The newly created public body that will work with the Minnesota Vikings in overseeing development of a $975 million downtown Minneapolis football stadium made its first significant hire Friday, appointing Ted Mondale as its full-time executive director.
Mondale, who was Gov. Mark Dayton's chief negotiator in the months-long legislative fight for a new stadium, will oversee day-to-day operations of the massive project, which will be built on and around the current Metrodome site on the east end of downtown.
"I appreciate the confidence you put in me," Mondale, 54, told the five members of the newly created Minnesota Sports Facility Authority, which met for the first time Friday at the Metrodome. "I will not let you down."
Authority members will act as the public watchdog on one of the biggest public construction projects in state history and work with the Vikings on every major decision involving stadium design and development. The state and the city of Minneapolis will pick up nearly $500 million of the $975 million construction cost.
Mondale, who will start his new job Monday, will be paid $157,181 annually in the full-time position. That's about $2,100 more than the salary of Bill Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which owns and operates the Metrodome.
Mondale, who has earned $67,000 in a part-time role as chairman of that commission, said Friday that he will continue those duties but will not collect a salary in the weeks before the commission is phased out in August. He also has resigned from his role working with Greater MSP, a regional economic development group.
Michele Kelm-Helgen, the authority chairwoman, will make $100,000 in her new role. Kelm-Helgen, who resigned from Dayton's staff Thursday, said she earned the same sum while working for him.
The Vikings have said that they hope to break ground on the stadium next spring and to open it in time for the 2016 NFL season. Mondale said he's optimistic that this can happen.
"I think we have a realistic time frame," he said. "We're not behind the eight-ball. We've got a good head start."
While Mondale's appointment became official Friday, his involvement in the project had been anticipated since legislators signed off on the stadium deal earlier this spring.
When Dayton did not appoint him to the authority board last week, many assumed that Mondale would get the executive director's job.
Dayton, who presided over the swearing-in of the authority members Friday, said before the meeting that he had no input into the final decision on who to hire.
"They are completely autonomous right now from me," he said of the authority. "They don't work for me. They work for the people of Minnesota."
Kelm-Helgen said Friday that she had talked with fellow authority members and other officials and business leaders in recent days about whether to conduct a public search for candidates. But she said the tight project timeline dictated a quick decision.
"My biggest concern is to get this project moving and to get it out on time and under budget," she said.
Kelm-Helgen said that Mondale, a former DFL state senator and Metropolitan Council chairman, was a logical choice, and that his name "came up everywhere" in discussions she had involving the position. She said hiring him "made sense" given his experience with the project, his knowledge of its details and his history with the sports commission.
"He's got a great heart for Minnesota, he's a very bright guy and he's got the ability to push 50 things forward at the same time," authority member John Griffith said before voting on the appointment.
The hire drew immediate criticism from longtime open-government crusader Rich Neumeister, who sent an e-mail to Mondale questioning the appointment process. Neumeister also has been critical of the "lack of transparency" in how Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak selected the five members of the authority board.
"You wonder why people throw up at government? This is an example why," Neumeister said. "It's a great example of political incestuousness. My concern has nothing to do with whether they are qualified or not. To me, it's an issue about openness and transparency and accountability. To me, it's the process."
State Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, a frequent critic of public subsidies of sports facilities, said he was mildly surprised by the salaries.
"At a time when the economy is hurting for a lot of people, it strikes me as a bit high for what you'd hope they'd be," he said.
But, he added, "I'm concerned more about the hundreds of millions in public money than the hundreds of thousands."
Richard Meryhew • 612-673-4425