- Associated Press - Monday, February 20, 2017

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Feb. 17

There’s no time to waste in finding new leader for U.S. Bank Stadium

On Feb. 4, 2018, the National Football League’s top two teams will take the field at U.S. Bank Stadium for one of the world’s most-watched events - the Super Bowl. It is unnerving, with mere months to go, to have to ask this question:

Who is in charge at the shiny new $1.1 billion state-of-the-art facility?

The simmering scandal over the personal use of two luxury suites by the new stadium’s publicly-appointed board and executive director culminated appropriately Thursday. Michele Kelm-Helgen, a gubernatorial appointee who chaired the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), and Ted Mondale, the stadium’s executive director, both resigned.

The DFL-connected duo’s departures are welcome. Controversy would have continued to swirl as long as they stayed in their well-paid and possibly overlapping positions. The pair also had a facepalming ability to inflame debate in public appearances and statements. In particular, apologies that were not really apologies - they were sorry for following standard practice for suite use at the Metrodome - cast doubt on their sincerity.

But now that they’re gone, Gov. Mark Dayton needs to quickly find a trusted Minnesotan to take the helm of the MSFA board, at least on an interim basis. While much of the day-to-day and event operations work is handled by a professional firm, it is critical to have an executive representing the public’s interest at the top of the stadium’s management. Taxpayers paid for nearly half of the stadium’s price tag. They ought to have a big say in how the “People’s Stadium” is run.

The need for Super Bowl preparations to continue without pause heightens the urgency for a new executive, even as lawmakers weigh structural changes to the MSFA board. The Star Tribune Editorial Board has previously asked whether the authority’s board could be replaced by one executive reporting to the Legislature and the governor, but those changes would take time to enact. A leader needs to be in place long before then. The governor, whose responsibility it is to appoint a new board chair, is in the best position to install a new top manager quickly. That new board chair can then determine if someone should be hired to replace Mondale.

Finding the right person will be challenging. Policymakers should look for someone with stature in the community, no political baggage and, most important, someone with respected high-level management expertise. Someone, in other words, a lot like retiring U.S. Bank Chairman and CEO Richard Davis or Marilyn Carlson Nelson, former CEO of Carlson Cos.

Davis and Nelson co-chaired the committee that lured the Super Bowl to Minnesota. And while it’s not clear whether either would be interested in the position, they certainly should be consulted about who would serve Minnesota best in this high-profile assignment.

It is clear from Dayton’s press statements this week that he understands that expectations are high for the replacement pick and that he needs to move quickly. Fortunately, Minnesota is home to many community-minded business leaders. The state will be front and center on the world’s stage in 2018. It ought to look like it belongs there.

___

The Free Press of Mankato, Feb. 19

Legislature: Bolster police crisis, diversity training

Police training and preparedness in Minnesota has not kept pace with the threats to public safety that seem to be growing in number and severity. But a proposal before the Legislature would help police be better equipped to make calm out of chaos.

The plan proposed by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, and co-sponsored by Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, calls for mandatory training on crisis response, conflict management and diversity. It also makes it easier to hire new police officers, by allowing those with two-year college degrees to attend a four-month academy to get licensed.

Those requirements vary somewhat now, but usually an officer has to have some kind of law enforcement degree and skills training before being accepted for licensure.

The proposal has garnered bipartisan support and, more important, support among police themselves. Hilstrom said this is the first time law enforcement has come forward and asked for the mandatory training.

Extreme cases of violence involving police and suspects seem to have escalated around the country in recent years. In Minnesota, two high-profile shootings involved people of color in the Jamar Clark and Philando Castile cases. Officers were not charged in the Clark case and the officer in the Castile case is awaiting trial on charges of manslaughter. In a Mankato case, Chase Tuseth, a white man, was fatally shot by a Mankato police officer on Dec. 31 after a violent encounter.

Everyone can agree more training will only help. And supporters of the plan say the flexibility in licensing may allow people of color and nontraditionally-trained candidates to become licensed quickly and easily. The bill would also fund some of this training.

The bill calls for increasing the budget of the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training from $2.8 million to $10 million. The POST board licenses officers and coordinates and helps fund training for Minnesota law enforcement agencies.

The bill passed out of the House public safety committee, chaired by Cornish, last week. It appears to have Gov. Mark Dayton’s support, although he proposed similar training with one-time funding at a lower level. Cornish says there remains some heavy lifting on how to fund the proposal.

If we want law enforcement to have permanent and consistent training in this area, we should commit to permanent funding. The need for calming a public safety environment that seems chaotic and dangerous will far outweigh costs that are relatively moderate for the public good that will result.

We urge the Legislature to pass this bipartisan bill and help police officers protect and serve a safer Minnesota.

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Post-Bulletin, Feb. 15

Hunters and anglers are paying enough

Hunters and anglers are an odd bunch.

Think about it. Back in 2012, it was hunters, anglers and their various groups and associations across the state that helped push the Legislature to raise the price of fishing and hunting licenses. Going further back, it was those same hunters, anglers and associations who pushed for dedicated funding for the outdoors, a push that ultimately resulted in the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which raised the state sales tax to raise funds for the arts, parks, trails, watershed projects and yes, fish and wildlife habitat.

So it’s not surprising that, with the state’s Game and Fish Fund poised to go into the red in 2019, Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed a budget that would raise the cost of a fishing license from $22 to $25, and raise the deer license fee from $30 to $34. Also in line for price hikes would be state park permits, snowmobile registration fees, boat registration fees and ski passes.

If history is a good indicator, Dayton can expect at least grudging support from the people who would pay these higher fees. After all, anyone who hunts, camps, fishes or owns a snowmobile knows that the price of a license or permit is a minuscule part of the cost of these activities. (According to the Minnesota DNR, the average angler in Minnesota spends $1,500 per year on this sport.) It’s safe to say that few anglers will hang up their rods because the annual cost goes up by three or four dollars.

But that doesn’t mean Dayton’s proposal is the right way to go.

The Game and Fish Fund should be shored up, as should the Snowmobile Account, the Water Recreation Account, the Invasive Species account and several other DNR funds that are projected to go into the red within the next few years. But we’d argue that with Minnesota still projecting a budget surplus of more than $1 billion, now is not the time to raise fees on people who enjoy the great outdoors in Minnesota.

Our state’s natural resources, including its fish, game and wilderness areas, play a big role in Minnesota’s quality of life. As such, we see no reason that the maintenance and preservation of these resources should have to be funded almost entirely through user fees.

As an example, consider municipal golf courses and swimming pools. Statewide, almost all such facilities lose money, but communities have concluded that access to relatively inexpensive golf and pools is important, especially for kids and seniors.

The Game and Fish Fund, which pays for the DNR’s habitat management and law enforcement systems, already receives 85 percent of its funding from user fees. Any current or projected shortfalls should be covered by additional general fund dollars, not higher fees.

Keep in mind that outdoors activities are one of the state’s biggest economic engines. Fishing alone accounts for more than $2 billion per year in direct retails sales, and more than 35,000 jobs across Minnesota are directly related to the fishing industry. Hunting, snowmobiling, camping, hiking and other outdoors activities not only keep “internal” dollars flowing but also attract hundreds of millions of visitors’ dollars each year.

Finally, consider this: Wisconsin residents who hunt deer, turkeys and pheasants, plus fish for walleyes and trout in their home state, can get all of the necessary licenses and stamps for $76.50. Minnesota residents who want to pursue the same activities here pay a minimum of $111.

In a state that’s flush with cash, that’s enough.


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