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Can the Met Council be tamed?

Can the Met Council be tamed?
MinnPost illustration by Brian Barber
With 4,200 employees and an $890 million annual operating budget, the Metropolitan Council is a benevolent beast of local government.

It’s the fourth-largest government in Minnesota, measured by annual budget. It delivers some of the most important services in the state’s most populous region. It has the power to tax, and it decides where growth — and all it entails — should occur in the metro region. 

And there really isn’t anything like it in the United States.

With 4,200 employees and an $890 million annual operating budget, the Metropolitan Council is a benevolent beast of local government, providing both critical daily functions — highways, mass transit, sewers, water and parks — as well as developing far-reaching plans that will guide the region’s future growth. 

“There are no comparables,” said University of Minnesota law professor Myron Orfield, who studies regional government, and who, as a state legislator, drafted the 1994 bill that created the modern iteration of the Met Council.

Despite all that, the 16 mostly anonymous board members who make the Met Council’s decisions never face voters — and need just one supporter to take office: the governor. They are, as critics almost invariably describe them, the “unelected” Met Council.

For officials in the region who are elected, that fact has long been the source of frustration. “This whole thing has made me wonder once again how different would this look if … the Met Council and the members had to answer to the people and the residents of the city?” Minneapolis Council Member Cam Gordon said during the city’s debate over the alignment for the massive Southwest LRT project.

The non-partisan Office of the Legislative Auditor said much of the same when it went looking into the Met Council in 2011, finding that the council’s lack of elected members reduced its credibility. “Many stakeholders we interviewed did not think the Met Council members are sufficiently accountable for their decisions,” the report noted.

Perhaps former Met Council chair Peter Bell, who served as the council chair during all eight years of the Tim Pawlenty administration, sums up the body’s unique role most succinctly: “Ninety percent of the people don’t know it exists. And the other 10 percent go to bed each night worrying about what it might do.” 

Change inevitable?

At the time it was released, the legislative audit report triggered lots of conversations and lots of legislative hearings about the Met Council — and exactly zero changes in its makeup or how it is chosen. 

Recently, though, two controversies have yet again raised the council’s profile — and again led to calls for reform: One over the chosen alignment of Southwest light rail transit, which will extend the Green Line light rail route to Eden Prairie; and another over the proposed transportation funding formula designed to address racial and income inequities in urban areas over the transit needs of the five so-called collar counties: Washington, Dakota, Scott, Anoka, and Carver.

On Thursday afternoon, a pair of suburban Republican legislators will hold a press conference “regarding Met Council’s overreach” that will include a “call for action regarding this unelected body.”

Even supporters of the Met Council think change may be coming. Bell, for one, said he foresees some hybrid of elected and appointed council members in order to combine the benefits of each system. (Full disclosure: Bell is a member of MinnPost’s board of directors).

Likewise, former Met Council chair Curtis Johnson — who, like Bell, describes himself as a supporter of the council and its mission — has a hard time believing the council won’t be forced to change somehow. “Lately, I’ve come to the conclusion that some change in governance of the Met Council is becoming inevitable.”

Go west

Should the Twin Cities go looking for other models for how the Met Council could function, it might look at Portland, Oregon. In fact, that’s the only place it can look.

Most metropolitan regions in the U.S meet federal requirements for regional government agencies with far weaker governing bodies that are known as Councils of Government (or COGs). But outside of some regional planning functions, and the authority to divvy up federal grant money, such groups are usually little more than discussion forums. “Everyone is there to make sure nothing happens,” joked Ethan Seltzer, a professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University who studies COGs.

Oregon was looking at creating a more-potent regional body than COGs around the same time Minnesota was. Both looked at creating an elected body; Portland opted for one, while Minnesota didn’t, going with an appointed council instead. Since then, no region in America has succeeded in duplicating either.

Alan Ehrenhalt, the former editor of Governing Magazine said there’s a reason for that. “Creating another layer of government is neither popular nor practical,” he said. And few who know the system — or the politics of regionalism  — think it could happen in the Twin Cities today.

The Met Council, then and now

When the Met Council was originally created by the state Legislature in 1967, it was in response to federal law requiring regional bodies to review loan and grant applications, writes Orfield in “Region: Planning the Future of the Twin Cities,” a book he co-authored with Thomas F Luce, Jr. “The tug-of-war between local governments attempting to preserve their own power and the growing need for comprehensive regional planning is the enduring political legacy of the Met Council,” write Orfield and Luce. 

