Daddy Dayton, Part II: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Open Appointment Process

Jun 20

Watch the Hand

My recent post criticizing Gov. Mark Dayton’s appointment of a staff functionary to be chair of the new commission that will oversee construction of a $1B-plus Vikings football stadium, hit a sore spot with other insiders.

Minneapolis lobbyist Andrew Kozak was asked by Common Cause Minnesota in March to recuse himself from involvement in Minneapolis redistricting efforts because of his entanglements with the stadium bill (he refused). Now Mr. Kozak has responded to my June 15 “Daddy Dayton” post with a sharp and lengthy comment (you can find the complete comment at the bottom of the original post).

Essentially, Mr Kozak argues that I have impugned the integrity and reputation of the newly-minted chair of the stadium commission, Michele Kelm-Helgen:

                  “Your gratuitous comments about Michele Kelm-Helgen betray a level of ignorance unworthy of your best work,”  Kozak wrote, simultaneously horse-whipping me and sucking up to me. “Yes, she’s been a friend of 40 years, and a long-time colleague before working for the Minnesota Senate and the Governor. And yes, she is loyal, but suggesting she is some kind of low-end apparatchik is absurd. Had you asked around you would have found that she is tireless, remarkably bright, possesses exceptionally good judgement, and is never afraid of expressing that judgement, especially to those for whom she works. And had you bestirred yourself to inquire before denouncing her, you would have learned that she has that rare ability to command respect even from political adversaries.

Blah, blah, blah.

I never said Kelm-Helgen isn’t a wonderful person and bright star in the DFL staff firmament. But none of that makes her an appropriate choice. I argued that her appointment, which says more about Mark Dayton than it does about Kelm-Helgen, was not good policy. And I stick by that assessment: Dayton’s decision to pluck someone from his own office to oversee the stadium means, in effect, that he — Mark Dayton — will hold the strings of a “People’s Stadium” now completely under his political control. That is not only dubious policy, it is also a violation — in spirit if not in the letter of the law — of Minnesota’s Open Appointment process.

Over at the Open Secrets Blog, citizen defender Rich Neumeister criticizes the appointments by Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak of the five stadium commissioners for the Open Contempt shown to the Open Appointments law:

 “What it came down to is pure and simple, a decision made by the Governor and Mayor in secrecy without the public knowing about others who may have applied formally or informally, and whether or not these five people were the best people to represent the public interests at the Authority table.

I was appalled at the legislative process in which the bill went through and how very little or no attention was placed on accountability and transparency for the public.  This is the same with the appointment process.

The government on the local and state level which I have participated in as a citizen for over forty years generally makes important civic appointments, on worth, excellence, and caliber through a process that is legitimate, impartial, open, and transparent.  Was that the case with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority appointments?


So, Mr. Kozak, let me return to your complaint:

Is Michele Kelm-Helgen a bright bulb, hard worker and dedicated staffer?

I will take your word for it. I believe she is.

Was she a suitable choice to head a commission to baby her boss’ billion-dollar stadium scheme in a manner that will protect the public’s interests while at the same time giving the appearance of impartial, non-partisan stewardship?

 No. And that’s the problem.

Dayton presided over a closed-door process that cooked up the deal, concocted the secret-meetings in which the final bill was put together by lobbyists, twisted the arms of DFL lawmakers (again, behind closed doors) to vote for the giveaway (more DFLers than Republicans voted Yes) and now has anointed a trusted aide to head a commission of privately-picked insiders to run the process.

Really??  That’s how you build a “People’s Stadium?”

Not in my book.