Audit finds US Bank Stadium officials have 3rd suite

- Minnesota’s legislative auditor released his report Tuesday morning on the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority’s use of two U.S. Bank Stadium suites. But at a hearing to discuss his audit of the two suites, Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles revealed MSFA actually has a third suite.

MSFA chair Michele Kelm Helgen confirmed the authority is paying the Vikings $300,000 over 5 years for access to a Cabin suite. Kelm Helgen clarified that MSFA does not have access to this additional suite for any Vikings games, and that it used for other events only. Kelm Helgen said the authority never tried to hide the existence of the third suite – that is was approved in a board meeting open to the public.

The auditor’s conclusion

The use of the suites grabbed the attention of legislative auditor, who launched an emergency audit in December. The findings of the audit were released Tuesday.

“We concluded that the Authority’s use of the tickets violated a core ethical principle,” Nobles wrote in a memo to the Legislative Audit Commission. “For the 12 events we examined, we found that Authority officials and staff provided 158 tickets to family members and friends. We also found the use of another 35 tickets questionable. Given these and other findings, we recommend that the Legislature exercise stronger control over the Authority and, specifically, its use of complimentary tickets to stadium events.”

The key findings

1. The Authority claims it needs two stadium suites to help it market the stadium to potential customers. However, the Authority gave a significant number of free suite tickets to people who had no connection to marketing the stadium; many were family and friends of the Authority’s commissioners and staff.

2. The Authority’s commissioners and executive director did not violate a law when they gave free tickets to family members and friends, but they did violate a core ethical principle.

3. The Authority’s claim that it needs two suites rather than one is not supported by facts or logic.

4. The Authority failed to comply with state law by not maintaining a record of who received tickets to its stadium suites. However, state law does allow the Authority to keep certain marketing information private after it is created.

The guest list

In releasing its guest lists last December, MSFA also announced a draft revised suite use policy aimed at increasing accountability and transparency. Changes to the policy include prohibiting friends and family of MSFA commissioners and the CEO/Executive Director from having access to MSFA suite tickets. VIEW THE GUEST LISTS

MSFA’s explanation

When given the change to explain their suite usage practices, the MSFA essentially said that’s the way it’s been done in the past and that’s what other people are doing too.

MSFA chairwoman Michelle Kelm-Helgen wrote: “I think this policy was well known, maybe not [to] the person walking down the street, but you know legislators, city officials, chamber organizations, business organizations well knew how the Metrodome ran things. I think they know how the Ballpark Authority runs things. I think they know how the Riverfront Center runs things and so it was the part I think that caught me most off guard was that this was some kind of new revelation that something untoward was going on that had never been thought about, vetted, looked at and that’s how the stories were written and I don’t believe that that’s the case at all and this sort of new found shock at what’s going on here I think is not genuine…”

Why should MSFA retain two suites?

According to MSFA: “The Authority negotiated an agreement with the Minnesota Vikings to carve out two suites that remain controlled by the Authority, while the remaining suites are controlled by the Minnesota Vikings. The option to use two suites for marketing allows MSFA and its partners to simultaneously host large groups looking at U.S. Bank Stadium as a venue for a future convention or event. Returning one or both suites to the Minnesota Vikings would put U.S. Bank Stadium at a competitive disadvantage to other regional venues and generate new stadium revenue for the Minnesota Vikings.”

Auditor’s recommendations

1. The Legislature should enact a law to control the Authority’s use of complimentary tickets to events at the U.S. Bank Stadium.

2. The Legislature should consider enacting a law that would allow one or both of the Authority’s suites at the U.S. Bank Stadium to be used for nonprofit charitable purposes.

3. The Legislature should exercise more oversight of the Authority.

4. The Legislature should consider enactment of laws to control the use of complimentary tickets at all sports and entertainment facilities built with public money.

Read the full report at http://www.auditor.leg.state.mn.us/sreview/msfa.pdf

Gov. Dayton's statement

“I welcome the findings of the Office of the Legislative Auditor, and the recommendations this report has provided. I am confident the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), its Chair, and its Board will take care in responding to these recommendations, as they work to uphold the highest standards of accountability and public confidence in the stadium’s operations.

“Chair Michele Kelm-Helgen, Executive Director Ted Mondale, their administrative team, and the MSFA Board have already demonstrated their exceptional dedication and ability in completing this world-class stadium. They built for the people of Minnesota a multi-purpose stadium on-time and on-budget, while employing over 7,000 workers, 39 percent of whom were minorities.

“The MSFA’s successes have triggered over $1 billion in new business investments and several thousand new jobs in East Minneapolis. Today, the stadium’s daily operations employ 3,000 people, 60 percent of whom are men and women of color. And one year from now, the stadium will host the premiere international event of the year: the Super Bowl, which is expected to bring more than $400 million to Minnesota.

“Nonetheless, I expect a handful of legislators will ignore these accomplishments, and instead deride and impugn the dedicated public officials who made these successes possible. Their attempts to use this single episode to achieve their own political objectives do nothing to benefit the stadium’s operations or advance the public good."

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