Initially, the council was charged with crafting regional growth plans, and then to get local and regional land use, roads and sewer projects to conform to those plans. In those early years, it had the authority to approve budgets and plans of the regional transit agency and regional wastewater agency, but it wasn’t directly responsible for delivering those services.

By the early 1990s, however, it had become clear that the arrangement didn’t work very well. “The various regional entities and commissions were not cooperating with each other,” Orfield said. “They were actually fighting amongst themselves. In the midst of the war, we were able to consolidate them.”

His bill folded the transit and sewer agency into the council, creating the entity that exists today. Now, “more than 90 percent of council revenue comes from user charges, passenger fares, and state appropriations, primarily the Motor Vehicle Sales Tax,” according to council staff. “Of the council’s $80 million levy, more than 60 percent pays for parks and transit debt service.”

From the start, however, Orfield wanted an elected council but was not able to find enough votes, and other possible structures were floated without success.

“It’s kind of like a lot of things with democracy,” Orfield said. “People are pretty clear in what they don’t like, but they’re not so clear with what they do like.”

How about making the county commissioners in the region the council with voting clout based on their populations? How about council appointments by the various local governments? If the governor is to appoint council members, shouldn’t they at least serve staggered terms so a newly elected governor has to wait — even win a second term — to replace the entire body? 

All were proposed. None succeeded.

Then, in 1994, Johnson, who was then chief of staff to Gov. Arne Carlson, got a call during a House-Senate conference committee asking if the governor would be in favor of appointing all Met Council members — and having them serve at his pleasure. It meant the governor, and all of his successors, would be able to remove council members at will. (Met Council members are confirmed by the state Senate, but they are rarely contested.)

Johnson said he knew his boss’s answer — but asked anyway.

No surprise, Carlson, as the man who would be given the power to pick and choose members, thought it was fine idea. What politician wouldn’t?

Johnson now says such sweeping appointment authority was a mistake. “It made the Met Council a function of the governor’s office,” he said.

The Metropolitan Council building on Robert Street in St. Paul.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
The Metropolitan Council building on Robert Street in St. Paul.

Each new governor could “clear the decks” or at least make sure they have enough votes for whatever their version of regionalism entailed, which reduces the sort of continuity required for long-term planning — and takes away the body’s independence.

“Any day Carlson could have called and said ‘I want you to stop this light rail stuff’ and we would have stopped it,” Johnson said. Instead, though Carlson was what Johnson described as a “rail skeptic,” he allowed the council to proceed with planning.

Still, Orfield never really gave up the dream of an elected Met Council. “There’s nothing like this in the United States that has this much power that isn’t elected,” he said. Yet his attempts as a legislator to pass that change were either defeated on close votes or, when he finally succeeded, vetoed by Carlson. 

Opposition to the idea tended to come from the state Senate and metro-area county commissioners. “Both the Senate and the counties are sort of jealous of Met Council members,” Orfield said. “I think the senators feel an elected Met Council would be bigger dogs than them, and I think the counties do too.” 

Would elections matter?

What difference would having an elected Met Council make?

Orfield, who also counts himself among the believers in the council’s mission, said he thinks an elected council could be more bold, especially in enforcing the urban growth boundaries contained in the regional plan.

And any concerns that an elected council would be too partisan or gridlocked, Orfield said, is the price of doing business in a democracy: “Like a lot of things in government, it’s the least terrible solution.”  

Minneapolis Council Member Lisa Goodman, who has been a vocal opponent of the Met Council’s approved alignment for SWLRT through her district, said she doesn’t even need to mention light rail to explain why she thinks the council should be reformed.

Instead, she points to the on-going reconstruction of sewer lines in Minneapolis, which has resulted in residents having problems with vibration, foundation cracking and lack of access to their homes (among other things).

“When there’s a problem in Minneapolis, people know who to call,” Goodman said. That’s their council member. Not so with the Met Council, and its system isn’t really set up for them to handle constituent issues anyway. Staff members at Met Council headquarters are more concerned with finishing the project than dealing with problems. 

Goodman criticisms echoed the legislative auditor’s conclusions about the council and its decision-making credibility. “With a very large, complicated project, honesty and transparency are vital, especially when you have winners and losers,” she said. But she thinks the Met Council displayed neither honesty nor transparency when it came to making decisions about Southwest LRT.   

