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St. Paul backs off on secrecy for soccer stadium talks

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Mayor Coleman showed off CHS Field.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman showed off the new CHS Field to Major League Soccer president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott in August. The city has pulled back on its attempt to limit the disclosure of information related to a potential MLS stadium.
Laura Yuen | MPR News file

St. Paul officials have abandoned their push to keep negotiations over a possible Major League Soccer stadium secret.

On Wednesday, the St. Paul Port Authority, the city's economic development arm voted to strike language from a proposed agreement that had pledged to keep information related to the deal "nonpublic to the fullest extent of the law." 

Negotiators will comply with state law, which makes all government data public unless it's specifically classified otherwise, said Louis Jambois, the port authority's president.

"There's always that tension, that interplay between what's public, what's private," he said. "How do we get something done in the public domain, in the public realm, but protect the privacy of the folks who may want, who may have a right, to have their information stay nonpublic?"

The port authority, the city of St. Paul and Metropolitan Council are trying to strike a deal with a group of investors who want to build a privately-financed soccer stadium on publicly-owned land near Interstate 94 and Snelling Avenue.

The Metropolitan Council, which is scheduled to vote on the agreement later today, pushed for the change after an MPR News report raised questions about the language earlier this week.

It's not the first time the state has had to push St. Paul to increase transparency around a major stadium project.

In 2012, Gov. Dayton demanded the city solicit competitive bids to build the Saints ballpark in Lowertown rather than simply award the project to Ryan Cos. The city complied, and Ryan ultimately won the bid anyway.

In recent months, DFL Mayor Chris Coleman's administration has come under increasing criticism over transparency issues in other areas as well. 

In August, the city instituted a new policy automatically deleting most emails after six months. City documents show one of the goals was to reduce the burden of complying with so-called sunshine laws.

St. Paul Strong, a group of citizens pushing for more openness at City Hall, scored a high-profile endorsement this week from former Republican U.S. Sen. David Durenberger. In a statement, the group said Durenberger was concerned "the city's decision-making process has become increasingly closed."