Two high-ranking officials resigned. The legislative auditor released a scathing report. Now, sweeping legislation that would overhaul the beleaguered Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and give lawmakers greater oversight of the board controlling U.S. Bank Stadium was passed 122-7 by the House on Monday.
Sponsored by Rep. Sarah Anderson (R-Plymouth), HF778, as amended, would expand the size of the authority board by giving the Legislature additional appointments – currently the governor and the Minneapolis City Council control its membership – and give legislators more authority. The measure also would strip the full-time pay of the board’s chair and require the authority to recover the costs of food, parking, tickets and suite use before Jan. 1, 2017.
Additionally, it would order the legislative auditor to review the management structure of Target Field, Target Center, TCF Bank Stadium, Xcel Energy Center and CHS Field.
The bill now heads to the Senate where Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Vernon Center) is the sponsor.
Anderson said the measure would eliminate the “patterns of abuse” and preferential treatment previously given to the authority’s board members.
“This legislation seeks to right-track us and make sure that the people can have faith that their stadium – the people’s stadium – is truly that, and it’s not meant to be a gift for folks that are friends and family of certain individuals,” she said at a news conference earlier in the day. “It’s not a private clubhouse. This is truly the people’s stadium.”
The legislative reaction comes after a Minneapolis Star Tribune article revealed board members, including former chair Michele Kelm-Helgen and former executive director Ted Mondale, gave friends, family members and other government officials free tickets to state-operated suites overlooking the 20-yard line at U.S. Bank Stadium.
In the wake of the reports, some officials paid the authority for what they perceived as the cost of the tickets, despite estimates saying the reimbursement was far below fair market value of the seats.
Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park) voted against the bill, saying lawmakers were “not thinking clearly” in reacting to public outrage and passing “bad legislation.” Nelson unsuccessfully attempted to amend the bill by reeling back some language and instead directing the legislative auditor to study in depth the authority’s structure.
But Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles and his staff released a biting report in early February showing that although the authority hadn’t broken the law in giving close relations free football, soccer and concert tickets, its board members did violate “a core ethical principle.” The authority did sidestep a state law requiring keeping a record of free tickets, however.
Following the news reports and the legislative audit, both Kelm-Helgen and Mondale resigned.
Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls) also voted against the measure, saying his constituents were still on the hook for $150 million that came with financing the public-private stadium. Davnie said the legislation goes further than some residents wanted.
Still, “Minnesotans are angry over what has happened at the stadium. I’m angry. We all should be,” he said.
The legislation approved Monday falls short of sweeping changes to other stadiums.
Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley) unsuccessfully suggested “common sense, good government” changes to include all stadiums, including TCF Bank Stadium. Anderson explained each stadium operates differently and her legislation would be a model going forward for other publicly funded sports facilities.
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