July 26, 2017 08:48 PM
The Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor has released the findings of a special review of the use of suites in publicly-owned sports facilities by those facilities’ governing bodies.
In a report published Wednesday, the office found three Minnesota sports facilities have at least one suite that’s made available to the stadium’s governing body or its employees. One of those entities, the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents, does not document the purpose served by a facility employee’s use of the suite, the report says.
The board's suite at TCF Bank Stadium provides free access to family and friends of university officials and regents, the report states.
“It is unclear how this policy fulfills a public purpose,” the auditor’s report reads.
The auditor’s office recommends the university adopt a policy that would create more restrictive access to “family and friends” at the regents and president’s suite at TCF Bank Stadium.
"This is kind of a perk that somebody that gets to sit in the suite has, and it is something of value, and the question is who should have access to that," said Joel Alter of the legislative auditor's office.
In a response attached to the report, Brian Steeves, the executive director and corporate secretary for the board of regents, said the recommendation is problematic.
“We will continue to provide opportunities for business and civic leaders, elected officials and supporters to attend as guests of the Regents and the President to showcase our great University and further our mission, though we will review existing practices related to friends and family,” his response reads.
The review focused on six publicly-owned facilities: U.S. Bank Stadium, Target Field, Target Center, Xcel Energy Center, TCF Bank Stadium and CHS Field in St. Paul.
The auditor’s office looked at documents and information from the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, the university’s board of regents, the state high school league, and the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, among others.
Lawmakers during the 2017 legislative session requested the special review aimed at comparing the governance and operation of each facility. They requested the auditor’s office review the structure and oversight responsibilities of those governing bodies, whether those bodies have access to tickets, suites or other amenities, and the “practices related to facility governance, operations, accountability and transparency.”
"We always need to look at how we can do this better and how can we protect the asset of the taxpayer," said Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth.
Among other findings, the report states that when governing board members attend events together at stadium suites, there is the potential for violation of the state’s Open Meeting laws. The legislative auditor’s office recommends those big three governing bodies should “adopt policies that prohibit their members from discussing topics with each other related to official business when a quorum of members is present in their sports facility suites.”
The auditor's report states that for the most part, the two facilities authorities created by the Legislature -- the MSFA and the Ballpark Authority -- operate with public transparency, but adds that some of the MSFA's meeting minutes contain incomplete accounts of the authority's actions.
The report states public sports facilities charge "widely varying" fees to the Minnesota State High School League for state athletic tournaments, from no fees at some facilities to substantial fees at others.
That's because, in part, the Legislature stipulated in approving funding for U.S. Bank Stadium that the facility be made available to the state high school league for at least a certain number of days each year, and for which it may not charge the MSHSL a fee.
But the report shows that in fiscal 2017, the MSHSL paid $1,087,293 to use the Xcel Energy Center; $462,331 to use multiple University of Minnesota venues; $391,179 for use of Target Center; and $4,000 to use CHS Field.
Michael Oakes and Brett Hoffland
Updated: July 26, 2017 08:48 PM
Created: July 26, 2017 09:58 AM
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