A recent news conference at the State Capitol involving a bipartisan group of state and local elected officials took an unfortunate turn when, according to the Star Tribune, "Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey accused reform advocates of being motivated by their opposition to public transportation and light rail. He added that a board of elected officials would disrupt the council's regional focus." ("Rep. Lewis seeks to curb Met Council role," May 3).
Our unelected Met Council is an important regional governing body with responsibilities covering everything from wastewater treatment to public housing and transit. It is recognized by the federal government as the official metropolitan planning organization (MPO).
It's also an MPO out of compliance with federal law. Of the more than 400 MPOs in the country, our Met Council is the only one made up exclusively of gubernatorial appointees. While a waiver exempts it from a requirement that MPOs be composed of a majority of local elected officials, the Federal Highway Administration has encouraged the Met Council to move toward this structure to "make it more accountable to its public."
Instead, we have political appointees with authority to impose taxation without representation and the ability to control $3.9 billion in federal transportation funding, approve a $1 billion budget and set their own agenda.
If you care about transit funding, proposed legislation bringing the governance model into federal compliance would remove the cloud of illegitimacy that swirls about the Met Council in the Trump administration.
Let's fix this.
The public deserves a robust debate based on facts. Distorted assertions from opponents protecting the status quo put a vital regional planning organization at risk. To put our reform proposal into a little perspective, let's look at recent history.
From 2003-2011, three Met Council districts representing Minneapolis were filled by then-, and possibly future, Gov. Tim Pawlenty. A quick review of the public applications from these three women shows all identified as Republican. One was a former legislator from the suburbs. Another was affiliated with a well-known conservative think tank and was a former deputy chief of staff to U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. A third self-identified as a stay-at-home mom with kids in private school and the wife of a Hennepin County commissioner.
In short, the Met Council under Gov. Pawlenty was made up of his friends and political allies. Today's Met Council consists of friends and allies of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. Mayor Frey may not remember the Pawlenty Met Council, but our guess is that if he had been mayor then, he might have been the first to call for reforms because the Pawlenty council didn't align with his political views.
Our proposed governance reforms would end the political whiplash the Met Council goes through with every change of governors.
We believe local communities should have a meaningful voice in decisions that impact them. Local elected officials have a far better understanding of regional and local issues than political appointees.
Under SF 2809, Minneapolis would continue to be represented by three Met Council districts, but instead of the governor hand-selecting members, Minneapolis and other communities in those districts would appoint local elected officials. There would be a robust discussion among local elected officials throughout the region in selecting members to the Met Council where an individual's views on Met Council policies are fully vetted.
Opponents of our initiative argue that these reforms put federal funding in jeopardy. This is not true. It's already in jeopardy due to lack of compliance with federal law.
Opponents argue that our initiative would bring conflicts of interest where local elected officials are simply incapable of separating their local needs from that of the greater regional good. In fact, the Transportation Advisory Board, like multiple other state boards and commissions, already consists of local elected officials making recommendations for regional transit policies with no apparent conflicts.
Finally, opponents argue that local elected officials are too busy to serve on a body as consequential as the Met Council. Given that most of the current Met Council members have full-time, high-profile professional careers, this apparently is not an issue.
We're working on a bipartisan solution to a real problem. At a time when citizens are demanding greater accountability and transparency in decisionmaking, we can no longer delay action on this needed change.
Mike Gamache is an Anoka County commissioner. Annette Thompson is a member of the Prior Lake City Council.