DHS Commissioner resigns days after two other top officials step down

Republicans calling for culture change, more information

Sloane Martin
July 15, 2019 - 3:25 pm
Capitol building in St. Paul

Entercom

A major shake up at the Minnesota Department of Human Services with three top officials, including Commissioner Tony Lourey, resigning within days.

Gov. Tim Walz says he did not ask Lorey to resign just six months after he was appointed.

"Commissioner Lourey simply acknowledged that he was the wrong person to lead this agency at this time," Walz said. "He, in his letter and in speaking with him, holds no animosity towards anyone."

Lourey's resignation came on the heels of deputy commissioners Claire Wilson and Charles Johnson stepping down. Walz confirmed the deputy commissioners left due to disagreements over the agency’s direction.

DHS serves more than 1 million Minnesotans including people with disabilities, seniors and low income families and accounts for about 40 percent of the state's budget. Officials have been under pressure to rein in "pervasive" fraud reported by the nonpartisan legislative auditor revolving around the state's child care program. Walz said that controversy did not play a role in Lourey's decision to resign.

Republican Sen. Michelle Benson chairs the health and human services finance and policy committee and says the culture needs to change top-to-bottom. 

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"It will be critical that the governor follow the model he did with MNLARS: private sector experts to deal with human resources, technology, cultural change," Benson said. "It is time to move the problems out of the way."

House minority leader Kurt Daudt says he wants more information.

"I assure you Commissioner Lourey didn't give up a senate seat to serve as commissioner for six months," he said. "I think this is one of the earliest departures of a commissioner in recent memory."

Rep. Mary Franson went farther, calling the situation a "dumpster fire" and described this meme to illustrate it. 

Walz said the investigation into the agency’s inspector general Carolyn Ham has now begun, but did not specify when it started. 

In a statement late last week per the Pioneer Press, Ham said the investigation was "purely political" and that she's been paid $42,000 of her yearly salary. DHS said in a statement that information on the status of investigations is not public, but confirmed there is an "open complaint."

Former state finance chief Pam Wheelock will take over as acting commissioner Tuesday.

"Change is going to happen. This will not be the last time this happens," Walz said. "I think over a term of a governor it's not that unusual. The important thing is that we have the continuity of leadership."

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