Minneapolis city attorney: Vikings stadium deal had sound legal basis

Susan Segal Tim Nelson/MPR News

Two years after Minneapolis signed off on a $150 million contribution for a new Vikings stadium, the deal remains a political sore spot.

It was the center of debate Monday on whether to reappoint Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal, who provided the 2012 opinion that allowed the city to proceed with its commitment to share in the public funding for the stadium. Some have said that opinion ran contrary to a 1997 city charter amendment, approved by voters, that capped the city’s spending on pro sports facilities at $10 million.

“The long and short of the opinion is that the city council, simply by voting to approve the legislation, that that did not violate our charter and that’s exactly what’s been upheld by the courts, and that’s the way the law is,” Segal said.

Segal was named to another two-year term by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges. The appointment must be confirmed by the city council.

Stadium opponents lined up before the council’s Ways and Means Committee today to ask members to turn Segal’s appointment down. Much of the discussion centered on the city’s pledge of hospitality taxes to pay for construction of the new Vikings stadium. Minneapolis resident Dave Bicking said Segal should have upheld the charter limit.

“Susan Segal has been acting as she has been told to, by the mayor and the city council…” Bicking told the committee. “She has not been asked what is right and just and legal. She has been asked, what can we get away with and how can we do it?”

Segal objected to questions about her legal judgment during the hour-long hearing. She was asked outright by city council member Andrew Johnson if she’d bowed to political pressure from her then-boss, Mayor R.T. Rybak.

“The answer to that question is an emphatic no, and I do take a bit of umbrage with my integrity being questioned in this matter,” Segal said. “I have over 30 years of legal experience. I always use my best legal judgment, and my integrity is quite important to me.”

A former Gray Plant Moody Bennett partner and the head of the civil division in then-county attorney Amy Klobuchar’s office, Segal is among the state’s most respected and politically-connected attorneys. She is the daughter of former DFL state Rep. Gloria Segal, of St. Louis Park, and is married to Minnesota Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans. She has been the city attorney since 2008. Segal also was recently named an attorney of the year by Minnesota Lawyer.

Mayor Hodges praised Segal’s work cleaning up petty crime plaguing downtown and fighting domestic violence. “We are the best law firm in town,” Hodges told the council “We have the best record in court… I would put us up against anybody. Her work on the pension issue was crucial to our success on that issue. And ranked choice voting as well… Susan helped lead the way to make sure it was the process we could use in the city.”

The Ways and Means Committee voted to approve her reappointment. Only newly-elected council member Blong Yang voted no. City Council Member Andrew Johnson, another addition this year to the council, voted for her despite his doubts about the stadium decision.