Citizens League undertook a study of the Metropolitan
Council from September 2015 through March 2016.
Sean Kershaw, executive director of the Citizens League,
said it was strategically smart to set the schedule so the
study task force would have a report ready for the
Legislature during its 2016 session.
The Citizens League report,
The Metropolitan Council: Recalibrating for the Future,
was approved by the Citizens League Board of Directors
on April 4, 2016.
beginning of the task force's work, Kershaw said, the
Citizens League Board required that any potential
recommendations had to meet three broad criteria:
had to preserve the ability of the Metropolitan Council
to be an effective regional authority.
had to acknowledge current criticisms of the Council.
had to be politically plausible.
were no preconceived outcomes, the final report is mainly
focused on governance, Kershaw said. Its recommendations
Adopt fixed, four-year, staggered terms for Metropolitan
Council members, who would still be appointed by the
With fixed terms, the members would no longer serve at
the pleasure of the Governor. The Council chair would
continue to be appointed by the Governor and continue to
serve at the pleasure of the Governor.
Strengthen the Metro Council member selection process to
include more input by citizens and local officials and
to further encourage the appointment of well-qualified
Expand the current Metro Council nominations committee
from seven to 13 members.
Seven citizens-at-large should be appointed to the
committee by the Governor. Six local-government elected
officials should also serve on the committee, with three
appointed by counties and three appointed by cities.
Require that the nominations committee recommend three
finalists for each Metro Council seat and that the
finalists' names be made public at least 14 days prior
to the final selection by the Governor.
to the current Metro Council member qualifications:
experience in local government and/or experience in
areas such as transportation, housing, environment and
regional development; ability to represent both the
demographic diversity of each district and the region as
a whole; and ability to meet the time commitment
Fully deploy the Metro Council's current authority to
reduce concentrations of poverty in the region and to
foster increased connections to social and economic
League recommendations were included in a bill that passed
the Minnesota Senate.
Half of the
recommendations were in the House bill, Kershaw said,
which did not go beyond committee.
He said it was understood that nothing would likely happen
legislatively on the Metro Council issue unless the
metropolitan region's transportation issue were settled,
which it wasn't before the legislative session ended in
League intends to stick with the Metro Council issue.
In response to an interviewer's question, Kershaw said the
League will continue to advocate for its Metro Council
He noted that the report raised two issues for further
study by the Citizens League: water supply and
(He noted that housing was also discussed.)
He said the League is considering a study on the
transportation governance issue before the next
legislative session begins in January, if funding can be
raised. The lack of resolution on transportation means
this issue will be important again in the coming years.
Metro Council task force address long-range planning
interviewer who was also a member of the task force
commented that he had two concerns at every meeting:
People on the task force who were most active and vocal
were primarily representing very short-term issues.
That pushed into the background the longer-term,
long-range planning issues that, traditionally, the
Metro Council was supposed to be concerned about.
issues being talked about were expressions of fiscal
concerns by counties and some suburban municipalities.
got into the governance problem," the interviewer said.
What showed up in the final report, which he said was very
good, represented what the task force talked about, but
long-range planning and governance were never really
addressed. "Those are two issues that should be at the top
of the list," he said.
responded that the recommendation to move to fixed,
four-year terms for Metro Council members was to build the
governance capacity of the Council to be a long-range
"As long as members are worried about their terms on the
Council, it's hard to do effective long-term planning," he
League needs to better inform the public about the issues
surrounding the Metro Council report.
interviewer suggested that the Citizens League create a
series of study forums around the report.
"By and large, the public is not aware of these issues,"
the interviewer said. "We need to better inform the
public, so they can participate in this process and put
pressure on elected officials."
difference in the political environment now compared to
the past requires a different makeup of Citizens League
study committees or task forces than in the past.
interviewer asked Kershaw to discuss the makeup of the
task force and how that affected what issues it was able
of the 19 task force members were current or former local,
state or regional public officials, elected and nonelected.
(A list of task force members and their biographies are
included in the appendix of
the report, starting on page 61.)
responded that there's an enormous difference between the
past and current makeup of Citizens League study
committees or task forces. "In the past, we could get a
group of generalist citizens with no connections to
special interests who could come in with an implausible
idea that would get implemented," he said. "That is not
the case now. Period. We could have come up with the best
academic ideas and they would sit there and go nowhere."
