Burnsville’s Hall, Myhra responded to Chance controversy

By John Gessner on May 23, 2012 at 3:56 pm

State Rep. Pam Myhra of Burnsville may have faced a tougher choice than most legislators when voting on the Minnesota Vikings stadium deal earlier this month.

“Before I went into session this year, my mom said, ‘Pam, build a Vikings stadium,’ ” said the first-term Republican, who represents District 40A. “ ‘You know how much your dad loved the Vikings.’ ”

In the end, Myhra voted against the stadium deal, which relies first on tax revenue from expanded charitable gambling (electronic pulltabs and bingo) to fund the state’s share of the $975 million stadium.

Myhra said she stuck to her 2010 campaign pledge not to use money from the state’s general fund — including charitable gambling taxes — to fund a stadium.

“My dad loved the Vikings,” said Myhra, whose father died of cancer last August, “but he also taught me to be a woman of integrity and to keep my word.”

Myhra had plenty of company. A majority of Republicans, who control both the House and Senate, voted against the stadium in both chambers. Among legislators in the all-Republican, south-of-the-river delegation, only Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington voted for the stadium, the signature issue of the recently completed 2012 legislative session.

“First off, there’s gambling,” said Sen. Dan Hall of Burnsville, a first-termer representing District 40. “There’s what we call the 3-to-1 rule with gambling. For every dollar that a government makes, you lose 3 dollars in the ills that it brings to your society. … I’m not in favor of an expansion of gambling.”

The stadium passed on the strength of majority DFL votes in both houses. Hall said he’s received “a lot of kudos from a lot of Minnesotans” for his stand against the bill.

“I was really surprised that the Vikings (issue) brings out as much passion as it does,” said Hall, who is seeking re-election in the newly drawn Senate District 56. “You’d think the marriage amendment, pro-life issues — they certainly bring out passion. But I certainly saw another view that I’d not expected. I got a lot of mail to keep the Vikings, to vote ‘yes.’ Most of that was outside my district.”

Response to Chance controversy

Myhra and Hall both chief-sponsored legislation aimed at expanding disclosure of information behind public-employee buyout deals.

They were responding to the Tania Chance controversy in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191. The district paid its former human resources director nearly $255,000 in a settlement agreement under which she left the district with 18 months left on her contract.

At first, the district, on the advice of its attorney, concealed parts of the buyout agreement showing that Chance had initiated charges with state agencies against the district and Superintendent Randy Clegg. The district sought an opinion from the state Department of Administration on whether it had properly concealed that information under data-privacy law.

It hadn’t, the department said in April, weeks after many residents first expressed outrage.

“I got a lot of emails, and there was a lot of outcry at the School Board,” said Myhra, who is seeking re-election in the newly drawn House District 56A.

Myhra said she didn’t get everything she’d sought in disclosure requirements for settlement agreements and agreements involving more than $10,000 of public money, which by law already required disclosure of “specific reasons.”

The biggest change shepherded by Myhra and Hall, both said, is an expansion of the public officials to whom the language explicitly applies. It now includes not only high state positions, but also a number of management positions in cities with more than 7,500 people, counties with more than 5,000 and school districts.

“There’s more that we could do, but it is a huge improvement over what we had before,” Myhra said, calling the expanded definition of public official “90 percent of the reform.”

“It was the kind of bill that nobody liked and everybody agreed to,” Hall said, noting everyone from school board and school principals associations to the Minnesota Newspaper Association had their say.

“How far do you go in transparency without hurting people? We aren’t here to hurt people, but we are here to represent the public’s interest in payouts.”

Other legislation

Both lawmakers voted against a $496 million bonding bill signed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

Myhra said she voted for a $221 million Capitol building restoration bill and a general $280 bonding bill as a member of the House Capital Investment Committee.

The final bonding bill included only $44 million for the Capitol project and “just got a little too fat, so I voted ‘no,’ ” Myhra said.

“It was too big,” Hall said of the final bill.

Myhra, who serves on the House education and reform committees, said legislation she successfully authored includes a number of measures to define and promote digital learning in Minnesota schools.

Both lawmakers criticized the DFL governor for vetoing what they said was a bipartisan tax bill that included property tax relief for business.