And yet, there are no shortage of arguments in favor of an appointed council, not the least of which comes from the Met Council Chair Susan Haigh, who cites the current council’s effectiveness in defending the way it currently does business: “If you look at the outcomes and the metrics, we do pretty well,” Haigh said, particularly when it comes to delivering services like transit and wastewater. “In fact, we do better than most regions of the country.”

Even the critical Legislative Auditor’s report said there are advantages to the status quo. “Transit in the region has operated relatively successfully thus far … and would likely continue to do so from riders’ perspectives,” the report stated. “Additionally, having appointed rather than elected members is more likely to result in regional, rather than parochial, decisions.”

That’s what Bell fears should the Met Council ever be elected: that it would become a hyper-political body whose ability to work through tough issues “are diminished … not enhanced,” due to being elected. “If you had an elected Met Council you’d get people on the extremes. It would be a mini-Legislature, and some would argue we already have one of those.”

Johnson said there are logical and fair arguments for both sides. He should know. Having previously argued for an elected council as executive director of the Citizens League, he argued against it as Carlson’s chief of staff. With an appointed council, “you have a wider range of people to pick from who would consider serving but would never run for the office.”

And Johnson thinks Orfield’s notion that an elected council would be more independent and more courageous isn’t borne out by the “risk-averse behavior” that is common among elected officials.

As least with the governor responsible for appointing the council, Johnson argues, he or she can be held accountable for the region’s success or failures. With the current Met Council, said Johnson, “The governor is effectively the mayor of the region.”

The Portland experience

In Portland, the Metro Council has power to enforce land use and growth decisions, said Portland State’s Seltzer, who has studied regional governance and has worked for the council there. But Portland’s regional planning agency does so carefully, even with the clout that comes from having elected members.

“It took us a long time to learn how to use it because it is so explosive,” Seltzer said. He is hesitant to say that any one form of council makeup is better. The Portland government succeeds because it has strong direction in state law and common goals among regional players.

An elected council “is not the most-important factor, though it is important,” he said. Any fears about the area’s council becoming overly polarized between urban and suburban interests have yet to be realized, Seltzer said, though it probably helps that the council has just six districts, with each containing both urban and suburban sections. 

In the Twin Cities, though, the Met Council is made up of representatives from 16 districts plus the chair, with sharper delineation between areas that might favor more highways and less density and areas that might want more mass transit and higher density. 

Why reform now?

So what could trigger turning the conversation about the Met Council into more than what Johnson labeled a “political parlor game?” 

Money.

If there is another push in the next session of the Legislature to double the regional transit sales tax to fund light rail and other transit projects, making the council more accountable is “inevitable,” said Johnson. 

Changes could range from full-on elections to allowing county commissioners to nominate people the governor could choose from.

In his audit of the agency, Legislative Auditor James Nobles proposed a hybrid: gubernatorial appointees serving alongside elected county commissioners and elected city officials. All would serve staggered terms so they couldn’t be replaced en masse when a new governor is elected. “Having a combination of local elected and appointed officials would provide the council with an effective mix of regional and local perspectives,” the audit stated. “Additionally, having local elected officials on the council would increase its credibility and accountability with transit stakeholders in the region.”

As leader and spokesperson for the council, and someone with a direct line to Gov. Mark Dayton, Met Council chair Haigh would likely have a significant voice regarding any changes. She brings a combination of experiences that makes her well situated for her current job. A Met Council staff attorney early in her career, she has also been an assistant Dakota County attorney, chief deputy Ramsey County attorney and an elected Ramsey County commissioner.

As someone who knows both the needs for regional and long-term thinking as well as the concerns of local government leaders, she thinks the current setup allows the council “to create the required vision to balance local concerns and the region’s needs.”

“I think our structure is pretty good,” she said. “I don’t know that it’s perfect.” Changes, however, are the Legislature’s prerogative, not the council’s.

As the longest serving chair, it seems appropriate that Bell gets the last word. He thinks some change is likely, just not too much. “People who say it should stay the way it is are naive,” he said. “And those who say it should change 100 percent should know that would create all sorts of problems.”

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Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 10/16/2014 - 10:48 am.

    Would elected Met Council even touch equity concerns?

