Met Council: If it is such a great regional model, why is it the only one after 50 years?

The Star Tribune today had this headline, “As Met Council turns 50, former chief says governance change ‘inevitable’: Former leaders assess its unique regional role.”

Noteworthy is the concession from former Met Council Chair Kurt Johnson that the Council, enabled by the legislature in 1967 to handle sewage for our growing metro area, concedes that a change in the governance structure coming.

Former Chairman Curt Johnson, who was appointed by then-Gov. Arne Carlson, said the council must give local governments a larger role in regional governance.

“They feel like they’re second-class citizens in making regional decisions,” Johnson said. “And the noise is getting louder, the pressure is getting more intense. I think it is absolutely inevitable there will be a governance change.”

Local elected officials are not just second-class; they are made subservient by the Council’s interpretation of the enabling legislation and its Thrive MSP 2040 plan.

Here is a perfect example: “Council Chairwoman Alene Tchourumoff highlighted the region’s need for affordable housing and improved transit.”

Who asked the Met Council to take on housing of any kind, affordable or otherwise? (Why is government involved in building or providing housing?)

As for transit, which the Council both plans, owns and operates, could we please get some 21st Century thinking on how we get around instead of a multi-billion-dollar plans for light rail? Think nimble, affordable buses, and road lanes for those buses (and Lyft, Uber et. al.)  Our congestion is a serious and growing problem and the blame for it falls squarely in the Council’s and Governor Dayton’s lap.

The article took note of the growing controversy around the Council’s unique governance structure—the Council is appointed by the governor, has the broadest scope of authority of any metro planning organization (MPOs) in the country, and has a budget that is larger than 17 of its regional peers combined—and it is the least accountable. (You can read more from our adjunct fellow, Kevin Terrell, here. )

This is why the Center has been joined by a growing number of legislators, and just as importantly, officials at the city and county level, over the last several years in calling for a complete restructuring of how we approach regional planning and infrastructure.

Here is Rep. Jim Nash, who is the former mayor of Waconia:

“The council’s scope of authority has grown over the last 50 years from simple planning to wastewater, transit, housing, and some believe that by 2040 the council will address such things as the achievement gap, social justice, and global warming,” Nash said in a written question, asking whether the council had a “runaway scope of authority.

Ted Mondale who led the legislative effort to substantially increase the Council’s power (and conflicts of interest) in 1994-1995 by making the Council the planner, owner and operator of transit, had this to say in response to Rep. Nash and all the other elected officials in the region:

Former Chairman Ted Mondale, appointed by Reform Party Gov. Jesse Ventura, said the council’s responsibilities have been created by the Legislature.

“The Met Council is doing exactly what the bipartisan Legislature told them to do,” Mondale said. He added that the council should not reach beyond what people have asked for.

Mondale has thrown down that gauntlet, again. While annoying and not correct that the Council is acting under actual authority, he is correct that the legislature created the creature that is the Council and the legislature must take it out, breaking it up into its constituent parts and spinning them off where they can do more good and no harm. Think Baby Bells.

Reporter Eric Roper wrote:

The Met Council is one of the most powerful regional governments in the country, with responsibilities far exceeding regional bodies in other metro areas. Johnson said he remembers delegations from many other cities visiting during his tenure in the 1990s — admiring the “unusual” and “rare” regional governance.

“When they see it and they leave they always say, ‘Gee, we wish we could get one of those for our region,” Johnson said. “And we always have to confess: Well, if we had it to do over today we couldn’t get that either.”

If it is such a great regional model, why after 50 years is still the only one in the country?