Four metro area counties, including Carver, have hired a Washington, D.C., lobbyist in an effort to change the governance of the Metropolitan Council.
The counties, including Anoka, Dakota and Scott, contend that the Met Council is operating in violation of federal code that states designated metropolitan planning organizations, which the Met Council is, must have local elected officials as part of the governing body.
Carver County Administrator David Hemze said the group of counties wants the Met Council to operate with greater accountability and to be answer to a broader constituency.
Hemze said county officials would like to see current elected officials be appointed to make the types of decisions the Met Council is currently making.
“It’s broader than just transportation issues,” Hemze said. “The Met Council has significantly increased its scope.”
Hemze said what traditionally were decisions that pertained to sewer and water issues have expanded to include transit, roads and economic development.
Randy Maluchnik, chairman of the Carver County Board, described the Met Council’s current decision-making process as being stacked against suburban counties.
“It’s always been a problem for us,” Maluchnik said. “Under the current Met Council it’s nearly impossible.”
Maluchnik said Carver County would like to see better decisions made by “locally elected people who would think regionally.”
He said the appointed Met Council representatives tend to be advocates of special interest groups.
“It’s really been set up to take care of the special interests of the inner core,” Maluchnik said.
‘Unheard too long’
Scott County Administrator Gary Shelton said the move is a product of the counties being left unheard for too long.
Gov. Mark Dayton was upset by the action of the four counties and called the action “reprehensible,” according to the StarTribune.
“Despite the governor saying our actions are shameful for airing our dirty laundry to the federal government, we’ve been working for a change at the state level for six years,” Shelton said. “Sometimes you have to make waves to start a discussion.”
During the past six years, Shelton said the counties have been meeting with state agencies, state legislators and the Met Council to start the conversation and change the Met Council’s structure. The Met Council is made up of a 17-member board with its members appointed by the governor from the 7-county metro area.
The counties’ case hinges on a 2012 Congressional transportation bill MAP-21, which removed a “grandfather clause” that allowed metro planning organizations (MPO) such as the Met Council to operate without local elected officials participating at the governance level, Shelton said.
Scott County has been trying to pursue a restructuring for years, with a big push in 2010 and 2011, Shelton said, but didn’t make much progress due to lack of support. At the time, even Minnesota Legislative Auditor James Noble recommended a hotly debated restructure. But recently support has been building in the counties’ favor.
“We’ve had lots of positive responses from a wide array of bipartisan legislators for a change,” Shelton said. “Not everyone is in agreement on what that change should look like, but there are bills out there for studies and restructuring.”
Washington County did not participate in the action of its fellow “collar counties” because it already has its own lobbyist, Shelton said
John Schadl, a Met Council communications advisor, said the four counties have not approached the Met Council to discuss the concerns that have led them to retain a lobbyist.
Reporter Cristeta Boarini contributed to this report.