    I agree with former Chair Bell, that “it would become a hyper-political body whose ability to work through tough issues ‘are diminished … not enhanced,’ due to being elected.”
    Just look at the press conference coming this afternoon, wherein two suburban Republicans are going to complain about using equity measurements as just a small percentage of the decision formula for allocating road dollars.
    Suburban pro-grothwers have enjoyed a long run of expanding sprawl, and when asked to just start to consider the impacts of their development patterns on low income people and people of color and their employment and housing options, they freak out.
    Witness the unprecedented five-county joint hearing a few weeks ago that was an extended tongue lashing of the Met Council for daring to notice that past and current development funding decisions may have had a role in our stubborn racial disparities.
    I get that being unelected makes the Met Council an easy target and a fun punching bag. But they also have the ability to make hard decisions because they don’t have to pander to the currently debased polity.

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 10/16/2014 - 01:48 pm.

      Agreed

      The last thing we need is another elected political body in this state, which will accomplish absolutely nothing. The sprawl issue is a particular reason for keeping the Met Council in its present form. The people who want to live 25 miles from downtown but insist on 6 lane roads to get to work is the cause of most of our metro road problems. Congress and the MN legislature are enough for political bodies for this state.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/16/2014 - 11:38 am.

    Slightly ambivalent

    When I was a planning commissioner, I had multiple opportunities to work around the fringes of the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG, or “Doctor Cog”). I thought it was pretty easy to see the limitations of councils of regional governments that didn’t have a strong regional direction based in legislation, and I still think so. The counterargument, however, is not without merit. Though people who are appointed rarely do so, the possibility *does* exist that they can adopt policies that are easily perceived, and sometimes justifiably so, as autocratic. Fair or not, both the possibility and the perception of it more or less go with the territory, so I’m inclined, on the one hand, to agree with Professor Orfield that there is logic to both sides.

    That said, however, I’ve seen first-hand – once again, as a planning commissioner – how the narrow and parochial very quickly can come to dominate both discussion and policy when there’s no regional organization to at least attempt to bring order out of chaos, and/or to steer the regional ship, if you will, in a different direction. In that context, in fact, I don’t have a lot to add to Ralf Wyman’s observations. I agree, as he does, with former Chairman Bell that an elected body would very quickly become hyper-partisan, and might well be paralyzed when what’s needed is action on a particular regional issue. Wyman’s examples regarding press conferences and the 5-county hearing are well-chosen and absolutely relevant.

    There are certainly drawbacks to a body like the Met Council being made up exclusively of appointed members, with a lack of responsiveness to individual citizens being pretty high on that list, but I think Wyman is right on target when he suggests that *not* having to pander to the narrow and parochial interests of individual municipalities is a huge benefit of having an appointed body. I lived for half a century or so in suburban St. Louis County, Missouri, where 96 municipalities and hundreds of elected municipal officials almost never agree about anything, and residents suffer unnecessarily as a result. That’s not a route I’d like to see taken here.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/16/2014 - 02:28 pm.

      Observation

      And there we have the voice of real world experience from Ray. Below we have the ideological point of view from Mike.

    • Submitted by Chris Johnson on 10/21/2014 - 03:24 pm.

      Twin Cities create greater need

      The need for an “un-hyper-partisan” regional organization is especially critical for the the Twin Cities metro area, because unlike most other metro areas in the USA of this size, we are not dominated by one large city, e.g. Denver in the Denver metro, Portland in the Portland metro, etc.

      Instead, we have closer ratio of populations: Minneapolis (~400k), St. Paul (~300k), Bloomington (~86k), Brooklyn Park (~78k), Plymouth (~73k), etc.

      Compare Denver (~635k), Aurora (~339k), Lakewood (~145k), and Portland (~609k), Gresham (~109k).

      So I find myself in agreement with Ralf Wyman, Ray Schoch, Charman Bell and others. An elected Met Council would likely become a political disaster.

  3. Submitted by Mike Downing on 10/16/2014 - 11:38 am.

    Need elected representatives on Met Council

    Met Council’s credibility gap will continue with Governor appointees. Good governance dictates elected appointees who represent the residents in the metropolitan area. Otherwise we have taxation without representation, i.e. the basis for our Declaration of Independence and revolutionary war.

    • Submitted by Terry McDanel on 10/19/2014 - 12:10 pm.

      WWPRS What Would Paul Revere Say?

      Ok, point taken. But when you have to call back to 1776 to support an argument, its a stretch.

  4. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/16/2014 - 12:11 pm.

    Met Council

    Personally, I think the Met Council isn’t stringent enough when it comes to urban sprawl. Just look at the Stillwater bridge as prime exhibit A. We’re spending a lot of money just so people can commute in from rural Wisconsin, even though there are other large bridges nearby.

