Met Council Chair Abruptly Quits Amid Light Rail Standoff

Duininck Bike2The chairman of the controversial Metropolitan Council plans to step down at the end of July. Adam Duininck’s surprise announcement comes as the nation’s largest unelected regional government agency faces unprecedented turbulence across the board on light rail transit, mounting traffic congestion, unpopular housing policies, racial equity mandates and controls on suburban growth.

News coverage emphasized the intensifying resistance to the Met Council’s structure and authority that characterized Duininck’s two and a half year tenure at the top.

The Met Council has been under attack in recent months from Republicans who criticized it for having too much authority and too little accountability. In addition to running Metro Transit, the agency treats wastewater and oversees land-use planning for the seven-county metro area. Bills this legislative session to curb the agency’s powers were unsuccessful, however.

Duininck leaves with the outcome of his signature project in doubt. The fate of the proposed $1.9 billion Southwest Light Rail Transit line hinges on whether the federal government comes through with half of the funding, $929 million. The Trump administration budget zeroes out transit projects like SWLRT that were not fully approved by October 2016.

When the state legislature declined to fund SWLRT last year, Duininck broke a promise and secured Met Council approval to finance the project with the future issuance of $103.5 million through an obscure financing tool called “certificates of participation.” His agency’s action kept the line rail line afloat but also intensified opposition.

“As we have warned, the Met Council (all appointed by Dayton) is more powerful than the Legislative majority in Minnesota, not to mention all five suburban counties who have been demanding that its governance structure be reformed,” Kim Crockett, Center of the American Experiment Vice President said at the time.

Gov. Dayton’s choice of the state rail director Alene Tchourumoff as Duininck’s replacement leaves no doubt her top job will also be SWLRT. Replacement

“Alene’s years of experience in planning, rail transportation, and finance will be invaluable as Chair of the Metropolitan Council,” Dayton said in a statement announcing the appointment Tuesday.

Tchourumoff said in the statement that she was grateful for the opportunity.

“As the Twin Cities region continues to grow, there is more demand than ever to improve our transportation systems and our infrastructure,” she said in the statement.

While insisting construction of the 14.5 mile line will start this year, the agency has postponed bids from construction contractors twice in recent weeks.

But metro area residents will apparently have to wait until August to find out more about what Tchourumoff plans to do with the $1 billion budget and 4,000 employees that will soon be at her disposal. Met Council communications guru Kate Brickman refused to make Tchourumoff available.