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Amid Stadium Controversy, Bill Would Make Sweeping Changes To MSFA

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A Minnesota House Committee is taking dramatic action to curb the use of luxury suites at U.S Bank Stadium.

That's after a public outcry over the controversial use of those suites by friends and relatives of stadium commissioners.

An investigation by the Minnesota legislative auditor found that the Stadium Authority acted unethically -- but not illegally-- by giving free tickets to political friends and family members.

The Minnesota Sports Authority has apologized for its "friends and family plan," and changed the policy.

But irritated lawmakers said they have "serious issues" with how the stadium is run.

"It's time for us to clean house," Rep. Sarah Anderson, the Republican chair of the House State Government Finance Committee, said. "We're not going to tolerate this anymore. It's not the good ol' boys club anymore. This is about fixing it so the people know their tax dollars are being used prudently and wisely."

The bench-clearing bill not only bans commissioners from personally using suites. It eliminates the pay of Minnesota Stadium Authority chair Michele Kelm-Helgen, and cuts the pay of executive director Ted Mondale.

The bill also abolishes the current board of commissioners, and lets the Minnesota Legislature appoint most of the new ones instead of the governor of Minnesota and the mayor of Minneapolis.

"There are a lot of changes that have to happen for this kind of abuse -- I do think it's abuse -- to not happen anymore," Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia) said.

The changes would take effect in July, seven months before the stadium hosts the 2018 Super Bowl.

Some lawmakers say that's cutting it way too close.

"Blowing it up now, in the middle of all this planning that's going on, you're going to be starting fresh and it's going to cause problems going forward," Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park) said.

Gov. Mark Dayton says he will "strongly resist" the changes, accusing lawmakers of ignoring many stadium accomplishments because of one mistake.

"To have that become the whole picture of the management of that stadium by the Authority -- by the staff, by the board -- is very unfair and very misguided," Dayton said.

The Sports Authority owns two luxury suites and rents a third at the billion-dollar stadium for marketing purposes.

A legislative audit investigation last week found that commissioners gave away 352 tickets, but almost half went to family and friends. Only 29 percent of them were used for marketing.

"If this is the how it's always been done, clearly it's not working," Rep. Anderson said.

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