    Like Ralf above, people in the far flung suburbs have been siphoning off funds for too long, creating infrastructure that eventually will need to be upgraded and replaced. In the meantime we have roads and sewers in the Twin Cities that are already in place and need to be repaired. How about spending a couple of bucks here instead of in some farm field thirty miles out?

    All we’re looking for is a little equity here in the core cities to balance out the huge expenditures in the exurbs.

    • Submitted by jody rooney on 10/16/2014 - 02:14 pm.

      This is exactly why the council needs to be appointed

      although I would probably take Jim Nobles advice on anything and really think the hybrid is a good pragmatic alternative for the whiners.

      The issue isn’t about equity it’s about vision and coordination and it is much easier for a central body making objective decisions to do just that.

      The transportation network is not just about commuters it is also about moving goods. make the The new Stillwater bridge is not redundant, look at the map in Wisconsin. Try to find good north south routes. There aren’t many – there actually aren’t many in Minnesota either. But with the number of rails decreasing all those goods that use to travel by rail now travel by truck. Enjoy your bike trails folks the rest of us are paying the bill in higher transportation costs.

      Let me give you another example of uncoordinated planning. Hugo just dug up their rail line that could have served as a commuter line to put in a bike trail that is so scenic you can see the industrial park on your left and highway 61 on your right. Talk about short sighted. With Anoka county weak on the Northern Lights express it would have been a perfect opportunity to move that train to Ramsey and Washington County. With the green line in it is probably a least costly alternative with benefit cost ratio close to the Anoka county location.

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/17/2014 - 06:51 am.

        Election

        My inclination would be to blow off the whiners. If you give them a hybrid system, that will only embolden them more and they’ll want all the board elected. Then they’ll simply find something else to whine about. It’s better to hold the line where it is rather than give in to them.

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/17/2014 - 07:45 am.

        Rails to Trails

        One of the purposes of putting in trails where trains used to run is to preserve the right of way in case the government wants to run a line through there someday. At the moment though we’re not putting in bike and walking trails because there’s a huge amount of rail traffic going through the corridor. Quite the opposite: the line has been abandoned by the railroad companies, which then makes them available for local governments to pick up.

        You’re putting the cart before the horse. The railroad companies are bailing on the line, not being kicked out by bikers.

  5. Submitted by john herbert on 10/16/2014 - 01:48 pm.

    Tame the Shrew!

    One-half elected by the folks who are affected by the taxing and policy decisions and one-half appointed by the Governor with the chair breaking a tie.

    Terms to be staggered.

    A couple folks above will be upset with this statement, but I still think we could spend the SWLRT money in a more equitable and efficient fashion by foregoing that link.

    Let’s use some of the cash to make North and Henry into rigorous academies of learning/among the best neighborhood schools around.

    BTW – sorry but I believe the comment that SWLRT is a link to the Green Line is a bit of a stretch – just being honest!

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/17/2014 - 07:47 am.

      SWLRT

      To be clear, the SWLR isn’t a link to the green line, it’s an extension of it. The blue line would more accurately be considered a link.

  6. Submitted by John Peschken on 10/16/2014 - 02:54 pm.

    Elections

    Do we really want more special interest money financing elections for the Met Council?

    I already have to turn off the TV or radio sometimes because I can’t take more half-truths and outright lies. Our elections system is broken, and electing the Met Council will only exacerbate the problem.

    • Submitted by Todd Piltingsrud on 10/17/2014 - 05:09 am.

      Agreed

      If we had an elected Met Council, what’s to stop super pacs from dumping money into the elections to influence policy? It’s naive to think that an elected council would be more responsive to citizens. We’d need some real campaign finance reform for that to work.

      It’s actually a good sign that the council is ruffling some feathers. It means they’re getting something done. They’re one of the only governing bodies in this state that isn’t gridlocked.

  7. Submitted by Steve Carlson on 10/17/2014 - 08:26 am.

    Why does it need to be tamed?

    Because there’s a DFL governor.

    Where was the Republican outrage about the Met Council during the Pawlenty administration?

    Here’s the reality:

    Under the Met Council’s plan, called Thrive MSP 2040, the share of the region’s growth in the core cities and inner-ring suburbs will be dwarfed by that of the more dispersed suburbs and exurbs, accounting for only 28 percent of the total. That’s 1 percentage point more than the last Met Council long-range goal, and 3 points less than the actual average from 2001 to 2009, mostly under a council controlled by conservative appointees of Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

    • Submitted by Chris Johnson on 10/21/2014 - 03:42 pm.

