Task force finalizes recommendations to reform Met Council amid objections, controversy

Task force finalizes recommendations to reform Met Council amid objections, controversy

Task force finalizes recommendations to reform Met Council amid objections, controversy

If Minnesota lawmakers choose to take on the task of reforming the Metropolitan Council in the upcoming legislative session, they will have no shortage of ideas about how to do it.

A task force charged with examining how to overhaul the largest planning agency in the state will now send six different recommendations to the Legislature.

All 17 members of the Met Council are currently appointed by the governor.

But much like many of the discussions of the task force over the last six months, the vote on Thursday was not unanimous. 

“I’m disappointed that we’re not advancing a (single) recommendation,” said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis. 

He was one of two task force members who voted against the group’s final report and previously authored legislation to make the Met Council an elected body, as outrage over the handling of the $2.86 billion Southwest Light Rail project reached a boiling point.

Others, including task force chair Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, defended the plan to offer lawmakers more than one solution.

“Clearly one message coming out of this task force is there needs to be significant reform of the Met Council,” Hornstein said. “We have a menu of choices for the Legislature that have all been vetted and really thought through by this task force.”

Among the recommendations are proposals to make the Met Council an elected body, a hybrid of elected and appointed members, as well as models for a council of governments that could be made up of local elected officials.

Another plan would keep Met Council members appointed, but with staggered terms so that all 17 members are not selected by the same governor at any given time.

“I would have liked to have sent up one or two recommendations,” said co-chair Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake. “But I’m comfortable sending up all of them with the idea that we’ve had a chance to discuss the pros and the cons of many of them.”

Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle was not in attendance at the task force’s final meeting but provided a statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on Thursday.

“We appreciate the work of the Met Council Governance task force and look forward to the continued discussion on how to best serve the region going forward,” Zelle said.

Zelle did not address accusations from Myron Orfield, a University of Minnesota Law professor who accused the Met Council of interfering in the work of the task force and refusing to answer his questions during previous meetings.

“It was a cynical process by the Met Council, by the Governor’s Office,” Orfield said. “It was a very cynical process to prevent reform to a deeply troubled agency.”

Other members of the task force, including Karla Bigham, a Washington County commissioner, openly wondered whether they were getting any closer to meaningful reform.

“I don’t believe this is going away,” Bigham said. “Something tells me in five years, we’ll be at this again.”