The Metropolitan Council, the agency that coordinates housing, transit and wastewater policies for the seven-county Twin Cities metro area, has a new leader.
Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday appointed Adam Duininck, a member of the Met Council for the last four years, as its chair. Duininck succeeds Sue Haigh, who left at the end of Dayton's first term. He will earn an annual salary of $145,000 and will become the first full-time chair in the council's 48-year history.
Duininck is taking the job as the Legislature prepares to increase its scrutiny of the Met Council, which in 2015 has an operating budget is $936 million.
But he said his top priority will be to define the role of the Met Council to local government officials.
Over the next few weeks, Duininck intends to visit with citizens and local elected officials across the metro area aiming to allay their concerns that the Met Council isn't listening to them.
"My first objective as Met Council chair is to get out and listen to the whole region as much as possible, which is why I talked about spending seven weeks in seven counties," he said. "I think that's really important to get out and do that outreach."
Duininck 34, has represented Minneapolis on the 17-member Met Council since 2011, and largely focused transportation issues. He also has a career in DFL politics, serving as executive director for Win Minnesota, which raises money to help elect Democrats. Duininck also is married to Jaime Tincher, Dayton's Chief of Staff.
Dayton said he considered Duininck's political and family ties before making the appointment. But the governor said Duininck was endorsed by plenty of people — including current Met Council members, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, several state lawmakers and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who represents Minnesota's 5th District.
"He was the overwhelming recommendation," Dayton said. "So he got selected by me despite some other issues that I knew would be raised and are going to be raised — because he's the best person for the job."
Besides meeting local officials to discuss the role of the Met Council, Duininck will be lobbying the Legislature for Dayton's transportation plan and other Met Council matters.
Duininck will be taking over the Met Council at a critical juncture. A bipartisan group of state lawmakers and local officials say the Met Council is becoming too powerful.
State Sen. Scott Dibble said the Met Council is important, but he wants Council members to start listening again to local community leaders.
"That hasn't happened in many years now," said Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis. "So that break in conversation really reflects sometimes and manifests when big things are happening at the Met Council — like a light rail plan is being implemented or a system plan is being formalized and adopted."
Dibble said he'll release the details of a bill later this month that will increase oversight of the Met Council. He also signed on to a separate bill sponsored by state Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound, that requires local governments to approve the governor's appointments to the council.
This isn't the first time the Met Council has received legislative scrutiny. Over the years, state lawmakers have passed legislation that would require the board to be elected. They also passed a bill to create staggered terms. The measures were all vetoed.
Republicans in the Minnesota House also want increased oversight of the Met Council. House Speaker Kurt Daudt said he plans to appoint a Met Council subcommittee.
"They have a large impact and a large ability to spend dollars on transportation," said Daudt, R-Crown. "They also impact the way the Twin Cities grows through its sewer and water plans. We want to make sure that they have the proper oversight and not reaching out beyond what Minnesotans expect them to do."
Dayton said he's willing to consider any suggestions that would improve how the Met Council functions.