      Surprising stats

      Those are some surprising statistics, that the Thrive MSP 2040 goal is less than the average under Pawlenty. Suburban and ex-urban sprawl are financially unsustainable. Read the economic analysis done by Charles Marohn, former city planner, for a real eye-opener.

  8. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 10/17/2014 - 04:31 pm.

    “Taming”: What a strange choice for the title.

    Those who’ve observed the Met Council over the years would say that in the policy realm the word “timidity” might characterize it the best. The Council isn’t elected but it and its staff hear loud and clear the political voices from the second-ring and beyond. The notion that elected officials are accountable, and appointed officials are not, hugely oversimplifies how officials are influenced in their decisions.

    And as other commenters note, with the present “debased polity” a call for an elected Council is a thinly disguised call for a Council that disappears in the face of parochial development desires. Staggered terms would be salutary in addressing the continuity issue that has plagued the Council but regional development policy is a technocratic effort for which a regional and not balkanized view is essential by its very nature.

    SWLRT has been very flawed in its planning, but that has nothing to do with an elected or appointed Met Council.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/18/2014 - 09:37 am.

    Exaggerated power

    I think the Met Council’s power is exaggerated, it looks like their primary function is planning but they still have to cobble together elected support. The only reason people are whining about it now is because some affluent MPLS residents didn’t get their way in Kennilworth. When you actually look at all the projects like the Stillwater bridge, or the light rail systems you find that there was plenty of federal, state, local, and country involvement. None of the light rail projects for instance would gone through without local consent, and that includes MPLS. People just don’t always like the outcomes but that’s always the case with any plan or project.

    The Met Council didn’t ram the Green Line down MPLS’s throat, MPLS politicians just finally realized that placing the whims of a couple dozen residents above the needs of an entire city is a losing proposition. Ray is correct when he points out that projects can fall victim to disingenuous objections from local parties (i.e. “all we ever wanted was to move the freight rail… and an invisible LR buried in a tunnel… and the equity, my god the equity!”). MPLS has shown us that it is indeed possible for a city to behave like a spoiled brat. Maybe entities like the Met Council just provide a little adult supervision?

  10. Submitted by David Markle on 10/18/2014 - 07:35 pm.

    Good article

    Good review of history and issues, except that in the case of St. Paul/Ramsey County’s routing of the Green Line, the Met Council merely bowed to St. Paul and Ramsey County’s wishes, shirking its own duty of oversight on behalf of the Metropolitan region.

  11. Submitted by Ted Hathaway on 11/13/2014 - 09:42 pm.

    New boundaries?

    The miracle of the Met Council is that is exists at all. It represents a “new” way to govern another “new” entity which has arisen over the past century or so, the Twin Cities Metropolitan area. In the midst of this and throughout the rest of the state are all these “old” entities which have existed, usually unchanged, since the early days of the state, over 150 years ago. So we have Hennepin County and, let’s say, Lincoln County in Minnesota. Both are about the same size. Hennepin happens to have about 200 times the population of Lincoln. But they’re both “Counties” – whatever that means. You could say the same about municipalities. Or even States. Worried about representation on the Met Council? How about 2 senators from Wyoming and, by golly, 2 senators from California, which has 65 times the population. How’s that for representative government?

    The point is that we create political entities and boundaries, for whatever reason, and then we don’t change them. The Met Council is a brazen attempt to redress that. You can go from top to bottom listing how things haven’t changed. The whole idea of our “states” is something we created in the 18th century when a separation of 200 miles meant worlds apart. Does it really mean anything now – culturally, economically, linguistically, etc. – whether I live in Wisconsin or Minnesota? Or Ohio, for that matter? What differences there are, are subtle, and might well be greater even within any given state. Counties are even sillier. A concept based on practices in old England, it’s nevertheless saddled us with the reality of Hennepin County commissioners wielding far more power than any mere state legislator. Maybe even more than a member of Congress.

    Should the citizens of the TC Metro Area have a say in who sits on the Met Council? Absolutely. But given the utterly broken state of our electoral process, I think we’re likely to get a more “fair and balanced” slate of board members appointed by the governor, even if for brazenly political reasons, as opposed to having to vote in an “open” election for whoever happens to be the favorite of Wealthy White Man du Jour.

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