Did Dome official cross line in TV ad?

  • Article by: KEVIN DUCHSCHERE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 14, 2012 - 9:47 AM

Year after roof collapse, stadium commission director backs insurers.

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Cleanup work at the Metrodome immediately after the roof collapse in 2010.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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After a blizzard destroyed the Metrodome's roof last winter, insurers not only paid $23 million for the roof, they also covered most of the damage done to the playing field and reimbursed the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission for lost business as well.

So is it a conflict then for Bill Lester, the stadium commission's longtime executive director, to star in a TV commercial touting the virtues of the same kind of independent insurance agents who helped the Dome?

Lester said Friday that he didn't think so. Neither he nor the commission got paid or received benefits for the commercials, he said.

He added that he's not backing a specific product or agency, only the insurance trade group that uses the Trusted Choice brand.

"It's an endorsement of the quality of the coverage and the teams both on our side and the professional insurance agency that provided the public with the best possible outcome of a terrible natural disaster," Lester said.

But David Schultz, a specialist in government ethics and campaign finance at Hamline University, said that it raises questions even if no laws were broken.

The commercial suggests, he said, that "government is lending its approval or effectively endorsing some type of product, and that's not really the business that government should be in at this point."

The commission, which owns and operates the Dome, did not vote on the commercial. Commission Chair Ted Mondale said he wasn't aware of the commercial until Friday and that he knew nothing about it.

Lester's commercial was promoted in the November newsletter of the Minnesota Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers Association as a good way to build awareness of the Trusted Choice brand.

"Our national association worked with Mr. Lester, the Vikings, the insurance company, and the agency to make sure that the true story of how a Trusted Choice agency performed was told in the commercial," wrote Dan Riley, the association's executive vice president, in his column.

He adds that Minnesota agencies can, if they choose, buy and attach taglines to the ad to promote their own businesses.

The upbeat 30-second commercial, which began airing last fall on Channels 9 and 29, features views of the Dome, a family attending an event there, film of the roof being ripped open by the storm and lights going up on the field.

It also has shots of Lester, who is identified as "Bill Lester/Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome."

"This was our first effort with an extremely large insurance claim," Lester says in the ad. "We lost the roof and it was like losing a friend. Our Trusted Choice insurance agents performed spectacularly. They were on site immediately.

"Having this building up and operating is a tribute to their leadership and teamwork. Minnesota's rec room is back in business again."

Lester said the commercial doesn't compromise the commission's ability to do business as it chooses. The procurement process that the commission uses protects the public interest, he said.

The stadium commission re-bids for insurance coverage every three years. Using Associated Insurance Agents of Brooklyn Center as a broker, it awarded the job of insuring the Dome to Affiliated FM. It was Affiliated, an international firm, that paid the Dome's storm-connected losses.

Last month, a City Council member in Reno, Nev., appeared in a TV commercial for a local clothing retailer where she worked part-time. When the commercial aired and identified her as a City Council member, the local editorial page took exception and she had it taken off the air.

Schultz said it's OK for Lester to say at a conference or in an interview that a company has done a good job for the Dome. "It's just unusual to see a public official effectively endorsing a product, which is what this is in a way," he said.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455

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