“Baby, you can crash my party anytime,” Luke Bryan sang. Baby, did they ever.
Since the new Vikings stadium opened in August, dozens of friends of Ted Mondale, executive director of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), and Michele Kelm-Helgen, its chairwoman, filled the executive suites controlled by the organization, which oversees the stadium on behalf of taxpayers. There, they were apparently treated to dull marketing pitches while trying to ignore the racket from acts such as Bryan’s band and Metallica.
Such is the life of the average political hack or labor leader, many of whom accepted the invitation to crash the Kelm-Helgen party box. The work just never ends.
Maybe, I’m not sure, Bryan sang one of his standards, “Apologize,” the chorus of which goes, “I said it’s too late to apologize,” because even by then, it was.
If Bryan were to adapt that song to the current moral cues or crisis management trends, he would have to change the lyrics to, “I said it’s too late to offer a non-apology, so I’ll just deny wrongdoing while changing the rules, and that will restore the public trust, y’all.”
When the story first broke that the MSFA used some of its 36 prime seats for family members and friends, along with a bunch of people actually thinking about doing business with the facility, Gov. Mark Dayton blamed the media for sensationalizing the issue. Maybe so. Maybe, as one reader pointed out, “there are more important things to worry about.”
I completely agree. Like a president-elect whose business entanglements and conflicted cabinet appointments make the Mondale, Kelm-Helgen swagfest seem like the petty, Midwestern head-scratcher that it is. That said, I cannot recall an issue that so clearly polarized people into two camps: those who saw the perks as inappropriate, and those who saw the perks as wildly inappropriate.
Friends of Mondale and Kelm-Helgen will no longer be allowed to use the sweet suite seats, and the names of some of those who use the perk will become public, so I guess a little sensationalism isn’t a bad thing if it leads to more government transparency and a tad less institutional arrogance.
When I saw the first list of guests to the two suites, each of which would sell for at least $200,000 for the 10-game Vikings season, my reaction was: “Don’t these people know any Republicans?”
If I ran this scam, my first call would have been to state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, who sponsored the danged stadium bill. Had she accepted, things would have gone much differently.
As it is, Rosen and the state auditor will poke around some more into the MSFA dealings. I doubt any heads will roll, but maybe we’ll get a better grip on the job descriptions of two highly paid officials who seem to be doing very similar work. Maybe someone will decide that the MSFA doesn’t need two expensive suites to entertain potential clients, and take one away. Let’s hope that doesn’t just put more dough back in the pockets of the Vikings’ owners.
I decided to call the man who helped orchestrate events at the Metrodome for more than two decades, Bill Lester, former executive director of the old Metropolitan Sports Commission, to get his take. Lester retired in 2012 from the entity that preceded the MSFA.
I asked Lester if the MSFA use of the suites was a proper scandal, or just a tempest in a teapot.
“I think the latter,” said Lester. “A tempest in a teapot. It’s impossible to defend a privilege, but I think they can get past this moment very easily by revealing the names.
“You can’t defend letting family and friends use the seats,” Lester added. “That’s probably what caught the public’s eye.”
Lester said some reserved seats are needed to show officials and potential clients the venue in action. The other seats could be used in auctions for charities, or given to nonprofits, like they often were at the Metrodome, he said. He remembered that good seats were popular with organizations like Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly.
I bet those little brothers and their elderly pals would have loved the Bryan concert. In August, when Bryan played at the stadium, he sang one of his “party songs,” according to the newspaper’s review, called “I don’t want this night to end.”
You can almost see Mondale and Kelm-Helgen, tapping their feet and singing along.
Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin