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Auditor: agency breached ethics in using Vikings stadium suites

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The agency that runs U.S. Bank Stadium made ethically questionable use of the stadium luxury suites it controls, the legislative auditor says.
Andy Clayton-King | AP 2016

Updated 12:53 p.m. | Posted 9:32 a.m.

The agency that runs U.S. Bank Stadium made ethically questionable use of the stadium luxury suites it controls, but its use of event tickets did not violate state law.

That's the conclusion of a report released Tuesday by Minnesota Legislative Auditor James Nobles.

The report criticizes the five-member Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and its staff for inviting friends, family and political allies into its suites for Minnesota Vikings games, concerts and other events. 

One key Minnesota lawmaker said Tuesday said the report's findings are problematic enough that they should cost MSFA Chair Michele Kelm-Helgen her job.

The authority got the suites as part of the deal to build the stadium, funded by $498 million in taxpayer subsidy and more than $600 million from the Vikings. 

Kelm-Helgen has said the suites are needed to help woo potential tenants who want to hold events in the 65,000 seat facility.

The auditor's report, however, scolded agency officials and staff "for providing 158 tickets to family members and friends in the 12 events reviewed by the auditor."

It also found the use of another 35 tickets "questionable" and said the MSFA "failed to comply with state law by not maintaining a record of who received tickets to its stadium suites."

While 45 percent of the guests were friends and family of top authority officials, just 29 percent were marketing guests.

The report makes four recommendations:

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

• 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. 

• The Legislature should exercise more oversight of the Authority. 

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

Watch: MPR News' Tim Nelson on the report's findings

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The MSFA has already taken some steps to change the use of its luxury boxes in the stadium, including a ban on friends and family in the seats. The authority adopted a lengthy new suite policy in December. 

In a letter responding to the auditor's findings, Kelm-Helgen and MSFA Executive Director Ted Mondale wrote: "The Authority recognizes and understands 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 to immediately address them."

Gov. Mark Dayton has also appointed a well-known Republican, former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz, to serve on the stadium panel, replacing former Target executive John Griffith.

But lawmakers remain mostly unmoved by the effort. 

Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, have introduced legislation to reform the MSFA at the Capitol. 

As drafted, the bills would cut the number of appointees by the governor to the board from three to one, and add two additional members, bringing the total to seven with four appointed by the Legislature. 

The measure would also require the MSFA to elect a chair biennially, rather than allow the governor to appoint the chair, and strip the position of the $130,000 salary paid to Kelm-Helgen last year. Mondale is paid $165,000 annually.

Asked if Kelm-Helgen should be removed as MSFA chair in the wake of the suite controversy, Rosen told reporters, "Yes, I do."