ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — An uncertain future awaits the Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium after a dustup over the oversight authority’s use of luxury suites culminated in the exit of two top officials.
Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen and executive director Ted Mondale resigned months after revelations that suite tickets were going to family and friends of top commissioners. But the saga isn’t over. Republicans lawmakers in Minnesota are pushing to shake up the stadium board — a move that could drastically change oversight of the $1.1 billion stadium as the state gears up to host the 2018 Super Bowl.
Here’s a look at what happened and what’s coming next:
WHY THE OUTCRY?
The authority’s two luxury suites were meant to help woo more business to the stadium, which opened in July. But a state audit revealed a different purpose: Nearly half of the guests who received suite tickets were friends or family members of the six people on the authority.
The Star Tribune, which first reported on the use of the suites in November before the audit, also found that several guests were politically connected Democrats who paid the authority back for the tickets only after the newspaper inquired about their attendance.
The newspaper’s reporting led to cries that the public officials were abusing their positions for public gain. Lawmakers grilled Kelm-Helgen and Mondale for what they deemed a serious lapse in judgment. The Office of the Legislative Auditor said they violated a “core ethical principle.”
Kelm-Helgen announced her resignation Thursday morning, and Mondale followed suit hours later. Though Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he didn’t ask for the resignations of the two officials he appointed, he said it was the right move.
“Heads probably had to roll, which we’re finding out is happening,” Rep. Leon Lillie, a North St. Paul Democrat, said after both officials announced their departures.
Lawmakers are looking at expanding the size of the authority — from five to seven members — and giving the Legislature power to appoint four of them. They also are considering turning control of the suites over to the Vikings, allowing authority members to use them only for marketing purpose and explicitly banning their family and friends.
Rep. Sarah Anderson, a Plymouth Republican spearheading the changes, says it’s a chance to “clean house.”
Anderson signaled the house cleaning may not stop with U.S. Bank Stadium. She plans to meet with the head of the authority overseeing the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field, which also has control of a suite but uses it more sparingly.
“This is going to be a model for all of the facilities that we have here in Minnesota,” Anderson said.
WHAT ABOUT THE SUPER BOWL?
The departure of Kelm-Helgen and Mondale will leave the stadium temporarily rudderless as the state gears up to host the 2018 Super Bowl. Just how long that leadership vacuum persists depends on how long it takes the Legislature to approve a new governance plan — and whether Dayton signs off.
Dayton and other Democrats aren’t putting up much of a fight as Republicans who control the Legislature chart drastic changes. Just two Democrats have cast votes against Anderson’s bill.
Dayton may appoint an interim chair, as Kelm-Helgen formally departs in early March.
“It’s important that we get this resolved and move ahead so that we’re assuring the people of Minnesota and the people of the NFL … that it’s being well-run, that it’s in good hands and open for business,” Dayton said.
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