He said when
the Citizens League brought the Metro Council report to
the Legislature, the fact that the task force had some
members with a deep knowledge of the Metro Council and
some with almost no experience reflected reality and this
added credibility. And the members represented a variety
of sectors, geographies and ideologies.
"By the time
we met with legislators, we had already argued through all
of those points of view," Kershaw said.
"We came up with something that had a great deal of
legitimacy when we got to the Capitol, because we had a
diverse set of people who could argue things out around
This is an example of a completely different political
dynamic now compared with the past. Even if we could have
gone bolder and further with our report, I believe even
less would have happened."
force process involved negotiating between competing
interests before the recommendations were released.
An interviewer asked whether the task force process
Kershaw described involved making compromises internally
among generalist task force members and those members
representing various special interests before any ideas or
recommendations were released publicly. She asserted
that's different from the approach the Citizens League
used in the past, which involved putting out potentially
bolder, less restrictive ideas and leaving room for
compromise during the legislative process.
deliberately had people representing 'different interests'
on the task force because there are more special interests
lobbying at the Legislature today," Kershaw said. "Without
including those interests on the task force, the
recommendations wouldn't have had any credibility. They
wouldn't have gone anywhere."
Legislature is so different now compared to the 1970s,
when solid ideas could be more easily agreed to and be
considered," he continued. "Now there are so many special
interests around the Legislature trying to keep things
from being done. We need to work those things through in a
study committee or task force." Perhaps ironically,
including the special interests in the policy development
process increases the chance that a common-interest
recommendation will be accepted and implemented.
questions were beyond the scope of the task force study.
An interviewer raised questions he had hoped the task
force would touch on: the role of the Metro Council in
transportation finance issues, expansion of the Council's
territory beyond the current seven counties, and education
issues, which the Council has done nothing about.
responded that it would have been hard to get to those
questions in the six-month time frame of the study. "That
doesn't mean those aren't great questions.
We just didn't have time to dive into them," he said.
Also, issues like schools and expansion of the Metro
Council's territory would not have gone very far. "They're
not going to be relevant in the short term."
As long as
the Metro Council is made up the way it is now, it's
harder to address the long-term issues.
interviewer who served on the task force brought up the
importance of long-range planning on issues like
transportation and schools.
Kershaw agreed that long-range planning is important.
But he said changing the way Council members are nominated
and changing to fixed, four-year terms, both of which the
task force recommended, are the best ways to enable the
Council to get to long-range issues, such as water,
housing, transportation and the state's changing
demographics and aging population.
change the Council's governance, it won't be able to get
to these issues," he said.
Citizens League do more to inform the broader public about
the Metro Council issues?
interviewer repeated his comments about the Citizens
League needing to get the Metropolitan Council issues out
to more people than the typical ones. "This concerns many
people," he said.
"It's too important to be left to politicians to decide."
responded that the Citizens League has a chance to keep
talking about the report over the next year. The public
tends to be either uninterested in or completely opposed
to the Metro Council. It seems the people who are most
motivated are mostly opposed to it.
Council is not using its convening authority to address
commented that the Metro Council has additional
opportunities to address equity issues with counties,
school districts, cities or state agencies.
"The Council is reluctant to use its existing convening
authority to address those issues," he said, "because of
what might happen to them politically if they do that."
force decided that keeping the current system of the
governor appointing the Metro Council chair was the only
An interviewer asked whether the task force looked at
other options for selection of the chair.
Kershaw said the idea of having the Council members select
the chair came up for some discussion, but the task force
didn't support that option.
Governor is a key player in any Met Council reform.
For the recommendations to be politically plausible, it
meant we had to take measured steps not to pull away too
much from the governor or risk him not accepting any
recommended changes," Kershaw said.
One path for
the Citizens League is to continue to work on metropolitan
interviewer commented that we know how the Citizens League
raised, shaped and helped resolve issues in the past.
