By DON HEINZMAN
In most legislative sessions, some senator or legislator is critical of the Metropolitan Council and wants to see some changes.
The Metro Council is an appointed body that operates the bus, light rail and commuter rail systems, collects and cleans waste water, is the regional housing and redevelopment authority, plans and funds regional parks and plans and guides development of the region.
This year, the criticism is coming from the Scott County Board of Commissioners. That group is complaining about the way the council approved the transportation plan put together by its 33-member Transportation Advisory Board.
There is a bill authored by Rep. Michael Beard, R-Shakopee, that would do away with the 33-member transportation board and replace it with a 24-member regional transportation governance planning board, independent of the Metro Council.
Rep. Beard’s idea also is to have the transit system operations and planning removed from the Metropolitan Council and run by a new transportation commission. Transportation planning would be done by the new regional transportation governance board with two county commissioners from each of the seven counties, 16 elected township and city officials and some citizen members.
Rep. Beard says his bill does not have a number and has not been introduced. He says his idea to change how metropolitan transportation is governed and operated as a starting point for the Legislature to discuss and perhaps make changes next year.
The legislator’s strategy is consistent with the position taken by the Association of Metropolitan Municipalities, (Metro Cities) which is made up of many cities affected by the Metro Council’s decisions. It recommends that any systematic changes to the governing structure should not be considered until a comprehensive analysis of the region’s future is undertaken.
In addition, Metro Cities supports the idea that regional level operations and planning functions should remain as integrated functions.
In its latest study, Metro Cities is not asking for major changes of the council’s operations. It does recommend more local involvement in how the council members are appointed.
This is not the year to be tinkering with the Metropolitan Council, whose performance generally is accepted by most elected officials of cities in the seven-county area.
Rep. Beard’s concerns should become a part of an overall study of the council’s governance and operations authority, and he is wise not to introduce the bill during this session when legislators are in a mood to adjourn as soon as possible.
In the past, the council has withstood most of the challenges or made changes to respond to the criticism.
There was a time when the council was under attack for taking over functions local governments, including counties, could not do without having a council that made decisions on what’s best for the seven-county metropolitan area.
At that time a big concern was that the council members and the chairperson were appointed by the governor rather than being elected.
The argument for the appointed council is it makes decisions without regard to horse-trading votes, which too often happens in the elected decision-making process.
That seems to have won out over the position that an elected council is more accountable, which of course is true.
Most people are not aware of the Metro Council’s services even though some directly affect everyone living in the seven-county area.
Don Heinzman is ECM Inc. online managing editor.