St. Paul officials want soccer stadium talks kept in dark

Business Curtis Gilbert · Oct 13, 2015

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman showed off the new CHS Field to Major League Soccer president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott, August 11, 2015. The city is trying to limit disclosure of information about a potential St. Paul soccer stadium. Laura Yuen | MPR News

The city of St. Paul, its economic development arm and the Metropolitan Council are trying to limit disclosure of information related to a potential Major League Soccer stadium.

The three government entities are trying to negotiate a complex deal to build a privately financed stadium on publicly-owned land near the intersection of Interstate 94 and Snelling Avenue.

This week, their governing bodies will each vote on an agreement designed to shield those negotiations from open records laws. The agreement calls for the city, the St. Paul Port Authority and the Met Council to ensure the information they exchange, "remains non-public to the fullest extent of the law.

State law makes most government data public unless the information is specifically classified otherwise. The agreement asserts the negotiations will involve trade secrets, real estate appraisals and applications for "public financial assistance," which are classified as non-public.

However, experts in the Minnesota Government Data Practices law are skeptical of that argument.

While there may be a small amount of classified information related to stadium negotiations, the vast majority is public under the law, said Don Gemberling, who spent decades analyzing and interpreting the state's data practices law at the Minnesota Department of Administration.

Local governments have no power to simply declare information confidential, in spite of the language in the proposed contract, said Gemberling.

"I think it's drafted that way either because they don't understand the data practices act or they're trying to hide what they're doing," Gemberling said.

"This is as far from transparency as one could get, and it's all based on a bunch a legal gobbledygook," he added. "Members of the City Council and the Metropolitan Council ought to be saying, 'What are we doing here?'"