Former Target executive John Griffith, a sometime critic of the public management of U.S. Bank Stadium, has lost his seat on the board after Gov. Mark Dayton declined to reappoint him.
Griffith was one of four commissioners on the board of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, two of whom are appointed by Dayton. The governor also appointed Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen, who at the time was his deputy chief of staff.
Griffith is the latest critic of Kelm-Helgen to leave the board that oversees the biggest public-private project in state history. Griffith sharply criticized Kelm-Helgen after the public resignation of Duane Benson, the board's former treasurer, Republican legislator and head of the Minnesota Business Partnership, the trade organization for the CEOs of the state's largest corporations.
Benson left the board more than a year ago after his disagreement with Kelm-Helgen. Both he and Griffith repeatedly questioned Kelm-Helgen's management style, duties and salary. The two argued that the state shouldn't be paying almost $300,000 to employ her and Executive Director Ted Mondale for doing the same job.
Griffith, who has a long career in operations and development, said he sent a letter to Dayton a few weeks ago asking to be reappointed. The governor called him to tell him that wouldn't be happening. The governor's reason, Griffith said, was "friction" on the board.
When he asked the governor to explain, Dayton said, "I only know what I read in the paper," Griffith recalled.
Through spokesman Linden Zakula, Dayton's office declined to explain the decision, but issued a statement: "We are not going to characterize what we consider to be a private phone call, but it seems clear that Mr. Griffith is unhappy because he's not being reappointed, and as a result is trying to make the board look as bad as possible."
Griffith said the appointment was the governor's prerogative and he is grateful for his four-year term. "I am happy that I had a chance to play such a role on a terrific project for the people of Minnesota," he said.
In an interview Monday, Mondale and Kelm-Helgen said the decision on Griffith's ouster was the governor's, not theirs. They also defended their roles, saying they're necessary for oversight and marketing of the $1.1 billion building.
Griffith said he's disappointed about losing the post and believes it's because he has pressed for more information about board actions and questioned the dual management roles of Kelm-Helgen and Mondale, both of whom have deep ties to Dayton. She makes $130,175. He makes $164,317.
That same structure was at the root of Benson's concern about the board. In the summer of 2015, the former state senator said it was "untenable" for him to continue on the board after Kelm-Helgen called him a "liar" and "untrustworthy." Griffith said at the time that she called him the same things. Both he and Griffith faulted Kelm-Helgen for making decisions herself and not informing the board.
At the time Kelm-Helgen denied using those terms and said she works to be transparent.
But Griffith repeated the same concerns in an interview this weekend. He likened Kelm-Helgen's management approach to acting as the "queen" or the "sole proprietor" of the building. "She just thinks she's the CEO and 'I can do whatever I want and I'll inform the board when I damn well please,' " he said.
In response, Kelm-Helgen said, "That simply is not true. None of it." She declined to counter other than to say, "He can characterize me any way he wants."
As for her role and Mondale's, she said, "We both have our roles; I do my job."
Griffith said he often would receive board agendas and dozens of pages of supporting material the evening before the monthly Friday meetings, which gave him little time to digest the material. "She's more than happy to get me off there because I'm the only one that asks questions," he said.
A spokeswoman for the authority said that Mondale is in charge of the board agenda and disseminating information before the meetings. Both are done the Tuesday before Friday meetings. "At times, additional information is added to the board agenda later than Tuesday, but as soon as it is available it is shared with the board and posted on the website," spokeswoman Jenn Hathaway said in an e-mail.
The public board meetings rarely involve debate. Occasionally, Griffith would ask a question. The other board members, when they attend, rarely question proceedings.
Kelm-Helgen said lots of commissioners ask questions and then said she wasn't going to "get into that."
Lester Bagley, Minnesota Vikings executive vice president, said he was sorry to see Griffith leave, saying he did an excellent job and was very engaged. "His business acumen and real estate development background were important to the success of the project," Bagley said.
The other board members are Barbara Butts Williams of Capella University, AFL-CIO head Bill McCarthy and Tony Sertich, a former DFL legislator and current president of the Northland Foundation whom Dayton appointed to replace Benson.
Sertich said the unanimous votes and lack of dissension at board meetings indicate the staff has done its job of informing board members and building consensus. He expressed support for Mondale and Kelm-Helgen as well as saying he enjoyed working with Griffith.
Griffith will attend his final board meeting Dec. 16. The governor has not yet appointed his replacement. The Minneapolis mayor appoints the other two commissioners, who receive $50 per diem for attending board meetings.