MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority Chair Michele Kelm-Helgen has resigned.
Her resignation comes after the controversy over the use of suites at U.S. Bank Stadium for Minnesota Vikings games and major concerts.
In January, Kelm-Helgen told lawmakers she heard and understood the public outcry over the family members and friends of commissioners using two publicly owned suites at U.S. Bank Stadium
Statement from Michele Kelm-Helgen
I have been honored to serve the State of Minnesota as chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, working to build and open the largest construction project in state history - on time and on budget. I am also proud to have led MSFA's effort with other partners, that secured next year's Super Bowl, the upcoming NCAA Men's Final Four and the 2017 and 2018 ESPN's X Games that will be held in U.S. Bank Stadium.
Despite these successes, the ongoing discussion on the use of MSFA suites has become a distraction to marketing the stadium. If I could go back and start over again, MSFA would have had a public discussion on the use of these suites and forbid the use of them by family and friends from the start. When questions about the suites use were raised, MSFA took responsibility, and then passed and implemented a new policy in December that no longer allows family and friends in the suites.
But it is clear to me that the legislature wants to make changes in the governance structure of the stadium authority that go beyond the recommendations included in the Legislative Auditor's report. Their proposal also fails to hold all publicly-owned and operated sports venues to the same set of standards.
As a public servant, most concerned about the public interest, it is apparent that I have become the focus of the legislation that is being considered. Therefore, I believe it is in the public interest to remove myself from this discussion. I want to be clear that this is my decision, and my decision alone.
I hope that public oversight of the stadium and its operations continues. Perhaps better legislation will result, if my role is no longer part of the discussion and focus. Therefore, I am resigning my position as chair of the authority, effective March 8, 2017. I will make myself available to answer questions and provide for an orderly transition.
Again, I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the people of Minnesota for allowing me to serve you in delivering a world-class stadium that Minnesotans will enjoy and benefit from for decades to come. Lastly, I want to thank the Governor for entrusting me with this enormous responsibility, and for the work we have done together to achieve these significant accomplishments.
On Tuesday, lawmakers met to consider sweeping changes to the board that over sees U.S. Bank Stadium. The MSFA reform bill passed the Government Operations Committee on a 17-1 vote and now goes through the Government Finance Committee.
Statement from House State Government Finance Committee Chair Sarah Anderson
"Chair Kelm-Helgen's resignation comes days after we learned that the MSFA—without proper authority—entered into million dollar contracts that continue a disturbing pattern of Democrats using this board to help their political allies. This is the People's Stadium, not the People Closest to the DFL Party's Stadium. House Republicans will continue to investigate the MSFA's activities and ensure that they are held accountable for breaching the public's trust and violating ethical principles. Our commitment is to everyday Minnesotans and we will continue to fight for them in this process."
MSFA's response to Rep. Anderson
The stadium legislation that created the MSFA gave it the authority to expend funds to build a world-class facility, which we have done. False allegations are being made by Representative Anderson that have no basis in fact. They are untrue, inaccurate, and must be based on a misunderstanding.
The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority has followed all laws and all actions have been appropriate regarding expenditures building U.S. Bank Stadium. Rep. Anderson falsely claimed today that the MSFA did not properly contract with Minnesota construction firms working on the new building the new stadium.
In May of 2016, the MSFA Board approved, in an open meeting, with discussion, that the Chair and Executive Director had authority to negotiate time sensitive contracts between board meetings. The authority given to the Chair and Executive Director to negotiate or amend contracts expired at the next board meeting, so each month, the board had to agree to reinstate the authority to negotiate. These board actions allowed U.S. Bank Stadium construction work to continue and maintain its schedule to stay on budget, and to be finished 6 weeks ahead of time which ensured the efficient completion of the project.
Representative Anderson falsely claims that the board was not made aware of certain contract agreements made by the Chair and Executive Director. All votes to grant this authority to the Chair and Executive Director are online at MSFA.com. The board was briefed on all of the contracts or revisions that occurred between meetings at subsequent meetings.
Representative Anderson also claims that the MSFA only contracted with a public relations firm, Tunheim Partners because they donate to Democratic candidates. The relationship with Tunheim Partners began in 2009, with then Governor Tim Pawlenty's appointed chair of the predecessor to the MSFA, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission - Chair Roy Terwilliger. Both Pawlenty and Terwilliger are former Republican legislators. Tunheim has continued to support the owner of the Metrodome and U.S. Bank Stadium under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
At a hearing about the use of two suites at U.S. Bank Stadium lawmakers were surprised to learn the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority actually controls a third VIP seating area, called a Cabin.
The Cabin is part of extra space the Vikings paid an additional $8.5 million to develop, but lawmakers said they had no idea the MSFA was paying the Vikings $300,000 for the next 5 years to lease the space and sell tickets to non-football events.
What would change?
The proposed changes to the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority would increase the number of seats on the authority from 5 to 7 and change who would appoint them. But the biggest change would limit how the suites are used and that use would have to comply with open meeting laws.
If approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, a change in state law would also allow the state recover the costs associated with food, parking, tickets and use of stadium suites accrued prior to Jan. 1, 2017.