A legislative hearing on security contracts at U.S. Bank Stadium got rough Thursday when the operator of the $1.1 billion building didn’t know whether security officers were required to have photographs on their identification badges.
“I don’t believe it has to be displayed at all times,” Patrick Talty, SMG’s general manager at U.S. Bank Stadium, told the House State Government Finance Committee.
The panel was holding a special hearing on security in the 14-month-old building because Monterrey Security was recently fired. The Chicago-based firm lost its license to do business in the state the same day SMG announced it was firing the company, based on deficient training and background checks, sloppy record-keeping, possible overbilling and misleading statements by the firm’s president Juan Gaytan.
Immediately after Talty’s answer, the executive director of the board that licenses security firms, Greg Cook, was asked the same question about photographs on badges. He leaned into the microphone and said firmly, “It has to be displayed at all times.”
Talty said that he didn’t know the statute. Committee Chairwoman Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, responded, “We’ll make a copy of it for you.”
SMG, based in Pennsylvania, manages 239 facilities in eight countries.
It was a striking moment in a two-hour hearing convened by Anderson to determine how Monterrey was hired despite “red flags” and why stadium operators didn’t realize problems with the firm until they heard about them from media reports and an investigation by the state licensing board.
Neither she nor others came away satisfied. For most of the two hours, the committee questioned Talty. Cook also made a presentation, but time ran out before lawmakers could question Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) Chairman Mike Vekich.
Four hours after the hearing ended, SMG spokesman Denny Shields said after reviewing the law, Talty was correct and Cook was wrong.
In response to that second claim, Anderson said Cook — not Talty — was correct. “They might be parsing it, but the statute says very clearly it has to be displayed,” she said.
In early 2016, SMG hired Monterrey, with approval from then-executive director Ted Mondale and input from the Vikings. The firm, which provides security to major sports venues in the Chicago area, was touted for hiring, training and promoting workers from disadvantaged communities. (Mondale and former MSFA chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen resigned in early 2017 because of their inappropriate personal use of taxpayer-owned luxury suites.)
Cook explained that an investigation was opened into Monterrey after a whistleblower raised questions. The board didn’t renew the firm’s two-year license last month. Monterrey was paid $4.2 million for its year of work.
But the committee members wanted to know from Talty how the firm was hired in the first place and how SMG plans to prevent future problems.
Talty said SMG made site visits to other venues, checked references and interviewed current and former employees and employers. Anderson said a simple Google search should have flagged problems.
SMG contracts with Monterrey at Soldier Field, the home of the Chicago Bears. Lawmakers pointed out public problems there, such as Monterrey employees allowing friends into games. Legislators also noted — as the licensing board previously has — that Gaytan embellished the extent of his police experience and glossed over troubles he had with the Chicago Department two decades ago.
New security is in place at the stadium. As soon as Monterrey was fired, SMG and the MSFA brought in Roseville-based Whelan Security to run the events and G4S to provide the round-the-clock protection of the building. Talty said the firms will be subject to random audits by SMG.
One of the main issues with Monterrey was that Gaytan defined security officer differently from Minnesota law. He had employees conducting security functions such as looking into bags, running metal detectors and checking credentials when they didn’t have the proper training or background checks to do those jobs.
State Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, was one of those who asked about future oversight plans. “Minnesota was the laughingstock when our security people allowed those guys to hang from the rafters and smuggle stuff in,” Quam said, referring to the incident at the Vikings game on Jan. 1 when pipeline protesters climbed the building’s steel truss, dropped down on ropes and unfurled a banner.
Talty countered that U.S. Bank Stadium’s security plans are “some of the best in the country” and that other operators come here to see them.
The final question of the day came from Rep. Mark Uglem, R-Champlin, who asked Talty whether Monterrey is still SMG’s preferred vendor in Chicago. Talty said it is. Uglem’s response dripped with incredulity, “After all this, really?”
Anderson said after the session that she needs to dig some more into what changes have been made to oversee security and whether other contracts should be reviewed. Talty’s lack of knowledge about photo identification revealed a “major gap” in oversight, she said.
She was careful to say she didn’t want to “alarm” Minnesotans about security at the stadium, but she’s concerned.
Since the suite misuse by Gov. Mark Dayton’s DFL appointees — Mondale and Kelm-Helgen — Anderson has been a chief critic of the MSFA operation. In the most recent legislative session she wanted to make changes in how members are appointed and what their duties are. Despite overwhelming bipartisan votes in the Legislature, no law was passed. Anderson and the governor faulted each other for the failure.
She’s still interested. “I’ve got a bill ready,” she said.
The 2018 Super Bowl will be at the stadium Feb. 4. Because of the high security level of that event, the NFL uses its own security in coordination with the FBI, state and local agencies.
Asked on his way out if he wanted to comment on the meeting, Talty said, “No, thank you.”