On Feb. 4, 2018, the National Football League’s top two teams will take the field at U.S. Bank Stadium for one of the world’s most-watched events — the Super Bowl. It is unnerving, with mere months to go, to have to ask this question:
Who is in charge at the shiny new $1.1 billion state-of-the-art facility?
The simmering scandal over the personal use of two luxury suites by the new stadium’s publicly-appointed board and executive director culminated appropriately Thursday. Michele Kelm-Helgen, a gubernatorial appointee who chaired the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), and Ted Mondale, the stadium’s executive director, both resigned.
The DFL-connected duo’s departures are welcome. Controversy would have continued to swirl as long as they stayed in their well-paid and possibly overlapping positions. The pair also had a facepalming ability to inflame debate in public appearances and statements. In particular, apologies that were not really apologies — they were sorry for following standard practice for suite use at the Metrodome — cast doubt on their sincerity.
But now that they’re gone, Gov. Mark Dayton needs to quickly find a trusted Minnesotan to take the helm of the MSFA board, at least on an interim basis. While much of the day-to-day and event operations work is handled by a professional firm, it is critical to have an executive representing the public’s interest at the top of the stadium’s management. Taxpayers paid for nearly half of the stadium’s price tag. They ought to have a big say in how the “People’s Stadium” is run.
The need for Super Bowl preparations to continue without pause heightens the urgency for a new executive, even as lawmakers weigh structural changes to the MSFA board. The Star Tribune Editorial Board has previously asked whether the authority’s board could be replaced by one executive reporting to the Legislature and the governor, but those changes would take time to enact. A leader needs to be in place long before then. The governor, whose responsibility it is to appoint a new board chair, is in the best position to install a new top manager quickly. That new board chair can then determine if someone should be hired to replace Mondale.
Finding the right person will be challenging. Policymakers should look for someone with stature in the community, no political baggage and, most important, someone with respected high-level management expertise. Someone, in other words, a lot like retiring U.S. Bank Chairman and CEO Richard Davis or Marilyn Carlson Nelson, former CEO of Carlson Cos.
Davis and Nelson co-chaired the committee that lured the Super Bowl to Minnesota. And while it’s not clear whether either would be interested in the position, they certainly should be consulted about who would serve Minnesota best in this high-profile assignment.
It is clear from Dayton’s press statements this week that he understands that expectations are high for the replacement pick and that he needs to move quickly. Fortunately, Minnesota is home to many community-minded business leaders. The state will be front and center on the world’s stage in 2018. It ought to look like it belongs there.