The anticipated legislative auditor’s report on the use of two state-owned luxury suites at U.S. Bank Stadium will be delayed until February so the Legislature can hold a joint House-Senate hearing on the day of publication.
Legislative auditor James Nobles has said he intended to complete and release the “priority investigation” by mid-January into how the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) has used two high-end suites to host friends, family and political allies. Nobles now said he will release the report on the day of the joint hearing — most likely in the first full week of February after the Super Bowl.
Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, said she expects to have a bill drafted in early February to make changes to the MSFA operation. The bill will address not only the use of the suites by public officials but also the organizational structure of the MSFA, which oversees operations at U.S. Bank Stadium on behalf of the public.
The senator was the sponsor of the 2012 bill that built the high-stakes, high controversy $1.1 billion stadium using $489 million in taxpayer money. Given her role in that, Rosen has been especially critical of the operations of the MSFA and like other Republican leaders has pledged to “restore integrity” to the body.
A spokesman said Gov. Mark Dayton can’t comment on a bill until he sees it, but that he “looks forward to working with [Rosen] and other concerned legislators to make any needed improvements to the MSFA.”
The hearing will be conducted by the Senate and House Governmental Operations Committees. Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, is the chairwoman on the Senate side and said Monday of the audit, “We are going to give it special attention and it deserves special attention.”
Both she and Rosen said the fact that Nobles opened a priority investigation shows the importance of the issue. Rosen said it’s clear Nobles saw “red flags” regarding MSFA activity.
Kiffmeyer said it’s worth waiting for Nobles’ report because, “he has the ability to request records and documents and with the expertise of his staff to consider this information in a way that will be helpful.”
The legislative auditor conducts routine surveys of hundreds of government agencies and operations, but Nobles opened his investigation into the MSFA after the Star Tribune published a story in late November about how MSFA chair Michele Kelm-Helgen, executive director Ted Mondale and the four board members used taxpayer-owned luxury suites, which each include 18 guests, to host friends and family at Minnesota Vikings games, soccer matches, and Metallica and Luke Bryan concerts. At the time, officials would release the names of only the dozen guests who had reimbursed the agency.
Since then, under growing public pressure, the MSFA has released more names. Many of those guests, who included state commissioners and DFL insiders, have since reimbursed the state $200 for their attendance and food. Kelm-Helgen has paid just over $1,400 for her family. Mondale, whose wife, son and friends attended, has not yet reimbursed the state.
MSFA leaders argued that the suites, which sell for up to $300,000 for the Vikings 10-game season, are necessary for their role in marketing the building. Legislators have been skeptical given that the MSFA hired the nation’s largest stadium operator, SMG, to run and promote the building.