A top public official overseeing construction of the $1 billion Minnesota Vikings stadium found herself sharply criticized Friday, accused of duplicating a role already being filled on the project.
Board members of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the public body monitoring the stadium's construction, criticized the increasing role being played by Michele Kelm-Helgen, the authority chairwoman appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton. At a morning meeting, they complained that Kelm-Helgen's role, which had been a part-time job when public officials managed the since-demolished Metrodome, closely mirrors the job held by Ted Mondale, the authority's $162,245 executive director.
Kelm-Helgen initially was paid $100,000, but since has seen her salary increase to $127,000. Roy Terwilliger, who previously served as the part-time chairman of the public authority that managed the Metrodome, was paid $64,688. Mondale, who also served as chair in 2012, was paid $66,952.
"This is a bizarre way to attempt to run" things, said Duane Benson, a member of the authority's five-person board who is also a former state Senate minority leader and executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership. "It's terribly inefficient."
In a statement issued after the meeting at which the criticism erupted, Dayton sharply disagreed. "The success of the stadium project is first and foremost because of the leadership of Michele Kelm-Helgen, and her present role should absolutely continue," he said.
Reached by phone Friday afternoon, Benson said he has questioned the board's structure from the beginning. But he declined to give specific examples of how overlapping leadership roles have hindered the board's work. "I'd be a little more interested in finding a solution than tracking through yesteryear," he said.
The criticism, which at times at Friday's meeting became pointed, was a rare instance of the board's members arguing among themselves over the role they play with the stadium, which is now halfway built.
It also came as Kelm-Helgen distanced herself from a pay equity report that was not adopted by the board Friday and that potentially could have increased her salary to match Mondale's.
Kelm-Helgen said Friday afternoon that she will waive her claim to any further pay increases that might result from the pay equity report.
"I do not feel like I should have a big increase to my salary," she said. "That is not what this is about."
Kelm-Helgen said she and Mondale do share some responsibilities, but their job descriptions aren't the same. Kelm-Helgen works on what she described as bigger-picture budget, policy and external communications, while Mondale is focused on day-to-day construction oversight.
Salaries in dispute
The dispute over Kelm-Helgen's pay comes just a month after Dayton faced criticism from Republicans, and even DFLers, for a proposal to increase the salaries of his top commissioners. Kelm-Helgen, a former chief aide to Dayton, was appointed as the board's chair shortly after the Vikings stadium legislation was passed by the Legislature in 2012.
Friday's controversy, which left unclear what happens next, came as the project's budget again inched upward. New estimates showed that the stadium, due to be completed in 2016, now has a $1.06 billion price tag.
During Friday's board meeting, Kelm-Helgen said, "I don't think this is really about the equity report. It's a fundamental disagreement that a number of the board members have about my role on this project."
Afterward she told reporters, "This is a big distraction."
Mondale sat alongside Kelm-Helgen during Friday's meeting but did not comment during the debate. He left before the meeting ended. Mondale could not immediately be reached for comment.
Benson was joined in his criticism of Kelm-Helgen's position by John Griffith, who has been an executive vice president at Target Corp.
"I've never seen something function like this," Griffith said. "It creates friction in the office. It creates confusion."
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