Panel recommends Met Council remain appointed, not elected

Date: Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A semicircle of Council Members, with audience members in the foreground.A committee created by Governor Tim Walz to examine the structure and services of the Metropolitan Council recommends that the Council remain an appointed board. However, the committee recommends that state law be changed to stagger the appointment of Council members.

The committee, established by executive order, included a panel of civic, business, and academic leaders to provide for a broad range of input and expertise. They met over three months and heard from a variety of stakeholders. The governor charged the committee with examining three issues:

  • The role of elected vs. appointed Met Council members

  • The Met Council’s federally designated role as the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the metro region and how that may complement or conflict with the Council’s responsibilities under state law

  • The effectiveness of the delivery of regional transit service

In its final report, the committee said that the U.S. Department of Transportation has made it clear that the Council is the properly designated metropolitan planning organization (MPO) under federal law. They recommended no changes.

The region’s transit governance structure is complex, the committee said, but services are generally efficient and cost effective when compared to similar services provided in peer regions. The current model, which includes Metro Transit and several suburban transit providers, allows for conflicting priorities but also provides value in opportunities for local input.

The committee concluded that no new suburban transit providers should be created and the regional transit system structure should continue to be evaluated for efficiencies.

The committee urged the governor and the legislature to provide continued financial support to the regional transit system. Short-term funding solutions devised in the past have at times further complicated the region’s transit governance and funding structures without necessarily providing funding to maintain and grow the system, the report said.

A circle of many committee members.

Committee recommends staggered terms for Council members

The committee recommended that Council members continue to be appointed by the governor and not be directly elected to the Council. Council members should not be sitting local elected officials, the committee said. The committee also recommended a change in the current law to establish four-year staggered terms for Council members, and an expansion of the governor’s nominating committee to include a majority of local elected officials.

No ambiguity about Council’s status as a federally designated MPO

The committee found that the U.S. Department of Transportation has determined that the Met Council is the properly designated MPO for the Twin Cities metro area under federal law. Federal agencies have recognized the legal status of the Council as the region’s MPO directly, through certification of the planning process and plan approval, and award of federal transportation funds.

While a few committee members felt that Congress should clarify, through law, the Council’s status as an MPO, the majority of committee members felt that 30 years of federal agency actions made it quite clear.

A Minnesota Valley Transit Authority bus picks up riders at the University of Minnesota. The committee found that the current regional transit model provides value in opportunities for local input.

Effectiveness of regional transit service

The committee called out the value of local input that is part of the suburban transit provider model and that dedicated funding allows suburban providers to try innovative ideas. However, the committee also said that this model can lead to inefficiencies due to small size, inefficient service designs that end at or skip over service area boundaries, and duplication of administrative functions.

An independent entity should be contracted to conduct an efficiency and geographic balance study, the committee recommended, with updates every five years to evaluate the regional transit system.

The committee noted that stable and long-term funding has been a challenge for the regional transit system, and that there is a great deal of uncertainty moving forward as budget deficits loom and ridership trends were severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The committee urged the governor and legislature to provide continued financial support to the regional transit system, adding that high efficiency, low subsidy and high ridership services should be a priority for funding.

The governor and legislature should statutorily shift the Metro Mobility budget from a base general fund appropriation to a forecasted budget program based on demand, the committee recommended.

Read the final report and recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Panel.

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