Senators braved a blizzard on Tuesday, March 6 to hear a proposal similar to one that didn’t make the cut in last session’s Government reform bills. The proposal, contained in SF 2809 (Pratt) was to create a new structure for the Met Council
- Increases the number of Metropolitan Council members from 17 to 29 and removes the governor's authority to appoint members.
- Members must be appointed as follows:
- Each metropolitan area county board must appoint a county commissioner.
- Each municipal committee from a Metropolitan Council district must appoint a local elected official.
- The mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis must each appoint a local elected official.
- The commissioner of transportation or the commissioner's designee must be appointed.
- The commissioner of transportation must appoint one person to represent non-motorized transportation, one person to represent freight transportation, and one person to represent public transit.
The bill specifies that local elected offices are compatible with serving on the Metropolitan Council and also eliminates the Transit Authority Board, the body which approves federal funding for the metropolitan area. The current TAB board is, composed of elected and appointed officials and receives a waiver from the federal government because it does not conform to the stipulation that it must be made up of elected officials.
Each elected official appointee would serve four years; the terms would be staggered to provide continuity. The Commissioners’ appointees serve at the pleasure of the Commissioner.
The bill got little love from Met Council’s spokesperson Jud Schetnan who alluded to the fact that the Governor didn’t favor the proposal (in other words, he would veto it if it were sent to him).
Metro Cities and the Citizens League, both of which are pretty much echoes of the met council’s view of development hated it too but brought up some interesting issues. For instance, having people on the Met Council who also were elected officials in a city or county might present some significant conflict of interests. Members of elected bodies represent their particular ward or district. Could they be expected to balance those roles with metropolitan governance? Despite the compatibility asserted in the bill, there could be issues where they were incompatible.
We think this bill simply tries too hard to create a structure to make the Met Council more representative. But by creating these committees and making district representatives take on these new roles, there is the danger of making the Met Council even more remote from taxpayers not less. Staggered terms make accountability more complex when you don’t know when the elections are. If your elected official represents you in dealings with other counties and the state, you know where to complain. If they raise your taxes or unwisely spend your money, you know who vote against. Under this structure, it could be an official from the next town over who could care less about the issue troubling you.
As part of a larger bill, we did not support the idea of changing the Met Council Governance structure last year and wrote about it here.