Regent Peter Bell balances his duty to the University with his obligations as Met Council chairman.

Molly Moker

Centered in the middle of Regent Peter Bell’s Metropolitan Council office is a card table decorated with paper cutouts.

During the bus strike, transit riders dependent on public transportation presented the table to Bell. It shows him riding a bus with Gov. Tim Pawlenty and other Minnesota residents.

“It’s the negotiation table,” Bell said. “I’ve kept it as an inspiration to get the buses going.”

As chairman of Met Council, Bell was responsible for negotiating with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005. The 45-day strike ended Friday evening and buses were expected to begin running at 1 a.m. today.

Bell balances his Met Council responsibilities with his position on the Board of Regents, in which he helps govern the University.

Bell said serving as a regent and the Met Council chairman allows him to take what he learns in each position and use it for the other. Bell said there has never been a conflict between his two roles.

Met Council duties

The Met Council is responsible for operating Metro Transit, wastewater treatment plants, future development plans, population forecasting and park and trails planning in the Twin Cities.

Bell has served as chairman of the council since former Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed him in December 2002.

He said the bus strike has been the most difficult thing he has dealt with in his position.

“I’m doing fairly well,” Bell said Friday afternoon. “The issues are complex and everything’s really intense. It all takes a toll.”

Bell said he tried to keep the strike professional and focused on the issues. He also said it was important to work with strikers and understand where they were coming from.

“I want to get to know them as people, to hear their views and get their perspective,” Bell said. “I think the strikers on balance have conducted themselves really well.”

Bell said he tried to go down and talk to strikers often, sometimes bringing them coffee, popcorn and nachos.

Mary Hill Smith, a Met Council member and chairwoman of the transportation committee, said she is impressed with the way Bell conducted himself during the strike.

Hill said she will never forget a time when she was driving to the Capitol for a meeting and passed Bell on the street talking to strikers.

“At first I was afraid they were harassing him,” Hill said.

When she went to see if Bell needed help, Hill said she was shocked when Bell said, “I want to introduce you to my friends, I’ve gotten to know them and they’re really nice.”

Although Hill said Bell tried to keep communication open with strikers, not everyone was impressed with his efforts.

Shawn Legg, a Metro Transit driver, said he has never met Bell, but he sees him as sarcastic and smooth-talking.

“If Peter Bell was the only person I could elect to office, I wouldn’t have any faith in our government,” Legg said.

Although Legg said he does not like Bell, he knows Bell is not responsible for the strike.

“He’s just a puppet,” Legg said. “The power all comes from Pawlenty. He can stand behind Bell and pull all the strings.”

Bell said he is disappointed with the personal attacks that have been made on him.

“I’m keeping it professional,” Bell said. “I’ve attempted to keep it based on the issues and the facts.”

Members of Met Council said Bell has tried not to let the personal attacks and the nature of the strike bother him.

“I think the strike did affect him emotionally,” council member Tony Pistilli said. “He

hasn’t let it affect him personally, although he is very compassionate.”

Pistilli said the criticism and demands of the job have not changed Bell’s personality.

“He hasn’t shown any signs of it, other than being a little tired,” Pistilli said. “He has a keen wit and an even demeanor.”

Governing the U

Ventura appointed Bell to the Board of Regents in 2002. Bell will serve on the board

until 2007.

“I enjoy (being a regent) very much,” Bell said. “It’s very rewarding.”

David Metzen, chairman of the Board of Regents, said having Bell on the board has benefited the University.

“He’s a great guy, very bright,” Metzen said. “He always has a lot of probing questions and that makes him an outstanding board member.”

Metzen said the bus strike has not affected Bell’s ability to serve as a regent.

“Serving on both the Board of Regents and Met Council is a lot of work,” Metzen said. “But he is used to a lot of hard work. He’s definitely carrying his weight on the Board of Regents.”

Regent Lakeesha Ransom said Bell has had no problem balancing both of his roles.

“Peter is a very thoughtful individual both in his personal demeanor and the way he processes conflict issues,” Ransom said. “He’s a very capable man.”

Although Bell said he knew a third of the people at the University relied on Metro Transit for transportation, he said he was glad negotiations were not hastily arranged.

“We need to do what is best for transit,” Bell said. “The University wouldn’t want me to make a short-term deal or some tentative agreement.”

Because the negotiations have been so thought out, Bell said, he thinks transit for people at the University and the city will be greatly improved.

University President Bob Bruininks said he is confident Bell’s negotiations in the bus strike were well thought out.

“He’s always thinking about the most beneficial, long-term solution,” Bruininks said. “He’s a long-standing leader in public policy.”