Minnesota House members united strongly on Monday behind major changes to the oversight of U.S. Bank Stadium, advancing a measure to scrub the staff and structure of its governing panel, even as Republicans prepared to launch another investigation into how its former leader snagged 50-yard-line seats for herself and friends.
The House voted to reconfigure the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) by a 122-7 margin, a pointed response to troubles under recently departed Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen and executive director Ted Mondale. Both resigned in February after two months of public criticism over their use of two luxury suites for friends and family for Minnesota Vikings games and concerts.
Although DFLers quibbled with details and tried to delay the MSFA changes until after a study, they joined the condemnation of the departed stadium leadership.
"Minnesotans are angry about what happened at the stadium. I'm angry," said state Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, even though he voted against the measure.
The bill would increase the number of MSFA board members by two to seven, and would alter who would get to appoint them. Currently, Minneapolis appoints two members and the governor appoints three, including the chair. Under the new proposal, Minneapolis would have one appointee, which Davnie said was unfair given the city's $150 million investment.
The state Senate, also under Republican control, is considering its own set of changes to stadium governance. The House and Senate would have to agree on a final proposal to send to Gov. Mark Dayton, who has said he's willing to work with lawmakers on changes.
Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth and main sponsor of the House bill, called the MSFA activities egregious.
"Clearly there was gross negligence in the management of this board and we're tightening things down to make sure it never happens again," she said during a two-hour floor debate.
Even though Kelm-Helgen has left the MSFA payroll, her tenure came under further criticism after the Star Tribune reported that she had moved ahead of longtime Vikings season ticket-holders in acquiring choice seats for herself, friends and family members. The seats also gave them priority rights for other stadium events.
Anderson suggested that the seat purchases might carry criminal implications, and open the state to liability from Vikings fans with ticket seniority. She said her office got a call from one fan who previously had a front-row seat and complained that he got bumped to the third row, behind Kelm-Helgen's group.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, heaped blame on Dayton, saying the administration did not hold Kelm-Helgen responsible. Before taking the stadium position, Kelm-Helgen was a deputy chief of staff for Dayton.
"The public deserves to know who received preferential treatment in season-tickets purchases," Daudt said. But he said any inquiry into that would be separate from the reorganization of the MSFA.
Dayton declined to make additional comment on Monday, as did Kelm-Helgen.
Anderson's bill would require the two main concourse suites used by the MSFA members to be auctioned off. If the MSFA wanted to use them for marketing purposes, the entire board would have to approve that use in an open meeting, she said.
"Just because you got appointed to the board doesn't mean you won the lottery," Anderson said, adding that board members would be paid a per diem, and would not receive free entry to games.
It's unlikely any current board members would stay if the restructuring becomes law. The House bill would oust the three remaining commissioners from their positions no later than July 1.