Officials must be held accountable

During President Richard M. Nixon’s nosedive from grace, it was referred to as the non-denial denial – that is, an inference that something may have happened, but the details have been lost in the fog of time.

President Trump engaged in this the other day during his marathon news conference. Asked about speculation that one of his close associates had contact with Russian officials before the November election, the president hemmed, hawed and finally proclaimed that “no one that I know of” committed such a serious transgression.

Of course, such murky responses are not confined to one side of our nation’s political divide.

And there is ample room for variations on this tactic that come in handy for pols who are seeking a graceful way of saying “oops – my bad” while avoiding any real responsibility.

In Minnesota last week, two high-profile members of the state’s Sports Facilities Authority were strongly encouraged to resign after it was learned that they used the agency’s two stadium suites to entertain family and friends during the Minnesota Vikings’ first season in their glitzy new home. The Authority’s suites are supposed to be reserved for state officials to woo new business opportunities to the stadium.

The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen and executive director Ted Mondale turned in their resignations, acknowledging the veracity of rumors that board members used the facilities for their private partying, which the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor labeled a violation of a “core ethical principal.”

In resigning, Kelm-Helgen and Mondale (son of the former Vice President of the United States) acknowledged the undeniable – that there were transgressions in how tickets were improperly doled out – but also were careful to point out that no laws were broken.

In other words, they were contrite in admitting that what they did was sort of shady, but it wasn’t really that bad, was it?

Well, it was sufficiently bad for them to step down, leaving the Sports Facilities Authority leaderless, with its method of operation in a state of flux, as it is charged with preparing to host the 2018 Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl is one of the primary money makers cited when the state took on roughly half the cost for the $1.1 billion facility. While the game itself takes only a few hours, the preparations for hosting it (and the week-long hoopla that precedes it) are typically years in the making.

While Kelm-Helgen and Mondale sort of fell on their rhetorical swords – despite dubious political pleas that their actions were really not all that bad – the over-riding issue concerns the wisdom of state and municipal governments investing hundreds of millions of dollars in facilities that will make wildly successful entities, such as big-league sports franchises, even more profitable.

Countless surveys conducted by disinterested parties routinely warn governments that such projects have marginal impact on local businesses, with barely a blip in generating the sort of new tax revenue that teams and leagues promise.

In our political culture, already rife with public servants who have honed big-league skills in dodging accountability, we can only hope that voters are able to see into the shadows where the pols seek cover.