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Lawmakers blast Vikings stadium authority over luxury boxes, tickets

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Michele Kelm-Helgen
Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority chair Michele Kelm-Helgen speaks to the Minnesota House Government Operations Committee at the Capitol on Wednesday.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Updated: 6:25 p.m. | Posted: 4:05 p.m.

The head of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority faced tough questions Wednesday from lawmakers who believe the organization is abusing its power at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The authority oversees operations at the $1.1 billion Minnesota Vikings stadium but has been criticized in recent weeks following news reports that the five-member authority and executive director Ted Mondale have brought friends, family and political allies in as guests to the authority's luxury suite for games, concerts and food.

"There's this wonderful stadium that has this issue of being abused," state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, one of the sponsors of the legislation that built the partially publicly funded stadium, said during Wednesday's legislative hearing.

Lawmakers who questioned authority chair Michele Kelm-Helgen wanted an accounting of everything including whether invitees to the authority's private suite got free parking and whether some guests who were public officials may have violated the gift ban that most public officials abide by. 

Kelm-Helgen said the authority has heard the concerns and responded to them. They've banned the practice of inviting friends and family now, and have already received more than $20,000 in reimbursements from guests the authority brought in, although she conceded that's far short of the comparable value for similar experiences elsewhere in the stadium.

Kelm-Helgen said she understands the new home for the Vikings is subject to a new level of scrutiny the Metrodome wasn't. But she also added it shouldn't be the only publicly subsidized sports venue getting called to account.

Rosen said she's thinking about making changes to the authority's governance, including possibly making appointments to the authority subject to Senate confirmation, much like dozens of other appointments to departments, boards, committees, councils and other state panels. 

Lawmakers say they expect a legislative auditor's report on U.S. Bank Stadium's suites could be finished as soon as this month.