When the Minnesota Legislature authorized the construction of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in 1978, Gov. Rudy Perpich appointed a self-made millionaire construction contractor from St. Cloud named Dan Brutger to chair the stadium commission and oversee the project — which came in on time, on budget and for a very modest $55 million.
Thirty-four years later, Mark Dayton, who considers himself a Perpich protege, played it very differently: Instead of a person of independent judgment and prominent business success, Dayton chose one of his junior staffers as chair of the new stadium authority that will be in charge of building a $1.1 billion football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. Michele Kelm-Helgen, a deputy staffer, DFL insider and former school board member brings one important quality to the job:
Loyalty to Mark Dayton.
If you believe loyalty to Mark Dayton should be the paramount quality in the search for someone to supervise a giant outlay of public funds, then Kelm-Helgen is the perfect person for the job. If, however, you believe that the largest public project in Minnesota history should be directed by a non-partisan person of exceptional accomplishment and independent judgment, you may view her appointment as one more piece of evidence that Dayton surrounds himself with yes-men (mostly women, actually) who rarely challenge his viewpoint or offer contrary assessments. You be the decider. Kelm-Helgen’s performance remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: The DFL and Minnesota’s DFL governor are the ones who put together this dubious project and the ones who jammed it through the Legislature by twisting arms behind closed doors and giving away the farm, genuflecting to the NFL and kissing Zygi Wilf’s ring while stiff-arming opponents and blowing off all criticism, even criticism from fellow travelers in progressive political circles such as Ralph Nader, who called the deal “a reverse Robin Hood.”
Mark Dayton, a progressive? That’s so two years ago.
The other appointees to the new five-member stadium authority include a former NFL football player, a Target Corp., real estate sharp guy and head of one of the main union groups that lobbied Dems for the stadium deal. You will look in vain for anyone without a potential conflict of interest or for a person from the common walks of life on the board of this “People’s Stadium” that is being built for billionaires.
This baby belongs, utterly and completely, to Mark Dayton, and now he has appointed one of his inner circle to be its nanny.
As public policy, appointing Kelm-Helgen is highly questionable. But in practical terms, there is one advantage: If the stadium deal blows up or turns into a white elephant, it will be easy to know who to blame: