The Minnesota Senate unanimously voted Thursday to overhaul U.S. Bank Stadium’s public watchdog panel, agreeing with previous House actions in the need for change at the new $1.1 billion building.
The House already has voted twice to restructure the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) and take tighter control of the agency’s finances as well as its use of two publicly owned luxury suites.
But the bills passed by each chamber differ on key points that need to be resolved before a version can go to Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk.
The issues: the size of the MSFA board, who gets to make the appointments, who gets to use the luxury suites, whether the state should keep both, the handling of reserve cash in the stadium operating funds and what sorts of rules should be in place for the other subsidized sports stadiums.
The five-member MSFA board became a target for reform after the Star Tribune revealed that MSFA members, including former Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen and former executive director Ted Mondale, were entertaining friends and family in the luxury suites that sell for $200,000 each for the Minnesota Vikings season.
The legislative auditor concluded an investigation in February, finding ethical problems with the leadership and encouraging greater oversight. Under public and legislative pressure, Kelm-Helgen and Mondale resigned from their positions.
Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz is serving as the interim chair — without pay. Lawyer Rick Evans was hired as the new executive director.
Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, sponsored the bill approved Thursday. Her version keeps the number of commissioners at five and continues to have the governor and the city of Minneapolis appoint them. But her bill would require Senate confirmation.
Rosen said she spent 45 minutes working with Dayton on the bill. That marks a change for the governor, who initially stood behind his appointee Kelm-Helgen and called media reports “sensationalized.”
“We are waiting to see the final version from the Senate,” Sam Fettig, Dayton’s spokesman, said Thursday in a statement. “There are parts of each bill that we prefer. We look forward to working with conferees to find something we can all agree upon.”
As for the suites, which can accommodate up to 36 people, the Senate bill requires the names of those who use them to be public. The bill also requires the suites be used for business purposes only and that stadium manager SMG have authority over who gets in for marketing purposes. When public officials attend, they must get approval from a public vote by the board.
Both bills limit the salaries of the paid staff. The executive director can make no more than 115 percent of the governor’s salary, which is about $120,000. And the chair can make no more than half the director’s salary. Kelm-Helgen and Mondale made nearly $300,000 combined.
But with time running out at the Legislature, the Senate bill would defer the complicated issue of who gets the suites long term. Even setting ground rules for charitable use or returning the suites to the Vikings would be tricky.
The House bill, sponsored by state Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, would address some of the issues sooner. She also would recapture some of the stadium’s reserve revenue.
Most of those who used the suites have paid back the state. MSFA Commissioners Tony Sertich and Bill McCarthy have not.