ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton tapped former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz to be interim chairwoman of the state’s embattled oversight agency of the Minnesota Vikings’ stadium on Thursday, installing a fresh face to lead a board that’s been wracked by ethical questions surrounding the use of luxury suites for friends and family.
Blatz will replace Michele Kelm-Helgen, the chairwoman of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority since the $1.1 billion facility was authorized in 2012. Both Kelm-Helgen and executive director Ted Mondale resigned last week following a scathing report from the state’s legislative auditor that further fueled Republican efforts to reshape governance of the stadium, which just hosted its first NFL season.
The Office of the Legislative Auditor found that nearly half of the guests given tickets to two luxury suites — meant to help officials woo new business to the stadium — were friends and family of authority members, including relatives and friends of Kelm-Helgen and Mondale, who is the son of former Vice President Walter Mondale. The auditor labeled it a clear ethical violation. The board began banning family and friends from the suites in December.
Blatz, who was appointed to the board last month and wasn’t involved in the authority’s decisions surrounding the use of suites, said her top priority is restoring the public’s confidence in the stadium’s governance.
“I’m very well aware of some of the erosion in the public trust and confidence in the authority,” Blatz said.
She also said she won’t take the roughly $127,000 salary her predecessor received. She plans to help appoint a new executive director in the near future.
Blatz was appointed to the state’s high court by Republican Gov. Arne Carlson in 1996, rising to chief justice just two years later. Before beginning her judicial career, she was a longtime Republican lawmaker in the House.
Republican lawmakers have criticized the entire board for their judgment, and a top critic welcomed Blatz’s selection.
“This appointment is a good step forward toward fixing the problems with the management of the MSFA,” said Rep. Sarah Anderson, a Plymouth Republican. “Minnesotans deserve transparency and accountability so the breaches of public trust by the MSFA board are not repeated.”
Dayton, a Democrat, made clear Thursday that he hoped his selection would help tamp down criticism of the authority and shift focus to the upcoming 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis.
“It’s time to turn the page on this matter and deal with the totality of the stadium authority,” Dayton said.
But there’s still much in flux. Republicans in the Legislature are pushing to limit the appointment power of the governor and city of Minneapolis, instead giving the Legislature a major say in who is on the oversight board. They also want to expand the board from five to seven members.
Dayton said he won’t appoint a replacement for Blatz’s regular seat on the authority until that legislation shakes out. And though she said she was eager to get to work, Blatz said her leadership role would likely be a short one.