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State Auditor Questions Suite Access at Vikings Stadium

January 12, 2017 03:09 PM

The state's legislative auditor says he's investigating the use of two luxury suites in the new Minnesota Vikings stadium by top public officials.

The Star Tribune has reported that a pair of Minnesota Sports Facility Authority officials control access to two lower-level suites for all football games and other events. Neither Authority chairwoman Michelle Kelm-Helgen nor executive director Ted Mondale would identify previous guests except 12 public officials who have reimbursed the state for game tickets.

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Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles told the newspaper Wednesday he's launching a "priority" investigation that he hopes to complete in January.

A co-author of the Vikings stadium legislation is also launching an investigation.

Sen. Julie Rosen, (R-Vernon Center), will soon be the chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

"The more I hear about this and the more I think about it I'm completely disgusted," she told 5 Eyewitness News on Wednesday. "Overwhelmed by the abuse that I see of the authority with these suites and just the general attitude going forward about how they don't have the information about who's been there."

Rosen says she'll likely call a hearing about issue after Nobles conducts his audit.

Kelm-Helgen and Mondale defend the suite access as useful to woo new business to the stadium.Sen. Rosen says their control of two suites is unaccountable and unnecessary.

The MSFA released the following statement Wednesday:

The MSFA appreciates the questions and concerns that have come up around suite use at U.S. Bank Stadium, and understand the need for transparency. The level of interest in this issue caught us off guard because we established our suite use policy based on comparable policies of the Metrodome’s three suites and other Minnesota public stadiums. We did identify the need to strengthen the Metrodome policy to include a very specific public marketing purpose. The MSFA has a significant responsibility and purpose to book the stadium with events beyond the 10 Vikings games because the stadium has many event spaces similar to hotels and convention centers and attempts to attract significant events such as the Super Bowl, Final Four and the X Games. 

We will have staff do research about public facilities’ suite use in Minnesota and around the country and present options for potential revisions to the MSFA suite use policy in early 2017. Until then, Commissioners will not be inviting family, friends or guests other than marketing prospects. 

The MSFA’s suite policy clearly provides that the MSFA suites are to be used for the purpose of marketing U.S. Bank Stadium.  To date, the MSFA has not kept lists of those attending for marketing purposes.  Under the data practices act, the MSFA does not need to create data that does not currently exist.  However, moving forward the MSFA will provide you with information on the marketing attendees.  Please note, however, that the names of specific entities and individuals who are engaged in marketing discussions with the MSFA are nonpublic data or private data on individuals pursuant to Minnesota Statutes Section 13.55, subd. 1.  The law creates this very specific exception so that the Stadium can be successfully marketed in competition with other similar facilities nationally and internationally.  Despite this exception, the MSFA will from this point forward make available the following information:

- the types of groups that are attending an event at suite (but not the name of the specific entities or their representatives); and

- the names of MSFA staff or Commissioners who are in attendance, as well as any other individual who attends as an MSFA guest to support the marketing activity.

Please note that to the best of our knowledge a quorum of the MSFA Board has never attended an event together in a suite.  The MSFA always publicly notices official Board activities for which 3 or more Commissioners are expected to attend.  There may be social activities where three or more are in attendance, but we don’t consider the marketing of the Stadium through use of the suites to be a social activity. 

We welcome the Legislative Auditor’s attention to the MSFA suite use policy. Over the past 36 years, the MSFA and its predecessor, the MSFC have been audited annually by the Legislative Auditor. In the Metrodome, the MSFC had three suites with a policy much less focused on marketing, and the Legislative Auditor did not identify a problem with the suite use policy. I spoke to Jim Nobles yesterday, and he indicated that he would be looking at other Minnesota public stadium suite policies as well as ours, which will be helpful as we look at options to revise our policy if needed.

The following MSFA Commissioners and staff are scheduled to attend the Thursday game on behalf of the MSFA:

Michele Kelm-Helgen, Chair, MSFA

Ted Mondale, CEO/Executive Director, MSFA

Bill McCarthy, Commissioner, MSFA

No other individuals are scheduled to attend.

The following types of organizations are planned to be represented at the Thursday game for marketing purposes:

Tourism and convention center group

Educational institution

Concert promoter

Minority contracting group

Job Training and outreach group

NCAA operations group and LOC staff

Significant event promoter

The Associated Press contributed to this report

KSTP

Copyright 2017 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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