Ted Mondale quits stadium authority amid suites controversy

Ted Mondale and Michele Kelm-Helgen
Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority Executive Director Ted Mondale resigned Thursday, hours after authority chair Michele Kelm-Helgen stepped down amid criticism agency leaders used U.S. Bank Stadium suites to entertain family and friends.
Tim Nelson | MPR News 2015

Updated: 3:40 p.m. | Posted: 7:15 a.m.

Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority executive director Ted Mondale resigned Thursday, hours after authority chair Michele Kelm-Helgen stepped down amid criticism of the agency's use of suites for family and friends at U.S. Bank Stadium.

"I feel good about my work, but it is time to move on," Mondale said in a statement.

Gov. Mark Dayton said Thursday he had not asked Mondale or Kelm-Helgen to resign and called on the stadium authority's board to take charge. He said he hasn't decided on a replacement for Kelm-Helgen, although some lawmakers want to eliminate the job altogether.

Mondale and Kelm-Helgen had been in the crosshairs for weeks following media reports that agency friends and family members were enjoying Vikings games, concerts and other perks in the authority's suites.

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Following Kelm-Helgen's resignation earlier in the day, Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, chair of the House State Government Finance Committee and author of a measure to abolish and reconstitute the stadium agency, said Mondale should "take a long hard look" at resigning, too.

Since November, Kelm-Helgen's agency has drawn fire for bringing friends, family and political allies into a pair of private suites, controlled by the MSFA, for Vikings games and other events.

The authority banned the practice in a formal policy change in December.

Vikings Stadium Suites Football
Michele Kelm-Helgen, chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, speaks at a news conference in Minneapolis on Feb. 15, 2013. Kelm-Helgen announced Thursday she's stepping down in March.
Glen Stubbe | The Star Tribuen via AP 2013

But the perks, including free parking and tens of thousands of dollars of free food, were subject to a highly critical report by the Legislative Auditor last week that said the agency "violated a core ethical principle."

The new bill by Anderson would establish a new oversight panel, appointed mostly by the Legislature.

It would also eliminate Kelm-Helgen's position as a full-time, $130,000-per-year job, force the MSFA to give up the suites it controls in the stadium and curtail any other non-business perks provided by the MSFA. The measure also would require disclosure of who the authority lets in to Vikings games and other events.

The measure won a 17-1 vote in the House government operations committee on Tuesday, with a lone DFLer in opposition. Rep. Michael Nelson, of Brooklyn Park, said he wasn't opposed to reform, but that he thought the effort was politically motivated in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

That same measure was headed for another hearing Thursday in a committee chaired by Anderson, one of the stadium agency's sharpest critics.

Anderson, in her statement earlier in the day responding to Kelm-Helgen's resignation, accused Kelm-Helgen of improperly awarding contracts for work at the stadium.

"This is the People's Stadium, not the People Closest to the DFL Party's Stadium," Anderson said.

Vikings Stadium Suites Football
From left to right, Minnesota Vikings co-owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, Gov. Mark Dayton and Michele Kelm-Helgen, the chair of the Minnesota-Sports Facilities Authority, cut the ribbon at the ceremonial grand opening for U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, July 22, 2016.
Leila Navidi | Star Tribune via AP 2016

Kelm-Helgen responded sharply in a statement accusing Anderson of making false allegations.

"The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority has followed all laws and all actions have been appropriate regarding expenditures building U.S. Bank Stadium," Kelm-Helgen wrote.

Her resignation message included a nod to the dispute with lawmakers, and said she hoped her departure would cool some of the ire over the stadium, for the good of the state.

Kelm-Helgen is a former senior Dayton aide, DFL Senate staffer and chair of the Eastern Carver County School Board. She also comes from a well-known political family: her grandfather was a former state Democratic party chair and her father was chief of staff for DFL Gov. Wendell Anderson. Before being named to the stadium panel, she helped Dayton's administration craft the hard-fought bill to build the Vikings a new home.

For now, the existing stadium authority structure remains in place, but soon without a chairperson that law requires a governor to appoint. Dayton also has two other appointments on the board, former DFL House Majority Leader Tony Sertich and former GOP legislator and state Supreme Court chief judge Kathleen Blatz.

MPR News reporter Brian Bakst contributed to this report.