He asked how the League is doing that today and how it
will do it into the future.
responded that the Metro Council project is in some ways
traditional for the Citizens League in that the target is
legislative and administrative. "We did it somewhat
untraditionally in terms of the makeup of the task force,
but the primary audience for the recommendations is the
governor and other elected officials," he said.
He said the
League will continue to advocate for the task force
recommendations. If the organization does some work on
transportation governance, any committee or task force
would have a similar makeup to include counties and
cities. "We were deliberate about doing this. The Metro
Council project is key to the future of the region and of
Minnesota. It ties to our past work. And it's something we
can take on and have outcomes over a fixed time."
have the resources," he continued, "one path for the
League is to continue to work on metropolitan governance
in similar ways."
future, the Citizens League and every other system will
have to address the impact of the aging of the baby
Kershaw said aging baby boomers are already having a major
impact as they leave the workforce. They will become very
expensive when they're in their 80s and 90s.
"Everything falls apart.
The costs of long-term care will overwhelm everything," he
said. "There's no way we can cut or spend our way out of
Metro Council issues, Kershaw continued, the solutions to
aging are not just administrative, executive or
The solutions are the last result of other things not
happening in every type of institution: families, schools,
congregations, neighborhoods, workplaces, healthcare
The future for the Citizens League and everyone else
doesn't look like the Metro Council project. The future
looks like the Citizens League's aging project, "Calling
Home." If you ask people in the 50-to-90 age range what
home and community look like, transportation questions and
city government issues look totally different. "This is
the challenge of the future," he said.
Calling Home project is focused on engaging the public on
initiative will look at "home" as a starting place for
intergenerational conversations about aging and planning
for the life changes that are inevitable.
A key aim is to spur conversations that will bring to
light the challenges and opportunities at the crossroads
of family and community, which will inspire more proactive
planning and more responsive policymaking.
will include a partnership with Twin Cities Public
Television to do a series of conversations in different
communities. The project will lead to determining the key
policy threads that come from these conversations and who
the stakeholders are who need to work on them. Kershaw
said the Citizens League is still raising money for the
project from foundations and individuals. It has raised
$160,000 so far.
are less interested in funding policy work.
An interviewer commented that the people who used to be
interested in funding things like this aren't interested
How does investment get made in what's needed? Otherwise,
we just have nice ideas, he said.
responded that if we don't do good work, we don't
necessarily deserve support. "Ultimately, it's a resource
question," he said.
"Most foundations don't support policy work because they
fear the partisanship that emerges in policy work now, or
they simply prefer service delivery over long-term systems
They're interested in more direct services with immediate
outcomes. It's frustrating how shortsighted that is."
On the other
hand, he said, business donations to the Citizens League
have increased in recent years, because it does on-site
policy presentations for companies' employees. He noted
that those inside-the-company conversations are much more
diverse than any other presentations or programs the
"I'm hopeful about the business involvement," he said.
It's hard to
plan for a dynamic future.
What's different about the future, Kershaw asserted, is
that it's hard to have 30- or 40-year plans when the world
is so much more dynamic today compared to the past. For
example, we're fighting about a transportation system that
driverless cars will change quickly. And housing must be
completely rethought, he said.
needs to call out the failure of the district school
interviewer said despite the fact that the customer base
for higher education is in the K-12 public schools, the
University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges
and Universities system (MnSCU) don't see themselves as in
partnership with the K-12 schools. "Higher education gets
a complete pass on what's going on in public schools, as
if they exist in separate silos," he said.
needs to call out the failure of the schools," Kershaw
responded. He said his daughter will be leaving the St.
Paul district school system for a chartered school when
she reaches sixth grade. "The system is such a disaster at
The school district has had a willful collapse because
they can't govern themselves.
We're going to look back on this time period and really
I'm very hopeful about the new superintendent in
I'm less hopeful about St. Paul. They're just driving that
car right off the cliff.
It's just awful."
"Try to step
into that and see what happens," he continued. "The
special interests are so strong and they're playing
chicken with everybody else."
Caucus, the Citizens League and other organizations must
focus on institution building and leadership building.
Kershaw said the
should redefine what an institution of public policy is.
The Caucus needs to talk about institutions for
implementing policies, which encompass everyone, not just
Organizations like the Civic Caucus and the Citizens
League must focus on institution-building and