MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Embattled U.S. Bank Stadium chair Michele Kelm-Helgen and Executive Director Ted Mondale have resigned, saying the controversy over the use of luxury suites at the facility "has become a distraction to marketing the stadium.
"If I could go back and start over again, MSFA would have had a public discussion on the use of these suites and forbid the use of them by family and friends from the start," Kelm-Helgen said in a written statement. "When questions about the suites use were raised, MSFA took responsibility, and then passed and implemented a new policy in December that no longer allows family and friends in the suites."
Mondale's statement of resignation from the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority (MFSA), however, did not specifically mention the stadium suite controversy.
"Six years ago I was appointed to by the Governor as the Chair of the MSFC to get the Metrodome roof fixed, see a new stadium bill to fruition, and then to be the CEO and Executive Director of the MSFA to assist in building an iconic stadium where youth sports would have the finest facility that we could offer," MFSA Executive Director and CEO Ted Mondale said in a statement. "I feel good about my work, but it is time to move on."
A scathing report this month from Minnesota legislative auditor Jim Nobles found that Kelm-Helgen and members of the Stadium Authority acted unethically, but not illegally, by distributing free tickets in stadium luxury suites to political friends and family members.
Among those who Mondale invited was his father, former vice president Walter Mondale, who was the only person to reimburse the MFSA for use of the suite before news of the scandal broke.
Minnesota lawmakers are advancing a bill to drastically overhaul the Stadium Authority, including eliminating Kelm Helgen's job and cutting the salary of Executive Director Mondale.
The legislation, authored by Rep. Sarah Anderson (R-Plymouth), also abolishes the current five-member Stadium Board and replaces it with a new, expanded seven-member stadium oversight commission.
"This is the People's Stadium, not the People Closest to the DFL Party's Stadium," Anderson said Thursday morning. "House Republicans will continue to investigate the MSFA's activities and ensure that they are held accountable for breaching the public's trust and violating ethical principles. Our commitment is to everyday Minnesotans and we will continue to fight for them in this process."
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton says he hopes these resignations put the suites controversy to rest.
"Hopefully it will allow everyone to regain a perspective on everything that has been done to build that stadium and operate it," he said. "This has taken over everything to do with the authority, which I think is unfortunate, but it is what it is."
At the Capitol, Democrats *and* Republicans are feeling the heat, as they overwhelmingly approved a bill to reorganize stadium operations
"It's a blemish on all of us," Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul) said. "I don't think it's partisan, because it's a blemish on all of us, and it's sad, because Minnesota is better than this."
Kelm-Helgen, who was appointed by Gov. Dayton, oversaw the construction of the $1.1 billion Minnesota Vikings Stadium and was instrumental in securing major events for the facility, including the 2018 Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Four, and the 2017 and 2018 X Games.
"As a public servant, most concerned about the public interest, it is apparent that I have become the focus of the legislation that is being considered," Kelm Helgen said. "Therefore, I believe it is in the public interest to remove myself from this discussion. I want to be clear that this is my decision, and my decision alone."
Here is the complete statement from Michele Kelm-Helgen:
I have been honored to serve the State of Minnesota as chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, working to build and open the largest construction project in state history – on time and on budget. I am also proud to have led MSFA's effort with other partners, that secured next year's Super Bowl, the upcoming NCAA Men's Final Four and the 2017 and 2018 ESPN's X Games that will be held in U.S. Bank Stadium.
Despite these successes, the ongoing discussion on the use of MSFA suites has become a distraction to marketing the stadium. If I could go back and start over again, MSFA would have had a public discussion on the use of these suites and forbid the use of them by family and friends from the start. When questions about the suites use were raised, MSFA took responsibility, and then passed and implemented a new policy in December that no longer allows family and friends in the suites.
But it is clear to me that the legislature wants to make changes in the governance structure of the stadium authority that go beyond the recommendations included in the Legislative Auditor's report. Their proposal also fails to hold all publicly-owned and operated sports venues to the same set of standards.
As a public servant, most concerned about the public interest, it is apparent that I have become the focus of the legislation that is being considered. Therefore, I believe it is in the public interest to remove myself from this discussion. I want to be clear that this is my decision, and my decision alone.
I hope that public oversight of the stadium and its operations continues. Perhaps better legislation will result, if my role is no longer part of the discussion and focus. Therefore, I am resigning my position as chair of the authority, effective March 8, 2017. I will make myself available to answer questions and provide for an orderly transition.
Again, I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the people of Minnesota for allowing me to serve you in delivering a world-class stadium that Minnesotans will enjoy and benefit from for decades to come. Lastly, I want to thank the Governor for entrusting me with this enormous responsibility, and for the work we have done together to achieve these significant accomplishments.
for more features.