Legislators blow off looking after taxpayers on Vikings stadium

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Co-chair Sen. Julie Rosen isn't much for explaining why the commission hasn't met since last fall.

A commission made up of 12 state lawmakers that's assigned to look out for taxpayers in the construction of the Vikings' new stadium hasn't met in almost a year.

"Yes, it's been a while," says Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights). "… The commission has not met as often as some of us had anticipated."

The Legislative Commission on Minnesota Sports Facilities, which consists of six senators and six representatives, last convened in September, according to its website. "That sounds about right," Atkins concurs.

The commission was created to ensure that the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the public entity overseeing construction of the new downtown Minneapolis stadium, does its job.

The commission is supposed to act as a line of defense for taxpayers, making sure the hundreds of millions in public money is being spent on the up-and-up. This would include checking the authority's decisions so taxpayers aren't exposed to late-arriving costs.

That came into play yesterday morning. Rochelle Olson of the Strib exposed stadium cost overruns potentially totaling as much as $50 million. How much and who's responsible is at the center of a dispute between stadium architect HKS, construction contractor Mortenson, and the authority.

But details are fuzzy, since the public has been locked out of the debate. That's necessary, authority chair Michele Kelm-Helgen told the Strib, for "public monies to be protected."  

How secrecy translates into the public good is anyone's guess.

But authority spokeswoman Jennifer Hathaway declined to explain Kelm-Helgen's Orwellian position. She referred City Pages to the authority's canned statement, which said that "If these issues were discussed in public, this may negatively impact the ability of the MSFA to resolve the issues in a satisfactory manner.”

Translated: "Don't go worrying your pretty little head, Minnesota. We'll take care of this." 

Atkins couldn't explain why the commission has blown off its job for nearly a year, despite being legally required to meet no less than semiannually. He said scheduling meetings is the responsibility of co-chairs GOP Sen. Julie Rosen and DFL Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, neither of whom responded to repeated interview requests. 

The commission did produce an annual report in January, but it consisted of just two pages.

The report appeared to require little mental output. It listed the names of commission members and people who had spoken before them, as well as mentioning the six meetings held in 2013.

Among the report's "Next Steps," the commission stated it would meet "as scheduled" every month "unless otherwise rescheduled," and continue to "Perform its duties… in order to promote fiscal responsibility and good management, and strengthen the accountability of the authority."

Perhaps the commission felt like it had done an awesome job already.

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