Statement by the Civic
Caucus To the Governor, Legislature and General Public
Concerning the Future of the Metropolitan Council
of the future of the Metropolitan Council is being brought into
focus by two recent events—a bus drivers strike and publication
of a report from the Center for the American Experiment (CAE).
These events should produce a needed review of the Metropolitan
Council and stimulate a look back to why the Council was created
in the first place. They also help spotlight a 2003 report of
the Civic Caucus concerning the Council's role and the state's
role in transportation.
with Peter Bell, chair of the Metropolitan Council and James L.
Hetland, Jr., first chair of the Metropolitan Council and one of
the original proponents of an effective regional agency, that
now is an appropriate time to reconfirm the need for a regional
body representing the citizens of our metropolitan, area.
Caucus believes the need for the Council in 2004 is essentially
the same as it was in 1967 when the Council was established:
certain crucial problems of the Twin Cities metropolitan area
are beyond responsibility, capability, and authority of existing
units of government in the area.
principles that were central to early success of the
Metropolitan- Council remain valid today.
the Council was given limited authority^ not home rule. The
Council is always subject to control by the Legislature. Its
powers only extend to what the Legislature allows.
Council was given the authority to make decisions by its
representation. The Legislature sensed the Council must have an
effective voting system. Its members are appointed by the
Governor from districts of approximately the same population;,
they do not represent specific cities, counties or other units
of government. Its chair is appointed at-large by the Governor.
Minnesota made a choice that has escaped most other metro areas,
the distinction between a mechanism for reaching consensus
among units of government of the metropolitan area and- a
mechanism for consensus among, citizens of the area. We
have both. The interests of local governments are represented
through metropolitan associations of municipal^ school and
county officials. The Metropolitan Council represents the
interests of citizens on issues of metro concern. Both are
essential. But they are different.
Council was created to concentrate on policy issues. The Council
wasn't created because local units of government and separate
regional agencies couldn't do the building and managing job.
They could. But policy decisions were lacking. Making policy for
the seven-county metropolitan area was, and has remained, the
Metro Council's primary job. Events of the last few months
illustrate the need for Metropolitan Council leadership. At the
very moment that the CAE was recommending that the Metropolitan
Council be abolished.
26 proposals for solving the stadium question-were advanced.
Interestingly, not one proposal came from the Metropolitan
Council. Surely, the Legislature would have a better basis for
action on. the stadium question in 2004 if it had instructed the
Council to present a formal, representative, responsible
consensus on behalf of the seven-county area- At a minimum the
infrastructure costs related to location could be considered as
a part of the public dollar support.
urbanized portion of the Twin Cities area extends far beyond
seven counties doesn't diminish the importance of the
Legislature obtaining policy proposals from the Council. The
vast majority of the region's population continues to be
confined to the seven-county area. In 2002, the seven-county
area represented 84 percent of total population of a 17-county
metropolitan area that included two Wisconsin counties. A great
amount of land within the seven counties still is undeveloped.
Legislature ought to undertake a major review of the future of
the Council, beginning with an interim commission between the
2004 and 2005 sessions.
Legislature will need^ responsible^ informed analysis and
proposals. Civic, business, labor, and other community
organizations, including the Citizens League, chambers of
commerce^ the Minnesota Business Partnership^ the Minnesota
AFL-CIO^ Growth and Justice, and the Itasca Project, ought to
look at the Council's future. Leadership from non-governmental
groups is critical Organizations representing local units and
agencies of government can be expected to weigh in, but the
Metropolitan Council's main constituency i&the people of the
region^ not other governments.
Caucus believes one aspect of the Council ought to be changed
and a second ought to be preserved.
Legislature should change the Council by removing its direct
operating authority and making it exclusively a policy body.
Legislature ought to preserve the current method of choosing
Council members from districts of equal population. That
principle has enabled the Council to retain its independence and
to maintain its credibility with the Legislature and the public.
The Legislature should reject proposals for the Council to
represent county and city governments.
Metropolitan Council can function effectively and not be a
threat to existing governmental service units if it is truly a
generalist policy body and not a competing operating agency. The
Council must be the advocate for citizens of the region with the
Chair the spokesperson for their interests.
In 1967 the
Legislature was very specific in keeping the Council out of
day-to-day operations. The Legislature assigned operations to
subordinate regional agencies, such as the Metropolitan Sewer
Board and the Metropolitan Transit Commission, and gave the
Council budget and planning control over them. However, in
later years the Legislature transferred operational authority
from the subordinate agencies to the Council, which—as founders
of the Council had warned—significantly diminished-the Council's
leadership on area-wide policy questions. The Council now is
mired in the day-to-day business of overseeing the operations of
its sewer system, its transit system, and housing concerns.
Making policy proposals to the Legislature no longer is its main
job. A legislative interim commission can devise a workable plan
to disengage the Council from operations.
We have a
separate recommendation for metropolitan transportation.
Last year the Civic Caucus in a 19-page report
concluded that many problems of the Twin Cities area can be
resolved within the seven counties^ hut not transportation The
territory from which a growing number of people commute to jobs
in the seven-county area extends far beyond the borders of those
seven counties. Clearly,- a rearrangement of transportation
policy and operations among the various parties, including MnDOT
and the Metropolitan Council, is needed. We recommend that a
Governor-appointed- Transportation Commission be created to
handle major policy and operational aspects of transit and other
ride sharing^ highways and parking facilities over the entire
17-county Twin Cities area.
Caucus is a long-standing group whose members have followed
public policy issues in the Twin Cities metropolitan area in
various capacities for more than 50 years. Its membership
includes a former chair of the Metropolitan Council, a former
Metropolitan Council staff member, the chair of a Citizens
League committee that originally recommended establishment of
the Metropolitan Council in 1967, and two persons who were on
the staff of the Citizens League committee in 1967.
Caucus gathers weekly to discuss issues of general interest and
periodically shares its conclusions and recommendations with a
wider audience. Recently the Civic Caucus re focused its
attention on the Metropolitan Council, one of the great
innovations in local government structure in America. The Caucus
has issued five reports in the past two years: (1) US government
response to the 9/11 terrorist attack, (2) recommended US
government policy for handling the Middle East crisis^ (3)
revitalization of the Citizens League, (4) Twin Cities traffic
congestion^ and (5), this report concerning the Metropolitan
Council. Members of the Caucus are Verne C. Johnson, chair;
Charles ff, Clay, Paul Gilje, James L. Holland, Jr., Gene Preiss,
John Sampson, and Clarence Shallbetter.