Mayors meet for Twin Cities unity

Lily Langerud

A long-standing case of sibling rivalry might soon come to an end.

Minneapolis and St. Paul mayors R.T. Rybak and Chris Coleman, along with other city leaders, will come together for the first time to discuss collaboration between the sister cities.

The half-day summit, held by The Forum at Minnesota Public Radio, will conclude with a live broadcast from noon to 1 p.m. on “Midday” with Gary Eichten.

Rybak said the city councils of Minneapolis and St. Paul had a joint meeting last year, but this is the first time the mayors, city councils and department heads from the two cities will have an extended meeting.

“Mayor Coleman and I both grew up as products of our city and realized the historic rivalries between two cities have hurt our ability to grow as a region,” Rybak said.

There doesn’t seem to be a big difference between the two cities, but that hasn’t stopped a century of petty rivalry, he said.

“I don’t think there’s been a single thing I’ve done that’s gotten more attention than simply having lunch with Coleman the day after I got elected,” Rybak said.

Ann Markusen, professor of urban planning and public policy at the University’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, will moderate part of today’s forum.

Markusen said leaders at The Forum will be asked to come up with ideas for how the cities can work together and then vote to decide the most important issue. Public safety, transportation, economic development and the environment are a few of the topics to be discussed.

Coleman said the Central Corridor transit line is a top priority for both cities. And because both cities are working on biotechnology initiatives, marketing themselves as a region rather than individual cities could be helpful.

“Ultimately the University is one of our most important regional assets,” he said. “A lot of the biotech research is coming out of the St. Paul campus and a lot of technology is coming from Minneapolis.”

Markusen said that while having two city governments instead of one can be more expensive, mayors and city councils are more beholden to the public.

“In general you can really say the Twin Cities is one of the best, cleanest and most responsive governments,” she said.

But competition between the cities doesn’t always benefit taxpayers. Markusen said that in the past cities have competed over economic development in deciding which city gets a new stadium or the headquarters for a company’s relocation.

“It’s a loss for the taxpayers when city governments are giving out subsidies to woo businesses across city lines,” she said.

Coleman said that when the two cities competed for the Allina Hospitals and Clinics headquarters, Minneapolis won, but it cost the city.

The University has to deal with different planning and zoning organizations to manage the space it has across two campuses, Markusen said.

“Opening this dialogue and conversation is an invitation to a lot of other players to articulate the ways in which having these city boundaries makes their life more difficult,” she said.

Jeff Nelson, senior producer of The Forum at Minnesota Public Radio, said the discussion comes at an important time because the mayors are just hitting the 100-day mark in their terms.

“It sounds like the mayors are talking a lot about collaboration but what are they really going to do,” he said.

Nelson described The Forum as a public platform designed to engage the public.

“We’re realizing it helps us do our job better if we are listening as well as broadcasting,” he said.