Lewis Amendment Addresses Met Council’s Flawed Governance Model

On April 24th Rep. Jason Lewis put forth a locally important amendment to H.R. 4, the bill re-authorizing the Federal Aviation Administration. It is a simple amendment that would finally require our unaccountable Metropolitan Council to finally have a majority of its governing board be elected officials.

Lewis’s press release notes:

Our amendment does not seek to change the operations or scope of the Met Council. It does not attempt to change the activities of the board. It simply requires that for a board be in compliance they need to have locally elected official representation consistent with every other MPO in the country.

That the Met Council is obviously flawed as a unrepresentative and locally unaccountable is not even a close call:  while every other of the more than 400 MPOs in the country has a board composed of a majority of elected officials (the legal requirement), the Met Council, by design, does not have even a one such official.

Can this governance issue be easily solved once Lewis’s bill passes? We don’t need to look past Minnesota’s borders, as all seven other MPOs in the state have a board composed of representatives from the counties and cities within the designated urban area (e.g. Duluth-Superior, see page 11, here). Little discussed is the fact that non-urbanized regions of the state are divided into development areas that have governing board with representatives from local counties, cities, schools, and other public interests (e.g. tribal councils). What rationale says such a structure is somehow workable in outside of the Twin Cities, but metro residents can’t be trusted to govern themselves in a democratically accountable way?

As a reminder, this is not Rep. Lewis’s first pushback in the broader battle against the Met Council. In early 2017 we published my report that detailed the Obama administration’s last-minute rule that would have greatly expanded the borders of MPOs, and to merge them over time. In the Chicago region, for instance, we would have seen a single MPO stretching from eastern Indiana, through Chicago, and north of Milwaukee. In Minnesota we might have seen an eventual merger of the Met Council with the planning authority in St. Cloud, which would have created a single MPO from west of St. Cloud, through and expanded Met Council and into western Wisconsin.

Of course, we see one example of why this matters as the Met Council tries to shove billions of dollars into unneeded, unsafe light rail projects that do nothing to alleviate congestion. Would a locally accountably agency be allowed to get away with that? Of course not.

Regardless of where you live in Minnesota, or your political persuasion, you should favour locally accountable and responsive government. Rep. Lewis’s amendment to finally bring the Met Council into compliance with federal law is a great move in the right direction.