Replacements for the two departed top officials on U.S. Bank Stadium’s oversight panel are likely to come next week, and they’ll face unanswered questions from legislators about the financial management of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA).
Gov. Mark Dayton said Friday that he expects to appoint an interim chair next week to replace Michele Kelm-Helgen, who resigned a day earlier amid controversy about improper use of luxury suites by authority members. The panel’s executive director, Ted Mondale, resigned a few hours later; newly appointed board member Kathleen Blatz said she hopes to have a plan in place by the end of next week to replace Mondale as well.
“We’re all in this together,” Blatz said Friday, trying to calm nerves and shift attention to the future of the publicly subsidized stadium after a chaotic 24 hours.
The stakes will be high for whoever steps into the leadership positions. The departures of Kelm-Helgen and Mondale come with just under a year until the $1.1 billion stadium, built with $498 million in taxpayer money, plays host to the 2018 Super Bowl.
The resignations of Kelm-Helgen and Mondale followed weeks of withering GOP criticism and public backlash about their use of two taxpayer-owned luxury suites to host friends and family at Vikings games and concerts.
The two claimed the suites were needed to market the building. But Legislative Auditor James Nobles found that the pair violated the core ethical principle of not using public office for personal gain.
As the leadership transition gears up, Republicans said they still have plenty of questions about how Kelm-Helgen and Mondale handled up to $5 million in spending authority. Nobles was preparing to send a group of staffers to Minneapolis to spend months digging through MSFA finances.
The legislative auditor said he would “broaden and deepen” the scope of inquiry at the MSFA. He hopes to issue a follow-up report by July.
“It’s a complicated financial enterprise. There are a lot of contracts, a lot of expenses, a lot of revenue streams,” Nobles said.
Blatz, the former legislator and state Supreme Court chief justice, appeared to be coordinating the leadership transition even though she has yet to visit the MSFA offices at U.S. Bank Stadium, or attend her first meeting as an unpaid board member. She was on the phone frequently with Kelm-Helgen on Friday. Mondale has been out of the offices, but Blatz said Kelm-Helgen was working with consultants and the finance officer to get paperwork in order to ensure deadlines are met.
“We really don’t want the work to slip through the cracks and we want to make sure there’s no cost to the taxpayers” for late signings, Blatz said.
Kelm-Helgen will remain on staff until March 8 and will be at the regularly scheduled monthly meeting next Friday. Mondale’s departure date wasn’t clear. MSFA spokeswoman Jenn Hathaway said neither Mondale nor Kelm-Helgen, who earned a combined $300,000, will receive severance pay.
While the governor appoints the chair position vacated by Kelm-Helgen, the MSFA board hires the executive director. Blatz said current MSFA consultants or finance staffers — people who know the complicated financial structure — are possible candidates.
Once the interim CEO is in place, Blatz said the board would work with the Legislature to develop job qualifications for a permanent replacement. Blatz, however, has also said that she would offer her resignation from the board as soon as a bill passes the Legislature — to provide the option of a fresh slate.
It’s unclear what the plans of the three current commissioners are. All were allies of Kelm-Helgen, and all used the suites to host their own friends and family. None returned telephone calls or e-mail messages Friday. They are Barbara Butts Williams, Bill McCarthy and Tony Sertich.
A bill to overhaul the MSFA advanced through two House committees last week. Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, said senators will discuss a parallel bill in the coming week. In the aftermath of the departures, Rosen said she intends to raise the question with fellow lawmakers of whether the board is needed at all.
One alternative, Rosen said, would be to have an executive director who works closely with SMG, the firm that has a 10-year contract to market and book U.S. Bank Stadium.
“Now we get to start at ground zero,” said Rosen, who was one of the lead lawmakers in shepherding the 2012 legislation that made construction of U.S. Bank Stadium possible. “It’s making me stop and think about how to structure the future authority and board, who’s going to be appointing members, their responsibilities and code of conduct.”
State Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, and other Republicans want to know whether the board was even authorized to convey spending authority to Kelm-Helgen and Mondale. They’ve also sought — and have not received — a list of how that money was spent last summer and fall.
“The public deserves to know what’s being approved,” Fenton said.
Meanwhile, the Super Bowl Host Committee continued its preparations from a downtown office building with a view of the stadium’s glassy western facade.
Spokeswoman Andrea Mokros said the host committee already has been working with the MSFA, SMG, the Vikings, and city and state officials on the upcoming event.
“Regardless of who represents those organizations at the table, that planning continues to move forward and we’re confident the stadium, and Minnesota, will be ready,” Mokros said.