Met Council chairman elected to TCF board

Peter Bell has a background in both the public and private sector.

by Taryn Wobbema

Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell boasts a long list of leadership experience in public service and corporate employment. With his November election to the TCF Financial CorporationâÄôs Board of Directors, Bell will spend the next year straddling both worlds. Neither position requires a full-time commitment. Bell said there wonâÄôt be any conflicts of interest because the Met Council deals with matters like transportation, wastewater and housing, leaving no visible overlap with the bankâÄôs work. Individuals elected to TCFâÄôs board serve a minimum of one year, which will superimpose BellâÄôs final year at the Met Council. Bell, 58, grew up in the predominantly black Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul. He attended Metropolitan State University in St. Paul where he graduated in 1976 with a bachelorâÄôs degree in social service administration. Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed Bell to chair the Met Council in 2003 and again in 2007. Bell is the longest-serving chairman at the Met Council, spokesman Steve Dornfeld said. For the first couple of years as chairman, Bell said, âÄúthe learning curve is pretty steep,âÄù but now at the end of his second term it feels more part-time. Roger Scherer, a committee chair on the Met Council, has served under Bell since 2003. Scherer said Bell is characterized by patience, especially with the University of Minnesota during the ongoing Central Corridor light-rail lawsuit. âÄúHe certainly has a great deal more patience than I would,âÄù Scherer said. âÄúHeâÄôs sticking with it âÄî heâÄôs pursuing the public will as he sees it in getting the light rail done through the Central Corridor.âÄù As Bell entered his Met Council position, Scherer said he was forced to take on a recurring problem with Lake Elmo, Minn., a city that Scherer said âÄúenjoyed challenging the Met Council.âÄù According to a 2003 message from the chair, Lake Elmo was fighting the council on its request for the city to prepare to accommodate significant growth. Lake Elmo refused to negotiate, forcing a decision by the courts. Scherer said Bell led the way to resolve a conflict he inherited. Bell is currently battling the University over the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit line, which the Met Council hopes will be built along Washington and University avenues starting next summer, but the University is opposing the project due to unresolved issues affecting research on campus. Even though TCF is the bank of the University, sponsor of the new football stadium and of student ID cards, Bell said his new position will not affect the Met CouncilâÄôs relationship with the University. TCF spokesman Jason Korstange said the financial corporation elected Bell to its board because he had prior experience working there. From 1994 to 1999, Bell acted as vice president for corporate community relations. Korstange called Bell an âÄúexcellent public servant.âÄù BellâÄôs experience in an array of fields such as government services, business development, transportation, higher education and housing will provide a beneficial contribution to the board, said CEO and Chairman of the Board William Cooper in a statement. Besides the Met Council, Bell has served on numerous other boards that oversee different civic and social agencies. During his first four-year term as chairman, Bell also served on the UniversityâÄôs Board of Regents. âÄúI think the University of Minnesota is probably the most important public institution in the state,âÄù he said. A significant portion of his background deals in individualsâÄô struggles with chemical dependency. He co-founded the Institute on Black Chemical Abuse and acted as its executive director from 1975 to 1990. He has authored several books on chemical dependence, and he worked as executive vice president for publishing and educational services at Hazelden, a nonprofit organization that offers addiction services. While his experience could be useful, Bell said thereâÄôs no direct connection between where heâÄôs come from and where he is now. âÄúI think that oftentimes you feel, in any career, that youâÄôve given what you can give and gone as far as you can go, and you look for new and different challenges.âÄù