State task force gets earful on future of Met Council during first listening session

State task force gets earful on future of Met Council during first listening session

State task force gets earful on future of Met Council during first listening session

There are growing calls for change to how one of the most powerful agencies in Minnesota operates.

A state task force met Friday to hear from the public about whether the Metropolitan Council should be restructured.

“The Metropolitan Council was not a very easy body to engage with as citizens,” said Veronica Burt, the executive director of the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council.

She was one of more than 20 people who addressed the Metropolitan Governance Task Force. Burt was a community organizer within the Rondo neighborhood during the planning and development of the Green Line, which runs down University Avenue in St. Paul.

“We realized very early that the project was failing to talk directly to the impacted folks along the alignment, particularly the environmental justice community,” she said. “Because we weren’t getting the kind of listening ear from the Metropolitan Council, we found ourselves having to sue the project in federal court.”

Burt was one of several people who said they supported restructuring the Met Council into an elected body. Currently, members are appointed by the governor.

“I think being so removed from everyday folks made it easier for our comments to land on deaf ears,” she said.

The Legislature created the task force during the 2023 session to evaluate options to reform the Met Council’s governance. The Met Council continues to face intense scrutiny for its handling of the Southwest Light Rail project, which is over budget and behind schedule.

“Not listening to the public takes a toll,” said task force member Mary Pattock, who joined the panel in September after Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Goodman resigned.  “It’s the taxpaying public that pays for those mistakes.”

Pattock is a former chair of the Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association and an outspoke critic of the Met Council. She raised early concerns about the Southwest Light Rail project, which she said were disregarded.

“It comes across to the public, that I have been associated with, as authoritarian and arrogant and unresponsive,” she said.

Pattock is one of 17 members on the task force, which also includes state and local elected officials, union members and leaders with community organizations.

They’ve met several times since August to consider whether the council should continue to operate as is or transition to elected members, a combination of elected and appointment members, or a council of governments, among other options.

Pattock said she supports a combination approach.

“I’m kind of personally going towards that alternative but I have an open mind,” she said. “I just think anything will be better than what we have now.”

Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt agrees a new approach is needed.

“There is a lack of transparency and accountability at times with the current structure,” Reinhardt told the task force, while also reiterating a regional approach will still be needed. “Our first preference from the County Board is to see a council of governments model with each of the seven metro counties having one spot and with the governor appointing the rest of the 10 members, including the chair.”

The Metropolitan Council declined to comment on the listening session.

There will be three additional public listening sessions in the future. The task force is responsible for making a recommendation to the Legislature by February.