Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat told colleagues Thursday he won’t be a candidate for the chairmanship next month.
Opat has been board chairman for nine years, including the past five consecutively. He was elected to the board in 1992.
“I am proud of how functional and symbiotic the board has been during my tenure,” he wrote to his six colleagues.
He talked about wanting to spend more time focused on issues specific to his north-central Hennepin County district, including the Bottineau light-rail transit line which is entering a formidable planning stage. Opat also said he wants to delve into the capital budgeting process and work on programs for the developmentally disabled.
The chairman of the board bears responsibility for a lot of administrative tasks and coordination of meetings. The chair sets the tone and becomes a prominent face for the county both inside the bureaucracy and out. The position, however, doesn’t wield a great amount of actual power.
Opat, for example, successfully saw through passage of his hallmark achievement, the financing for Target Field, when he wasn’t the board chairman.
His decision not to run comes as he has been stepping out publicly on behalf of a group trying to win a soccer team and build a stadium near Target Field.
The vote for a new chairman takes place next month. To claim the position, a commissioner must have the backing of a majority of the seven-member board. In the past 18 years, either Opat or Commissioner Randy Johnson has led the board.
Ways and Means Chairwoman Jan Callison, who represents the western suburbs, is considered to be a strong candidate to succeed Opat. She is much respected for her well-informed, thoughtful and evenhanded approach to policy and governing.
Opat lives with his wife and three children live in Robbinsdale. The commissioner has long been active in coaching his kids’ sports.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 Twitter: @rochelleolson