Met Council could see new structure

The Met Council manages $800 million in the Twin Cities.

Ashley Aram

An audit of the Metropolitan CouncilâÄôs governance of the Twin Cities transit system found it “fraught with distrust,” and its overlap with other transit organizations has created a void in accountability.

While the transit system performs well compared to similar ones nationwide, the report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor found problems with the councilâÄôs structure.

Its recommendation: Mix in elected local members with the appointed ones, and have staggered terms to create a more “streamlined governance.”

“The structure for the governance of transit is complex, fragmented and has overlapping responsibilities among organizations,” Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles said to the state House Transportation and Policy Finance Committee on Monday. “And the Met Council is at the center.”

The OLAâÄôs presentation critiqued the current process of having the governor appoint members, which caused “limited accountability to the public and limited credibility with stakeholders and other transit organizations in the region.”

The number of conflicting priorities among the transit groups makes coordinating priorities inefficient, the OLA said, but restructuring the Met Council would be a step in the right direction.

Members of the Metropolitan Council, including Susan Haigh, who was appointed chairwoman by Gov. Mark Dayton in December, were present at the meeting to respond to the OLAâÄôs evaluation. The Counties Transit Improvement Board, the Suburban Transit Association and Transit for Livable Communities members âÄî who often butt heads with the Met Council âÄî also attended.

Haigh welcomed most recommendations but said restructuring could cause problems in other areas covered by the Met Council.

“ItâÄôs also important that as we think about the governance for the council that weâÄôre also thinking about the other functions of the council that really are not within the transit and transportation planning,” Haigh said.

Besides its responsibility for transit in the Twin Cities, the 43-year-old Met Council is also responsible for sewage, airports and land planning. It manages $800 million from fees, taxes and state and federal government. Transportation made up $319,000 of expenditures in 2009.

Haigh also disputed the OLA reportâÄôs comments about a lack of credibility, which she said come from agencies with scopes and agendas different than the councilâÄôs.

Overall, Haigh agreed that the structure of the council should be discussed and that “the discussion must include the new Council, Dayton, legislators and others who have a stake in regional transit and other matters of regional significance.”

Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, was present at MondayâÄôs meeting, and agreed with the OLAâÄôs restructuring recommendation, which is similar to a bill Hornstein proposed last legislative session.

“I really welcome this report,” Hornstein said. “I think it continues what many of us have been observing for a long time.”

Hornstein said a group of “good thinkers,” including nonprofit organizations, businesses and community representatives, needed to start discussing the reorganization. He hoped some kind of proposal would happen later this session or next year.

“It is not something we can change overnight,” he said, “but we should do it quickly.”

A restructure of the Met Council could pose new opportunities for representation from across the Twin Cities. As a hub of transit in the Twin Cities, Hornstein said University of MinnesotaâÄôs involvement is an important consideration.

“The University accounts for a lot of ridership,” Hornstein said. “By all means, higher education institutions in general need to be involved.”