City Debates Turning Down Grant in Latest Met Council Flap
Shakopee could become the first city to reject a $32,000 Met Council planning grant this week in the latest sign of local governments’ mounting antagonism to the heavy hand of the nation’s biggest unelected regional bureaucracy over their affairs.
“We are concerned about the direct connection of the Thrive 2040 Plan, Met Council’s housing policies and any housing goal plan, as it relates to the acceptance of this grant,” Mayor Bill Mars wrote in a recent email exchange with Met Council officials.
Met Council staff have downplayed the rift.
“I don’t think we have a ‘controversy,’ so much as a ‘clarification’ with the city regarding statutory requirements of local comprehensive planning,” Met Council Media Relations Coordinator Bonnie Kollodge said in an email.
The Twin Cities suburb applied for the grant to help pay for updating a mandated comprehensive ten year plan that’s part of the Met Council’s controversial Thrive 2040 Plan. But after taking a closer look at the fine print in the grant agreement, two Shakopee city councilors got second thoughts, forcing the issue to be pulled off the agenda at the January 3 council meeting.
They fear taking the grant money obligates the city to adopt housing, transportation, equity and other unpopular Met Council initiatives that have led at least 36 cities, including Shakopee, and four counties to form a coalition to reform the Met Council. But the grant will be up before the city council again on January 17.
“I’m going to say why it’s bad and why the Met Council needs to be restructured and why they shouldn’t be telling us how to run our city,” said Matt Lehman, one of two city councilors to oppose the grant. “We’re accountable to the voters here, they’re [Met Council] not accountable to anybody. I’m going to keep banging the drum.”
Met Council officials have sought to reassure the city that the grant agreement does not go beyond housing and other mandates already required in state law. The agency has made $1.9 million in planning grants available to 70 cities, counties and townships.
“The Council has other housing-related programs and initiatives which are outside of the planning process and in which the City may choose to participate or not, such as the Livable Communities Act grant programs,” said LisaBeth Baraja, Met Council Local Planning Assistance Manager in an email to Mayor Mars.
The blowback over the grant has revealed a wider distrust of the Met Council among critics who accuse the agency of social engineering and usurping local government authority.
“The first problem with the Met Council is they have no accountability,” said Lehman. “They’re taxing us, yet the citizens have no recourse whatsoever. They can’t un-elect these folks if they don’t like their taxes, so it’s taxation without representation.”
Regardless of whether city councilors vote to accept the grant or not, Mars will continue to promote restructuring and reforming the Met Council.
“Supporting changing the Met Council governance model so its members are elected officials in conformance with recommendations from the alliance of local governments,” Mars said in an email. “This would provide substantial accountability and institutional stability.”