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Met Council gains support from cities

At a time when it has come under fire from multiple quarters, the Metropolitan Council has picked up welcome support from the region’s cities.

Metro Cities, an organization of 79 cities representing 90 percent of the region’s population, issued a report [PDF] Monday supporting the continued existence of the Met Council for providing region-wide planning and services “that cannot be as effectively and efficiently provided by local governments or the state.”

The organization specifically rejected proposals that the Met Council be made elective or transformed into a council of governments (COG) made up of local elected officials. The council’s 17 members currently are appointed by the governor and serve at his pleasure.

The report was prepared by a 17-member task force of local elected and appointed officials from throughout the seven-county metro area.

“Metro Cities recognizes the importance of effective regional governance,” said Task Force Chairwoman Ady Wickstrom, who serves on the Shoreview City Council. “Cities and residents in our metro area benefit from a Met Council that does a good job managing wastewater, transit and regional parks.”

At the same time, Wickstrom said, the report recognizes “the primary roles cities play in the provision of services, planning and economic development throughout the region, and the importance of collaborative relationships between our local and regional governments.”

The report did call for “more opportunities and formalized processes for local government involvement and participation” in the work of the Met Council.

Patrick Born, the council’s regional administrator, said in response that the agency “appreciates the efforts of the Metro Cities task force and its thoughtful process and findings in the on-going discussion of council governance. The task force clearly recognizes the importance and efficiency of having planning and services provided at the regional level …”

The Met Council and the region’s cities are bound together most directly in planning to shape regional growth.

Under state law, the council is required every decade to develop a regional framework to guide future growth as well as to prepare plans for four regional systems — transportation, aviation, wastewater collection and treatment, and regional parks and open space. Cities then are required to adopt or update local comprehensive plans to make them consistent with the council’s regional plans.

The Met Council currently is in the early stages of developing a 2040 regional development framework, which it plans to complete by 2014.

Over the last several years, the Met Council has come under attack from a variety of quarters, including conservative legislators, several suburban counties and suburban transit providers that don’t like council oversight.

Many of their complaints were included in a report on transit planning and governance that was issued early last year by the Office of Legislative Auditor. In the report, the auditor recommended that the council be restructured into a body with a mix of elected and appointed officials.

The Metro Cities task force rejected that idea, saying the council’s structure should not be fundamentally changed until a more comprehensive study is undertaken that extends beyond transit issues.

The group also expressed “strong opposition to any governance model under which county elected officials would represent a majority of local officials on the Metropolitan Council,” an idea that has been advanced at the Capitol.

Task force proposals

The task force’s recommendations included:

  • Requiring the governor to obtain greater input from local officials in the appointment of Met Council members.
  • Appointing council members for staggered terms, which would provide greater continuity and, more likely, greater bipartisan representation on the council. A bill providing for staggered terms was passed in 2008, but it was vetoed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
  • Providing a full-time salary for the chair of the Met Council. The job now pays $58,000 a year, and current Chair Susan Haigh is serving part-time, while continuing as president and CEO of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.
  • Acknowledging that the Twin Cities metro area extends beyond the seven-county area in which the council has jurisdiction, and exploring ways in which the adjacent counties can participate in addressing “critical issues relating to transportation, environment and land use.”

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