Auditor Says Stadium Officials Broke The Rules with Suites

Report finds ethically questionable use of stadium luxury seats by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority

Photo credit: Minnesota Vikings

Minneapolis, MN- A report by Minnesota Legislative Auditor James Nobles finds that the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) “violated a core ethical principle of public service when they gave free tickets to family and friends. They also violated state law by not keeping a record of who received free tickets.”

The 100 page report released Tuesday concluded of the twelve events held at U.S. Bank Stadium examined by the Minnesota Legislative Auditor, MSFA officials and staff provided 158 tickets to family members and friends. The report found the use of another 35 additional tickets to be “questionable.” It also states that the MSFA, “failed to comply with state law by not maintaining a record of who received tickets to its stadium suites.”

“Given these and other findings, we recommend that the Legislature exercise stronger control over the Authority (MSFA) and, specifically, its use of complimentary tickets to stadium events,” wrote Nobles and legal counsel Elizabeth Stawicki.

The report states the special review of the MSFA was triggered by a November 28, 2016 story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune where officials from the MSFA acknowledged allowing “friends and family” free tickets to two suites in the U.S. Bank Stadium. Tickets are controlled by the MSFA during stadium events.

The report finds that the MSFA commissioners and executive director did not violate a law when they gave free tickets to family members and friends, however, they did violate a core ethical principle.

MPR News reports State Senator Julie Rosen (R-Vernon Center) said the findings of the report are troublesome enough to cost Michele Kelm-Helgen, the MSFA Chair, her job.

Kelm-Helgen is a former aide to Governor Mark Dayton and was appointed to the MSFA position by Dayton in 2012.

Kelm-Helgen said the suites were needed to help attract potential clients who would want to hold events at the facility, but the report found that 45 percent of the guests were friends and family of MSFA officials while only 29 percent were marketing guests.

Nobles’ report made four recommendations: 1) the legislature enact a law to control MSFA use of complimentary ticket use at events, 2) consider enacting a law for MSFA suites to be used for nonprofit charitable purposes, 3) having the legislature exercise more oversight of the MSFA and 4) the legislature should consider enacting laws to control use of complimentary tickets at all sports and entertainment venues built with public money.

Steps have already been taken by the MSFA to rectify the use of its luxury boxes in U.S. Bank Stadium, including a ban on family and friends using the seats.

Kelm-Helgen and MSFA Executive Director Ted Mondale responded to the auditor’s findings, writing, “The Authority recognizes and understand the significant public criticism following reporting of how the Authority suites were used and has acted to immediately address those concerns.  The Authority acknowledges that these concerns are valid and has acted immediately to address them.”

Legislation to reform the MSFA has been introduced by Rep. Sarah Anderson (R-Plymouth) and Sen. Rosen.  The proposed bill cuts the number of gubernatorial MSFA board appointees from three to one and adds two additional members.  Under the new measure the MSFA would have a total of seven members with four of them appointed by the Legislature.  It would also require the MSFA to elect a chair every two years rather than have a governor-appointed chair, and eliminates the position of the $130,000 salary paid to Kelm-Helgen this past year.  Mondale, as Executive Director of MSFA, is paid $165,000 annually.

The U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened on July 22, 2016, was funded by $498 million in taxpayer subsidy and another $600 million from the Minnesota Vikings. U.S. Bank Stadium is scheduled to host Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018.



Donna Azarian