University representative seeks Metropolitan Council chairmanship

The chair of the Met Council will become a full-time position in January.

by John Thomas

One of the Metropolitan Council members who represents the University of Minnesota seeks to become the council’s next chair amid new initiatives and structural changes for the governing body.

District 8 Met Council member Adam Duininck hopes to replace Susan Haigh when she steps down at the end of the year. And around that time, the position’s requirements will change in an attempt to better address its responsibilities, Gov. Mark Dayton announced late last month.

The chair of the Metropolitan Council, who helps create policies and oversees specific services in Hennepin County, will change from part time to full time in January.

“It’s a very difficult job to have on a part-time basis,” said Ed Goetz, director of the University’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, adding that Haigh has been an effective chair.

Goetz said he admired Haigh’s renewed focus on regional equity, an issue that his organization has been pursuing in recent years.

He pointed to the council’s new Housing Policy Plan from this fall, the first in almost 30 years, as an initiative that represents Haigh’s commitment to regional equity.

“The Twin Cities is kind of on the forefront of that movement nationally,” said Goetz.

The council’s chair is responsible for overseeing its operations, leading meetings and being the public face of the Metropolitan Council. Members and the chair are appointed by the governor.

Duininck said the council’s new leader should take on challenges from a broad, regional perspective and be willing to compromise with opposing views within the council or community.

“If you’re a city or a county or in a local government, it’s easy to get lost in what’s happening in your local area,” he said.

In recent months, criticism has surfaced surrounding the effectiveness of the Metropolitan Council, and some have wondered whether it’s necessary, but Goetz said its usefulness is clear.

“By and large, Met Council does a great job doing the things that it is charged to do by the Legislature,” he said, which includes overseeing utilities, parks and public transportation in the Twin Cities region.

Duininck, who has served on the council since 2011 and currently heads the council’s transportation committees, said he sent Dayton an application for the chair position out of his passion for unifying the region — especially when it comes to transportation infrastructure.

“I think that the next chair should be a transportation person,” he said.

Duininck said he expects to hear if he has the position by the end of the year.

The council is ratifying its budget for the coming year on Wednesday night, following a public hearing, and transportation could be a continued focus. The latest budget comes one year after the introduction of new initiatives like the Housing Policy Plan.

Mary Bogie, the council’s chief financial officer, said the budget will have more funds to address transportation than previously expected because of an updated forecast in tax revenue from the governor’s office.

Duininck said he hopes these funds will be able to finance light-rail projects and enhance bus stops that currently don’t have heat lamps or adequate lighting, among other projects.

Bogie said while the budget isn’t significantly different from last year’s, the additional funding could allow for more initiatives.

Regardless of how it changes in the coming years, Goetz said, the metro area benefits from a body — like the Metropolitan Council — that governs it collectively.

“This region needs a governing body like the Met Council,” he said. “We are one of the few regions that has such a body, and I think we’ve benefited from it tremendously.”