Meet Minneapolis — the nonprofit organization tasked with attracting events and, most important, people to the city — overestimated its success by about $196 million over a three-year period, according to an audit.
The overestimation is unfortunate on many levels, including the three-year duration. But the inflated figures are a mistake, not a scandal. Indeed, the incorrect figures didn’t demonstrably alter Meet Minneapolis’ business strategy, represent any actual taxpayer expense nor factor into any compensation.
What happened, according to Meet Minneapolis officials, was a computer-entry error on a database tracking economic-impact estimates — “errors in coding groups and events that should have been caught,” a Meet Minneapolis official said in an e-mail to an editorial writer.
Going forward, Meet Minneapolis has pledged: an outside technical review of its sales-recording process, with a comparison to industry best practices; staff retraining; dedicated, identifiable information on “key performance indicators” and other important metrics; and additional meetings with the city auditor “to ensure alignment on technology.”
“We rely on those metrics to know if our investment of city resources — meaning taxpayer dollars — is paying off, and to what degree so,” Minneapolis City Council Member Linea Palmisano, who chairs the audit committee, told an editorial writer. “So, I guess there is an integrity issue, because we need to know we can trust the reports. If we’re going to continue offering them contracts with public money attached, then I’m asking them to be less sloppy.”
We join that call. Meet Minneapolis’ use of taxpayer money and its critical role in this key economic sector demand accuracy.
For his part, Melvin Tennant, the president and CEO of Meet Minneapolis, acknowledged the need to improve accountability. “Clearly, we did make mistakes,” Tennant told an editorial writer. “We take them very seriously, we are very much down the road on fixing them, and I would very much hope that based on our relationship not just with the city, but within this community, the hospitality industry and our other stakeholders, that everyone would evaluate our entire body of work.”
The organization’s track record is strong. Meet Minneapolis exceeded its 2017 goals on group and event room nights, leisure room nights, Minneapolis Convention Center revenue and private revenue raised. And the high-profile events including this year’s Super Bowl, next year’s NCAA Final Four and numerous others such as the X Games show the necessity and success of an organizing entity like Meet Minneapolis.
In an effort previously supported by the Star Tribune Editorial Board, a task force formed by the business-led Itasca Project is considering what Minnesota would need to do to become one of the nation’s recurring major-events destinations. Rebuilding public trust in Meet Minneapolis, which would likely be a key partner in any new strategy for the state and Twin Cities region, is essential going forward.