual budget of nearly $1 billion. The 2016 budget is $978 million, which you can read a summary of here.
Why the changes?
Every major regional planning organization in the United States holds majority elections for its members, while Met Council members are not elected and answer only to the governor, the release from the four counties argues. This non-elected body then has the ability to levy taxes on metropolitan-area residents.
"Minnesotans take pride in having an active role in the decision making process when it comes to public services but the current structure of the Met Council keeps their voices silent," said Rhonda Sivarajah, chair of the Anoka County Board of Commissioners.
The issue has been a complaint of local government leaders for years, says the Star Tribune, but would require action by the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton.
In 2011, a report from the Legislative Auditor recommend the Met Council be made up of a mix of people who are elected, and others who are appointed. That would help improve the council’s credibility and make it more accountable to the regional residents it represents.
MinnPost notes the Met Council has been criticized for favoring transit plans over road work, and for what critics said was an uneven distribution of affordable housing throughout the counties.
However, not all communities are in accordance with the reform.
The city of Minnetonka supports more local involvement in the selection process for Met Council members, but not a council of elected officials; in addition, Washington County's board is divided on the issue, reports the Star Tribune.
Official outline of new terms
The four counties have outlined an official statement of belief, and six principles for the reform.
The statement of belief is as follows: "The Metropolitan Council, due to its taxing and policy authority, should be accountable to a regional constituency of those impacted by its decisions. It should not operate as a state agency – as it does in its current form — answerable to only one person, the Governor."
The statement encourages any city or county in the metropolitan area that agrees with the following principles to pass a resolution adopting them. This would show the Legislature and governor how many local governments support reform and local representation.