State lawmakers birthed the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority in 2012 to design, construct, and operate a new professional football stadium. Now it's making consultants rich.
The Authority, which will cost Minnesota $5.1 million this year, has paid three consulting firms roughly $1.8 million through October 31 of 2015. Included in the work outsourced to Tunheim Partners, Hammes Company Sports Development, and C.H. Skiem Consulting, LLC has been construction "counsel" and "bid evaluation," and something called "stakeholder outreach."
In other words, taxpayer dollars breathe life into a public entity created to do a job. Its officials, in turn, spend more cash on consultants, who are hired to perform tasks that were supposedly the reason the Authority was established in the first place.
Hammes Sports — a spinoff of the Hammes Company, a healthcare consulting firm headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin — is the undisputed champ. It's been paid about $1.6 million already this year. In a distant second is C.H. Skiem, which has earned $150,000 for "expert guidance." Tunheim's communications experts have pocketed nearly $88,000 for such tasks as "media monitoring" and "crisis" support.
It's Hammes, though, that owes the Authority an extra special special holiday card.
Hammes has been paid a total of $7.3 million since 2012, not including another $440,000 the company has been reimbursed for expenses.
Authority officials say its four-member board and skeleton staff was never built to handle everything. It's always been understood — at least by those on the inside — that consultants would be needed.
The Authority's “primary responsibility from early on," says Michele Kelm-Helgen, "is the fiduciary responsibility we have to safeguard the spending of taxpayer money.”