What ‘civic leadership really is’

Forty-five years ago today, Gov. Harold LeVander signed legislation creating the Metropolitan Council to “do a job which has proved too big for any single community.”

James Hetland was the first chairman of the council, charged with bridging the long-time divides between Minneapolis and St. Paul. He died Wednesday at 86 years old.

The Star Tribune and Pioneer Press both wrote nice obits for today’s papers. I appreciate those kinds of obits because they remind me that there are lots of people, largely anonymous to most of us, who built this region in ways that weren’t flashy but necessary.

A Met Council staffer today noted that back in the 1960s, the region had some sever infrastructure problems. Home septic systems were failing in many suburbs, delivering poorly treated wastewater into lakes and rivers and the metro bus system was “disintegrating” as buses aged, fares rose and ridership dropped.

Nearly 50 years later, the region is better because he and others did the work that got things done.

Some lines from the Star Tribune obit sum it up pretty well.

At the time, Minneapolis and St. Paul were intense rivals, but Hetland immediately sought to unify the council, said Ted Kolderie, a former head of the Citizens League, which had pushed for the formation of the council.

“It was a nice touch that at the initial meeting of the new Metropolitan Council, when it came time to vote on where its offices would be, the vote was 7-7, the east metro voting for St. Paul and the west metro voting for Minneapolis, Kolderie said. “Jim, a Minneapolis resident, broke the tie by voting in favor of St. Paul.”

“That maybe says as much about him as anything,” Kolderie said.

“We don’t have many of Jim’s kind around any more,” Kolderie said. “The kind of person who had a successful and productive career and took time for an incredible amount of civic work. This is what ‘civic leadership’ really is.”


Gov. Harold LeVander and the first members of the Metropolitan Council, August 1967. James Hetland is seated at far left.

Source: Met Council

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