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The Met Council chair is stepping down – here's why that's important

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Susan Haigh announced Wednesday she is stepping down from her position as chair of the Metropolitan Council.

On the surface, this may not sound that exciting – it's a bureaucratic head leaving a regional entity that pops up in the news when things such as the Southwest Light Rail line are being discussed.

But the Met Council has a big impact on the state's most populous counties. It's the sculptor of many of the Twin Cities metro region's plans and policies, moving and molding money throughout the counties to create a larger, functioning piece – with the goal of keeping the area economically prosperous.

What is the Met Council?

The council is made up of 17 members.

There's the chair – which Haigh will continue to be until Gov. Mark Dayton names a successor – plus 16 council members that represent the 16 districts the Met Council covers.

Those districts cover the state's seven metro counties: Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, and Washington.

It was created in 1967 by the Minnesota Legislature in order to coordinate the growth of the metro region. It's since added responsibilities, and is now in charge of wastewater treatment facilities, transportation services, aviation, affordable housing and regional parks.

For 2013, the council touted the growing popularity of the region's parks, support for public transportation and businesses along popular lines, its emphasis on renewable energy to save money in the public works sector, Section 8 housing accolades, and more.

Why should I care?

The Met Council operates on a budget bordering $1 billion; for the 2015 fiscal year, the council asked for a preliminary budget of $927 million.

In a September piece, MinnPost said that makes it the fourth-largest government in the state.

The Pioneer Press says it gets its funding through regional taxes, fares, user fees, and some state and federal funding.

Where that money – some of which is yours – is spent can affect residents of the seven counties it serves.

And Haigh's time directing it hasn't been without bumps.

MinnPost notes the Met Council was criticized for favoring transit plans over road work, and for what critics said was an uneven distribution of affordable housing throughout the counties.

In an editorial Thursday, the Pioneer Press called for the next chair to better serve the eastern portion of the region, as the "overall balance of power in the region tilts toward Minneapolis and the west metro."

But if someone has an issue with the council's actions, recourse is difficult – all members are appointed, not voted in.

The next chair

Who Haigh's successor is, we don't know yet. The governor's office is taking applications for the position through Dec. 1. A timetable for Dayton appointing the new chair was not revealed. (Haigh is stepping down to focus on her position as CEO of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.)

But Dayton, who will choose the chair, outlined his philosophy in a news release:

"The Chair of the Metropolitan Council must lead the Council in its important mission to create a financially sustainable 21st Century transportation system, promote housing opportunities across the region, and invest in infrastructure that supports economic development."

So good or bad, you can likely expect more of the same.

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