Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Kathleen Blatz is Gov. Mark Dayton’s choice to join the public oversight panel of U.S. Bank Stadium.
Over a long career in politics and law, Blatz has been a popular and unassailable figure. She won her first election in 1978 to the state House as a moderate Republican from Bloomington, went on to become a Hennepin County judge and in 1996 received an appointment to the state Supreme Court from then-Gov. Arne Carlson. Just over a year later, he elevated her to chief justice.
Blatz left the court in 2006. In recent years, she has worked as an arbitrator and served on several charitable boards.
Blatz, 62, said Friday that when Dayton called to ask her to join the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, she was intrigued. “I certainly value the importance of sports in our community,” she said.
Blatz made a point of claiming her personal sports pedigree: As an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame, she saw quarterback Joe Montana lead the Fighting Irish to a national championship.
Still, she said she is not as much of a sports fan as was her late husband, businessman Wheelock Whitney. Until he died in May, Whitney and Blatz regularly attended Minnesota Vikings and Twins games. Whitney helped bring the Twins and the Minnesota North Stars to town and at one point was part owner of the Vikings.
Blatz, who will be at the next board meeting in February, comes aboard at a precarious time for the MSFA. Within the next two weeks, legislative auditor James Nobles is expected to release the findings of his investigation into how the MSFA controlled two luxury suites at the downtown Minneapolis stadium. And Republican legislators are preparing to delve into both the use of the suites and the operational structure of the MSFA.
The two suites, which accommodate 18 spectators each, became a public issue after the Star Tribune reported that MSFA officials wouldn’t release the names of most of their guests. The MSFA recently acknowledged spending $32,000 in state money on food for guests.
In the past month, many suite guests have identified themselves and reimbursed the state. Last month, the authority voted to stop inviting friends and family to the suites. They now are to be used exclusively for marketing contacts.
Legislators have expressed interest in taking one of the suites away from the MSFA. Some Republican leaders also questioned the need for two taxpayer-funded executive-level posts at the MSFA, held by Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen and executive director Ted Mondale.
Blatz comes to the board after Dayton declined to reappoint John Griffith, a former Target executive. He was the second commissioner to leave after questioning Kelm-Helgen’s leadership. Former GOP Sen. Duane Benson left in 2015 after raising issues about the board structure.
Kelm-Helgen is a Dayton appointee, as is former DFL legislator Tony Sertich. Commissioners Bill McCarthy, state AFL-CIO president, and Capella University executive Barbara Butts Williams, were appointed by the city of Minneapolis.
Blatz, Sertich, McCarthy and Williams are not paid a salary. Until recently, however, commissioners were usually given four tickets for every event in the stadium, including concerts and Vikings games.