Federal Agencies Scrutinize Met Council Compliance

The Met Council’s exemption from a federal requirement for Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) to have local elected officials, rather than political appointees, in charge of spending and policy decisions could be revoked, depending on the outcome of a review underway by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The Met Council remains the only MPO in the nation to be exempted from a requirement designed to hold regional governments accountable to the constituents subject to their decisions.

But Federal Transit Administration Highway (FTA) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) officials recently announced they will “undertake further review of the Met Council’s compliance with Federal requirements for the composition of an MPO.”

The review effectively reopens a 2015 decision by the Obama Administration to grandfather in the Met Council from the elected representation requirement and comes at the request of Congressman Jason Lewis (R-MN).

“In light of the important role of MPOs in transportation planning, the concerns you [Lewis] expressed about the effectiveness of the Met Council under its existing governance structure, and the information provided in your letter, additional study is warranted,” K. Jane Williams, FTA Acting Administrator, said in a letter to Lewis.

“It’s high time the Department of Transportation officially reviewed the Met Council’s standing given their refusal to comply with federal law,” Lewis said in a statement. “By deliberately excluding locally elected officials from their board, the Council has utterly failed in their duty to be held accountable to the taxpayers of the seven county metro area they serve.”

Similar reform measures to restructure the Met Council by adding local elected representatives to its board were passed by the GOP-controlled Minnesota Legislature in the last two sessions, but vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

“Met Council political appointees only answer to the governor and make the staff very powerful,” said Kim Crockett, Center of the American Experiment Vice President and General Counsel. “If the appointment model was working, the metro area would not be experiencing gridlock on our roads and gridlock on transportation policies and funding. Elected officials will bring credibility to the Met Council. Time is of the essence; we need a first-class transportation system for the metro area and the Met Council has failed to deliver one.”

A separate initiative in Washington aimed at revamping the Met Council remains on the table in the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) reauthorization legislation now before Congress. An amendment offered by Lewis in the House bill would preclude the Met Council from dispersing federal transportation funds without elected officials on its board.

But the provision faces an uncertain outcome in the Senate. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) are both on record opposing the Met Council amendment.