What was a common practice by the Minnesota Ballpark Authority for the first seven seasons of Target Field will be banned for the eighth.
On Thursday, the five members of the authority — the board that oversees Target Field — adopted a new policy governing the use of a suite that is attached to its offices at the home of the Minnesota Twins. No longer will the commissioners be given use of the suite for up to nine games a season and no longer will they be free to entertain family members and friends.
The new policy is in response to a special audit released by Legislative Auditor James Nobles in February that said “a core ethical principle” does not permit commissioners of public stadium authorities to use the suite except for public purposes. And since the Twins, not the ballpark authority, handles marketing for Target Field, it might be harder to come up with a public purpose for authority members to be in the suite.
Ballpark Authority Chair Margaret Anderson Kelliher said she has been working on new policies as well as changes to the authority’s code of ethics since the special audit was released. She and executive director Dan Kenney have me with Nobles, and a member of Nobles’ staff attended the authority meeting Thursday.
Under the new policy, adopted by a 4-0 vote (commissioner David Ybarra attended by speaker phone and, while not allowed to vote because he wasn’t physically present, said he favored the policy), any commissioner — or any other person getting one of the 24 tickets to the suite — must be fulfilling a public purpose or have a “legitimate business purpose.” And the uses must be approved beforehand by the authority board.
There is a provision for Kenney to host people with business purposes or public purposes when a board vote wouldn’t be possible, given that the board only meets quarterly. In those cases, the use could be approved by Anderson Kelliher and one other board member.
The names of all persons getting free tickets would be recorded and subject to release under the state Data Practices Act. When the suite is given to a charity, the name of the charity and a contact person would be recorded.
Kelliher Anderson said the board could revise its rules and policies again should the state Legislature adopt new laws governing the conduct of stadium authorities. But because the use of the suites for public purposes would be so limited, Anderson Kelliher said the new policy is essentially a charitable use policy. “We have created one of the best charity opportunities in town, actually,” said Commissioner Paul Williams. “I think it’s wonderful.”
Full details of how charities will be chosen, and when the authority will distribute suites are to be worked out. But the authority thinks it can begin doling out tickets soon. “It’ll be a learning process for everyone,” Anderson Kelliher said. “Whether we get a full new procedure in place by … this season is unclear. By next year we definitely will be making public what procedure we will use.”
The 16-person suite has been donated for 20-25 Twins games in the past, using an application that appears on the authority’s webpage. So far this year, 30 or so charities have applied. In the past, most charities used the tickets as silent auction items at fund-raising events.
That number will likely grow significantly to as high as 70 or more game a season.
Because the new policy wasn’t adopted in time for the opening series April 3, 5 and 6, it was empty. But with 78 homes games remaining, the commission expects to be ready to start distributing access soon, though perhaps not in time for a series that starts Friday against the Chicago White Sox.
The authority owns its offices and suites — a condition of the lease with the Twins. The current suite has 24 tickets. A suite used for the first seven seasons had 16 seats but the offices moved to accommodate some renovations planned by the Twins. Unlike the two suites used by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Authority at U.S. Bank Stadium, the baseball suite does not include food and drink. Users either pay for catering themselves or — as was more common — guests venture out into the ballpark and buy food and drink from food booths and vendors.
But no records were kept as to who was hosted in the suites, though the authority was able to report which non-profits were awarded use.
The special audit was aimed primarily at U.S. Bank Stadium, which had been embroiled in a suite-use controversy that included MSFA board members use of the suite at events ranging from Vikings games to concerts. Records were incomplete as to who was hosted at the stadium and the MSFA was pressured to adopt new policies last year.
But Target Field and the ballpark authority were also mentioned in the special audit because there are similarities to U.S. Bank Stadium in how the facility is managed. Nobles concluded that no state laws were violated in the way suites were used because the commissions are neither state agencies or local governments. The use of the suites for non-public reasons, however, did violate “a core ethical principle.”
“In our opinion,” the audit stated, “all public officials and employees should be required to use their positions and public resources only for public purposes.”
So what would a public purpose be? At the Vikings Stadium, the board is involved in marketing the building so hosting concert promoters, advertising sponsors or other event coordinators might qualify. But all of those tasks at Target Field are handled by the Twins, not the ballpark authority.
At Thursday’s meeting, Anderson Kelliher said Kenney might want to host people visiting from other stadiums who are examining how the stadium works on game days. And Williams said it would be helpful to attend a few games a year with all five commissioners so they could make similar observations and perhaps compare notes.
“I think there is value to the commissioners being together in the stadium to experience the ballpark experience. That is, in part, what we are here for,” Williams said. The previous policy had commissioners attending certain games together, along with two guests each. Those games were opening day and well-attended series, such as those against the Red Sox and the Yankees.
Anderson Kelliher said that each commissioner and authority staff member has credentials that gives them access to the stadium at any time, including during games.
Gathering all five at once, however, raised an issue with the state open meetings law. A quorum of a board or commission could gather together outside of a noticed meeting for social purposes as long as commission business is not discussed. But it might defeat the purpose of getting together to watch stadium operations if the commissioners couldn’t then discuss what they were observing while they were observing it.
Anderson Kelliher suggested that perhaps she could attend a game with one commissioner at a time so as to not trigger open meetings complications.
The Minnesota Ballpark Authority commission is chaired by Anderson Kelliher, a former speaker of the Minnesota House. The other members are former Wells Fargo executive James Campbell; former Minneapolis City Council Member Joan Campbell; Williams, a former St. Paul deputy mayor; and Ybarra, president of the Minnesota Pipe Trades Association.
Anderson Kelliher and James Campbell were appointed by Hennepin County commissioners; Williams and Ybarra by the governor; and Joan Campbell by the Minneapolis City Council.