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As others see it: The free Vikes-tix perk ‘looks bad’ for all

Those enjoying free Vikings games from lower-level luxury suites controlled by the body that operates shiny new U.S. Bank Stadium seem to see at least a gray area of such a perk.

Eleven of 12 suite users identified publicly this week by the authority wrote $200 checks for their seats — but only after attending the game and only after the Star Tribune started asking questions.

In addition, the purpose of the suites is marketing, authority members said in the Minneapolis newspaper’s report this week. That includes efforts to book the stadium’s event spaces to cover the cost of hosting low-revenue activities most Minnesotans expect and want to be held there, things like high school football, baseball and soccer games. But it appears by their own admission that authority members and others are often just taking family members and friends. At least one lawmaker has raised concern free game tickets could be going to political donors.

Not that the public can know for sure. Even though Minnesota taxpayers shelled out almost $500 million for the $1.1 billion stadium, the authority won’t say who has been sitting in the 36 suite seats per game, enjoying free food and beer and sometimes even parking for free in the same lot used by Vikings players and coaches.

“If every week you’re just bringing your family to the games, that’s not right,” John Griffith, whose term as an authority member ends next month, told the Star Tribune.

A Hamline University political science, law and ethics professor offered far harsher criticism of how the tickets are being used. David Schultz told the newspaper the authority is violating state law by using public positions for personal benefit and by accessing something of value that’s not available to the general public.

Also, “beyond state law, it just looks bad,” Schultz said.

It certainly does — ethically and morally if not legally.

Does the only Northland representative on the five-member authority see it that way? Unfortunately, former state legislator and Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board Commissioner Tony Sertich of Hermantown couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday by the Duluth News Tribune. He was out of town, according to the woman who answered the phone at the Northland Foundation, where Sertich is president. He also didn’t immediately respond to an email.

In the Star Tribune report, Sertich said he gets up to five tickets per event at U.S. Bank Stadium, including one for himself. Even though the Vikings have played only five regular-season and two preseason games at the venue, Sertich said he couldn’t recall which games he attended this season. He did recall that he brought his wife as well as social and business associates.

Hosting would-be big-dollar users of the stadium at Vikings game, to market the venue to them, is “not going to be effective” if they know their attendance will be public knowledge, the authority’s executive director, Ted Mondale, argued in the Star Tribune. He didn’t say why it wouldn’t be effective.

Whether his opinion was spot on or way off, such a concern can be trumped by the public’s basic right to know. We’re talking about a governing body appointed by our elected governor and by the city of Minneapolis, another government entity, a governing body that operates a stadium nearly half paid for by taxpayers. Minnesotans should be able to expect transparency.

Minnesotans have a right to know the authority’s suites are being used appropriately and as intended — and not just as gameday perks by authority members and others.