Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday named prominent Iron Range DFLer Tony Sertich, the former Minnesota House majority leader, to fill a vacancy on the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority board created by the departure of former GOP Senate Minority Leader Duane Benson.
“Tony Sertich has successfully led major economic development projects,” Dayton said in a written statement. “He is also experienced in bringing fractious leaders together to achieve their shared goals. Both of these skills will be valuable additions to the MSFA Board.”
For the past few months, the board has been riven by public tussles and sniping that culminated in Benson’s decision to resign. Benson, a widely respected businessman who was serving as board treasurer, said that he could no longer work with board Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen. His last meeting was last month.
Sertich, also former commissioner of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) under Dayton, said that he goes into things with “an open mind” and understands that “on big projects there are a lot of voices around the table that need to be heard.”
Benson accused Kelm-Helgen of calling him “untrustworthy” and a “liar.” She maintained that she never called Benson a liar.
Kelm-Helgen said Monday that she welcomes the appointment of Sertich, whose DFL roots run almost as deep as her own and those of MSFA Executive Director Ted Mondale. She noted that Sertich “has a particular commitment to bringing the perspectives of greater Minnesota to public policy.”
Board member John Griffith said he doesn’t know Sertich, but said he agrees that “it’s important to have that outstate voice to help everyone feel they’re a part of” the project.
The $1.1 billion project is a year from opening as the Vikings’ home for the 2016 NFL season. Taxpayers are covering roughly half of the cost of the building, which will be overseen by the MSFA. Since the project has been under construction, the Vikings have repeatedly increased contribution to the building.
When Benson left, he raised concerns about unsettled disputes over construction change orders that could cost as much as $50 million. However, Kelm-Helgen and Mondale insist that the project’s budget is in good shape.
Benson and Griffith had also repeatedly asked about the overlapping roles of Kelm-Helgen and Mondale, saying the unusual structure of the board could lead to confusion and lack of accountability. Kelm-Helgen has said the redundancies are necessary on a project as large as the stadium and that the job is being done on time and on budget.
Kelm-Helgen said she knows Sertich because she was working at the Capitol when he was a legislator.
Sertich, 39, left the IRRRB at the end of the 2014 and since January has run the Northland Foundation in Duluth, which is focused on rural communities.
He was a legislator for 10 years, but wasn’t in office for the vote on the Vikings project. He did, however cite his role in working on the passage of legislation to build Target Field and University of Minnesota’s football field. He voted for both of them.
Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said he “worked well” with Sertich at the Legislature on stadium issues. “We look forward to working together,” Bagley said.
Sertich said he believes public-private partnerships are key to major projects and praised the large number of construction jobs created by the Vikings stadium.
Kelm-Helgen has briefed him on the stadium and nothing she told him surprised him, Sertich said. “I get the size and the scope. I get that large projects come with a lot of scrutiny — which they should,” he said.
The board members are not paid. In addition to Griffith, a former Target executive, the board includes labor manager Bill McCarthy and Barbara Butts Williams, a dean at Capella University. They receive a $50 per diem to attend meetings. The next meeting is set for Aug. 21.