Now I know why Gov. Dayton said U.S. Bank Stadium would be known as “the people’s stadium.”
It’s because the big-shot DFLers who have been given access to some of the best seats in two exclusive suites in the Vikings Magnificent Palace are, technically, people.
Calling it “The Special People’s Stadium” just didn’t have the proper populist ring to it.
Those seats, in the rarefied and inebriated air along the 20-yard line, were essentially free to a cabal of party loyalists, until Star Tribune reporter Rochelle Olson called to ask about them.
Sultans of Swag Michele Kelm-Helgen and Ted Mondale then scrambled to collect checks from public officials who took advantage of the chance to watch mediocre football in the house that taxpayers bought. That must have been awkward. The DFL insiders came for the “free lunch” and ended up buying the timeshare.
Still, it was a heck of a deal. The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) honchos retroactively determined those tickets were worth $132 apiece, and added $68 for food, for a total of $200. The public officials, all DFLers from what I can tell, dug deep for the dough and all was well.
Nice try. If you are not a DFL insider, just try to buy seats anywhere near those boxes for $132 for Thursday’s game against Dallas. The cheapest I found in the entire stadium were for $195, and those closer to the party’s party box were much higher. That didn’t include food or VIP parking.
David Schultz, a professor at Hamline University, has literally written the book on government ethics. He has also taught political ethics courses and trained employees for state agencies, and he’s disturbed by the deal.
“What strikes me is the arrogance and indifference to this, it’s unbelievable,” Schultz said. “Just about anybody who knows anything about government ethics would know this is wrong.”
Former Gov. Arne Carlson, a sharp critic of the way the stadium was handled, said the controversy “is a very natural outcome because the process was thoroughly corrupt from the beginning.
“We’re always shocked when something like this happens,” Carlson said. “We’re shocked when we find out there are seat licenses and we’re shocked by this. The lack of curiosity by legislators is stunning. We don’t hire people to be shocked.”
And we know what happens to MSFA board members who voice concerns: They are banished.
The fact that checks from the 12 officials we know about were deposited after the newspaper began its inquiry shows “they realized this didn’t look good,” said Schultz. “They really wanted to keep it hush-hush.”
Among the guests in the suites who reimbursed the MSFA $200 this month were: Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges (who voted against the stadium while on the City Council — nicely played) and her husband, Gary Cunningham; several state commissioners; Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal and her husband, Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans; and Minneapolis City Council Member Jacob Frey.
The Vikings would envy such a lineup of big hitters.
“The list of public officials, particularly at the state level, are people who should have known better,” said Schultz.
He wondered whether the IRS might want to determine the true value of the tickets to see whether the deal should be counted as income, and taxed.
The fact that it appears all beneficiaries were DFLers looks even worse, Schultz said. “This certainly looks like you are using public property for partisan political purposes,” which is not allowed by law.
What we don’t know is potentially more troubling. There were 252 MSFA-controlled seats available during the seven games played so far, meaning up to 240 guest names are being withheld from the public. We don’t know if they are family members of officials, cronies, bag men, lobbyists, donors or developers who may have business coming before the city or state.
Schultz also wonders how many MSFA board members attended each game. If it was a quorum, they were technically holding a meeting that should have been public, he said.
The MSFA argued that commissioners were not required to pay for tickets because they were essentially on the job, doing the grueling work of witnessing another painful Vikings loss while munching petits fours.
Kelm-Helgen and Mondale argued that allowing family members and friends to use the suites was a reward for long hours on game days away from loved ones. The audacity. Try telling that to the people who sell peanuts, or those who sweep them up.
“The whole idea is to develop the confidence that we know what we’re doing,” Kelm-Helgen said.
Oh, you know what you’re doing, all right. And now, so do we.
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