Met Council should be less partisan

Two structural changes to the council could produce less partisan results.

The bus strike has gone on almost a month with little progress and almost no negotiating. While both sides bear fault for the lack of communication, events have made it apparent that the Metropolitan Council’s priority is affecting Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration’s transportation policies. Residents of the seven metropolitan counties deserve better and more consistent service.

Under the Ventura administration, the council’s policies, which slightly favored urban areas, were much more public-transit friendly. The current council has bought into the Pawlenty administration’s desire for more suburban roads at the expense of public transit. It is possible that suburban road construction needs more funding. But the balance the prior council struck seems more sensible as it is in line with population densities. Former Gov. Jesse Ventura’s council was not beholden to either major party, and this seems to have been an advantage.

Council members currently come and go with each gubernatorial administration and the members serve at the pleasure of the governor. This makes the council a mere political appendage of a sitting governor and whatever party he or she answers to. Two structural changes to the council could produce less partisan results: staggered terms and a measure of independence from the governor’s office.

The council should not turn over with each new administration. Members’ terms should be staggered. For example, six-year terms with appointments two years apart would provide a more continuous body of experience and prevent a governor from replacing all members during one term.

This reform would be of little worth if a governor can remove members without sufficient reason. As such, council members should only be removable when they clearly have failed in their duty to the public – “for cause,” as it were.

Making these two changes would allow the Met Council to concentrate on making efficient and sensible decisions in the areas under their jurisdiction. The bus strike is an example of the problematic influence of partisan ideologues on the council. No one benefits from the strike except the politicians, yet it continues seemingly endlessly. The council’s focus on transportation, the environment and housing can be managed much better without influence from extremes of the political spectrum.