There appears to be growing momentum to allow voters to pick members of the Metropolitan Council, an organization with vast influence over infrastructure and regional planning in the seven-county Twin Cities metro.
That was the takeaway from the first public listening session of the Metropolitan Governance Task Force, held Friday at the Wilder Foundation in St. Paul. The task force was created earlier this year by the Legislature to examine the Met Council's governance and recommend improvements.
"Ordinary people have trust issues with the Met Council, as it is now set up, because it is appointed," said John Dillery, a south Minneapolis resident and transit advocate. "I've never heard anyone say they don't want a Met Council. They want a stronger Met Council that gets things done."
The Metropolitan Council was created more than 50 years ago and has oversight of transit, regional land use, affordable housing aid and the treatment of wastewater. It has an annual budget of about $1.3 billion that comes from a mix of federal, state and local taxes along with charges for services.
The council's 16 members and chair are now appointed by the governor with input from community leaders. Several residents and local leaders who spoke Friday said elected members would be more responsive to community problems and concerns.
"We have to shift the culture. I don't think that will happen without a governance change," said Mitra Jalali, a St. Paul City Council member. "Let's make it better connected to everyday people."
The council recently has experienced intense scrutiny for its oversight of the Southwest Light Rail Line where various delays and cost overruns have pushed the project cost to more than $2.7 billion. It also has faced criticism for ongoing safety problems on buses and light rail trains, something several speakers emphasized Friday.
Abu Nayeem, a St. Paul resident and member of the Hamline Midway Coalition, said he had a "traumatic experience" with Metro Transit Police after witnessing a fight on a light rail train. He called for the Met Council to create a civilian oversight board for transit police.
The Metropolitan Governance Task Force has 17 members who were appointed by state leaders and advocates from across the region. It is led by Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, and Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake.
The group has met 10 times since August. Friday's listening session was the first of four chances for the public to weigh in. The next session is Dec. 14 at the Lake Elmo City Center.
The task force will make recommendations early next year to the Legislature, where there is growing bipartisan agreement that the Met Council needs reform.