The radical center in Minnesota
A centrist Minnesota political action committee just got a big pile of cash from an unlikely source. On Monday, former Enron executive John Arnold of Houston, TX, gave $150,000 to…
MPR reports that Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority chair Michele Kelm-Helgen has resigned in the face of a mounting public backlash over luxury suites and other perks at US Bank Stadium.
Michele Kelm-Helgen said in a statement that she has become the focus of legislation at the Capitol that seeks to change the governance structure of the stadium authority. The move by lawmakers follows a months long controversy over the authority’s use of suites for family and friends.
Kelm-Helgen may have seen the writing on the wall following a hard-hitting hearing on Tuesday before the House Government Operations Committee hearing on reforming the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly passed a bill on a 17-1 vote that, among other reforms, essentially fired Kelm-Helgen by eliminating her $130,000 a year job.
The play-by-play in local media positioned the outcome as a big loss for Gov. Mark Dayton, who has steadfastly defended Kelm-Helgen and colleague Ted Mondale’s free-wheeling use of two U.S. Bank Stadium luxury suites for family, friends and cronies. Dayton is expected to comment on his former aide’s abrupt departure later today.
The MSFA is responsible for providing public oversight of the $1.1 billion downtown Minneapolis stadium, built with $498 million in public funds. But the panel’s efficacy and ethics have been questioned since a Star Tribune story in late November revealed the use of two 18-person luxury suites to host friends and family for Vikings games, among other high-priced events such as Metallica and Luke Bryan concerts.
Dayton, a DFLer, has stood firmly behind the MSFA, dismissing criticism as partisan attacks and media sensationalism. Although he could veto a bill, the deep DFL support for MSFA changes puts him at odds with his own party.
Anderson’s bill would increase from five to seven the number of people on the board and disburse the appointments more widely. It also would eliminate the position of full-time chair, making it a mostly volunteer job. Currently, the board has a chair, Michele Kelm-Helgen, and an executive director, Ted Mondale, who earn a collective $300,000.
Kelm-Helgen’s departure comes as the House Government Finance Committee prepares to consider the reform measures today. In a statement, Kelm-Helgen said no one asked her to leave her post.
“As a public servant, most concerned about the public interest, it is apparent that I have become the focus of the legislation that is being considered. Therefore, I believe it is in the public interest to remove myself from this discussion. I want to be clear that this is my decision, and my decision alone.”
She continued: “I hope that public oversight of the stadium and its operations continues. Perhaps better legislation will result, if my role is no longer part of the discussion and focus.”
But could this development clear the way for more house cleaning at the agency?
Her departure still leaves a senior executive at the stadium authority — a pairing that has also been subject of a gender equity controversy and critics who question the overlap of the two positions.
Former DFL State Sen. Ted Mondale remains as the MSFA’s executive director, and was the chair of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, the panel that owned and ran the Metrodome, until the bill for the new stadium was passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature in 2012. Mondale is paid $165,000 a year currently.
For now, the existing stadium authority structure remains in place, but soon without a chairperson that law requires a governor to appoint. Dayton also has two other appointments on the board, former DFL House Majority Leader Tony Sertich and former GOP legislator and state Supreme Court chief judge Kathleen Blatz.
UPDATE: The other shoe has dropped at the MSFA. This afternoon executive director Ted Mondale submitted his resignation to Gov. Mark Dayton, following weeks of mounting pressure from critics and legislators. Kelm-Helgen and Mondale earned about $300,000 in combined salaries, but Kelm-Helgen’s paid position will be eliminated and Mondale’s downgraded and restructured under reforms moving through the Minnesota Legislature.