A group tasked by the Legislature with reforming the Metropolitan Council will wrap up its work Thursday — but has not settled on a single proposal for restructuring the regional planning board.
The Met Council — a powerful body with a wide range of responsibilities and a $1.4 billion budget — has long been criticized for lacking transparency and accountability, in part due to its members being appointed by Minnesota’s governor. The body oversees public transportation, wastewater treatment, land-use rules, affordable housing and public parks in the seven-county metro area.
The 17-member task force, which has been meeting since August, was tasked with analyzing various approaches to structuring the Met Council, including how its members should be picked. Task force members include legislators, citizens and nonprofit directors, some who have been critical of the Met Council over time and others who favor the status quo.
No single model or idea was favored by a majority of the task force, and the group is instead offering six separate proposals. The Legislature, which begins its session Feb. 12, will have the final say on what the council will look like in the future.
But the group did agree the Met Council has an accountability problem, said Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, the task force’s chair.
“There is widespread agreement that the Met Council governance needs to be fixed — I think what we found is that there are a variety of approaches,” Hornstein, a former Met Council member who called the governance problems “far-reaching” and “regional.”
What’s the problem?
Several other groups have reviewed the Met Council in the past, including one organized by the Citizen’s League in 2016 and a blue-ribbon panel convened by the governor in 2020. The Legislative Auditor looked at the Met Council in 2011, suggesting its members be both elected and appointed.
Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, the task force’s vice chair, said the Met Council has done some things well, such as regionalizing the wastewater treatment system.
“But when it comes to housing and land use, there’s a discrepancy between the urban and suburban communities,” he said, adding that it’s seemed like Hennepin County and the Met Council have wanted to control how some suburbs grow.
This is the first time the Legislature called for an examination of Met Council governance.
Sam Rockwell, a task force member and executive director of Move Minnesota, a nonprofit advocating for environmentally-friendly transportation, said the latest wave of interest was largely prompted by debates over the Southwest light-rail line being built by the Met Council.
The project “really spurred the folks in the Legislature to say they want to see something different,” he said.
Met Council spokeswomanTerri Dresen said in a statement that the council appreciates the task force’s work and looks forward “to the continued discussion on how to best serve the region going forward.”
The Southwest light-rail project, which will extend the Green Line and link downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, is a decade behind schedule and more than $1 billion over budget.
Mary Pattock, a task force member who lives near the proposed light-rail line and part of a group that unsuccessfully sued to stop it, noted that it is the most costly public works project in Minnesota history.
Her neighborhood has seen the fallout from the light-rail project so far, including the loss of hundreds of trees, she said. Cracks formed in the Cedar Isles condominiums’ hallway during the construction of a half-mile long tunnel in the narrow Kenilworth Corridor, and the condo’s underground parking garage flooded after a water main break in 2022.
“Over and over again, our neighborhood said the Met Council is not listening,” she said, adding that neighborhood residents predicted its problems.
The task force’s restructuring recommendations fall into three categories:
- Making the Met Council an elected body
- Keeping it as an appointed body
- Restructuring it into a “council of governments” — a regional planning group comprised of elected city and county leaders
Five proposals, including two submitted by Pratt, called for substantial change. A model put forth by Edina Mayor James Hovland suggested keeping aspects of the Met Council the same but moving to staggered terms, adding more members to the Met Council nominating committee and requiring a public comment period after members are nominated but before they’re appointed.
Dibble’s proposal suggests the Met Council be divided into two separate bodies that share planning responsibility, one a civic council comprised of mostly directly elected members and the other a council of governments in which appointees are chosen by caucuses of their peers. The council of governments would be consulted on all civic council decisions, could require those decisions be reconsidered and may veto civic council decisions with a 2/3 vote. In turn, the civic council can override that veto.
Hornstein said he supports Dibble’s proposal because it combined multiple ideas. He hopes it “will carry the day at the Legislature.”
Hennepin County Commissioner Marion Greene offered a plan for a directly elected Metropolitan Council, with staggered terms.
Pattock suggests separating the Met Council and Metro Transit. The Met Council would be a council of governments appointed by the governor according to specific criteria and funded by the legislature. Metro Transit would be a “special district” governed by a board of directors, most of whom are elected and can vote. Of the 15 voting members, three would be from Hennepin County and two from each of the other metro counties.
Pratt created two different models, the first a 40-member council of governments model where each member would represent a proportional district and be picked by a committee. The group would hire an executive director and pick a chair.
“I want the Met Council representatives [to be] closer to the communities they serve,” Pratt said, adding that this plan takes partisanship out of the equation.
Pratt’s second idea also calls for a 40-member council of governments model, with members appointed by the governor.
Some task force members are optimistic the Legislature will make changes based on their report, while others are doubtful.
“What’s news is that we’ve given [the Legislature] a recipe for approaching the problem,” Pattock said.
Hornstein said lawmakers might have their own ideas on how to blend different proposals into something new.
“If I have one message, it’s that the status quo is not tenable and the governance of this organization has to change,” Hornstein said.