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Fenton: Met Council panel targeting 'overreach'

A legislative panel is looking to take a deep dive into the scope of a governmental agency that oversees a range of metro issues, from transit to housing and redevelopment.

The House Subcommittee on Metropolitan Council Accountability and Transparency, launched Jan. 28, includes Woodbury lawmaker Kelly Fenton.

The freshman Republican said last week that legislators have heard increasing concerns from local government leaders about Met Council’s role.

“They are concerned about an overreach into their districts and cities from the Met Council,” Fenton said.

Met Council, which is governed by a 17-member board, plans and executes policy decisions regarding community planning, housing, regional parks, transportation, wastewater and water services. Communities in Washington, Ramsey, Hennepin, Dakota, Anoka, Scott and Carver counties are served by Met Council.

Fenton argued that some local government leaders in those communities see problems with the current arrangement.

“Local leaders want some autonomy to grow naturally,” she said.

Members of Met Council are appointed by the sitting governor and are not elected – a system that has long roiled critics troubled by appointees controlling a tax jurisdiction.

Fenton said that continues to be a concern.

“We have local elected government for a reason,” she said, adding that Met Council’s reach applies to about 2.95 million people, or more than 54 percent of Minnesota’s population.

The subcommittee held its inaugural meeting on Thursday, Feb. 5, and reconvenes this week.

Fenton said she expects the subcommittee, which reports to the House Government Operations Committee, to work on “common-sense reforms” for Met Council that she said “even the governor would get behind.”

She said that could include recommending a return to Met Council members serving staggered terms, rather than being appointed all at once. Fenton also raised the possibility of local government leaders approving the appointees.

Those concepts jibe with Woodbury City Council’s standing position on Met Council, which calls for staggered terms for members, which “maximizes participation and input by local officials,” according to a city position statement.

Woodbury’s position also spells out what seems to describe the new subcommittee. The policy calls for a bipartisan legislative commission on metropolitan government “to monitor and review the Metropolitan Council’s activities and to provide transparency and accountability” of the council and its operations.

“Broadly, the city of Woodbury supports active legislative oversight of the Met Council and assuring that the Met Council fulfills their legislative purpose, and does not incrementally expand their mission,” City Administrator Clint Gridley said.

Fenton said she expects the body will serve as more than an information-gathering capacity.

“I think there is somewhat of an oversight component to this subcommittee,” she said. “There will be some legislation likely out of it.”

Fenton said there has not yet been any pushback against the subcommittee’s work and that it intends to work with – not against – the Met Council and its new leader.

The council is now led by Chairman Adam Duininck after his successor, Susan Haigh, stepped down from the post in 2014.

“Let’s talk to him and form a relationship and see what his current vision is,” Fenton said.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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