Minnesota's human services chief abruptly quits amid turmoil

Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey resigned abruptly Monday as head of Minnesota's largest state agency, just days after his two deputy commissioners quit with no public explanation.

Posted: Jul 15, 2019 2:46 PM

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey resigned abruptly Monday as head of Minnesota's largest state agency, just days after his two deputy commissioners quit with no public explanation.

Lourey said in a resignation letter to Gov. Tim Walz that the Department of Human Services needs new leadership to "best execute" the governor's vision, but didn't otherwise explain why he was stepping down just six months into the job.

Walz gave few specifics on why Lourey was leaving, but said he didn't seek his resignation. He credited the Democratic former state senator with using his knowledge to shepherd the agency's budget through the legislative session and prevent the expiration of a disputed tax on health care providers that provides critical funding for health programs.

"He believes now is the time to put someone with a different skill set in to manage the agency post-budget," Walz said at a news conference.

Walz said former state finance commissioner Pam Wheelock will step in Tuesday as acting commissioner.

Lourey last week announced that Deputy Commissioners Chuck Johnson and Claire Wilson would leave the agency in the next few weeks but didn't say why. The governor said he didn't know if the two deputies might stay now and deferred to Wheelock, but said the two had spoken with his chief of staff and that neither was packing up their offices Monday.

Lourey was not giving interviews Monday, spokewoman Katie Bauer said.

Human Services has long been under fire for its handling of alleged fraud , data breaches and other administrative problems. Another blow came in recent days when it emerged that DHS Inspector General Carolyn Ham — placed on leave in March after a critical audit over the agency's tracking of fraud in child care — had collected $42,000 on paid leave while still waiting for an investigation into her performance to begin. That investigation just began, officials said.

Republican legislative leaders said at a separate news conference that Lourey's resignation may have been warranted, but they weren't satisfied with the Democratic governor's explanations amid the turmoil at the agency.

"Frankly, it's too early in the Walz administration to have a scandal of this size. So it's time that the Walz administration is transparent and honest with Minnesotans about what is going on at DHS," House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said.

Sen. Michelle Benson, who chairs a committee that oversees the department's budget, said the agency may be "too big of an entrenched bureaucracy even for somebody with Tony Lourey's experience to transform." She called on Walz to bring in private sector experts to take a "radical look" at the agency's structure and culture.

Lourey was one of the Legislature's top experts on human services before Walz appointed him in January, costing Democrats a seat in a Senate with a razor thin GOP majority that grew when a Republican won Lourey's seat in a special election.

Wheelock served as finance commissioner under Gov. Jesse Ventura. She has a lengthy resume of high-profile positions, including deputy mayor in St. Paul, vice president at the University of Minnesota and a top official in the Minnesota Wild's early years.

The department consumes nearly one-third of state spending, or about $13.3 billion in the current two-year budget, and serves about 1 million of the state's vulnerable residents, including the elderly, the poor, the disabled, the mentally ill and children. Only schools get a bigger share of the state's budget.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 609387

Reported Deaths: 7743
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1262491796
Ramsey52997910
Dakota47216475
Anoka43200465
Washington27664296
Stearns22659227
St. Louis18245319
Scott17686139
Wright16518153
Olmsted13503103
Sherburne1212396
Carver1073749
Clay829692
Rice8249111
Blue Earth769944
Crow Wing687999
Kandiyohi669885
Chisago626954
Otter Tail590087
Benton585198
Goodhue485574
Douglas477781
Mower477533
Winona463552
Itasca462768
Isanti445566
McLeod434261
Morrison427762
Beltrami410163
Nobles409850
Steele400719
Polk390772
Becker389157
Lyon365054
Carlton356958
Freeborn350734
Pine337323
Nicollet334045
Mille Lacs314856
Brown308640
Le Sueur299527
Cass288133
Todd288133
Meeker265444
Waseca240723
Martin236933
Roseau212221
Wabasha20833
Hubbard197741
Dodge18943
Renville183146
Redwood178141
Houston175416
Cottonwood168124
Wadena165023
Fillmore158910
Faribault156920
Chippewa154038
Pennington153820
Kanabec147828
Sibley147310
Aitkin139237
Watonwan13619
Rock129019
Jackson123112
Pipestone117126
Yellow Medicine115320
Pope11396
Murray107310
Swift107318
Koochiching96819
Stevens92611
Clearwater89217
Marshall88817
Lake84320
Wilkin83813
Lac qui Parle76122
Big Stone6094
Grant5958
Lincoln5863
Mahnomen5669
Norman5509
Kittson49122
Unassigned48193
Red Lake4037
Traverse3815
Lake of the Woods3474
Cook1740

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 374664

Reported Deaths: 6109
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk58891646
Linn21448342
Scott20426250
Black Hawk16680319
Woodbury15319230
Johnson1473686
Dubuque13595213
Dallas1144099
Pottawattamie11307177
Story1082848
Warren592092
Clinton564393
Cerro Gordo562297
Webster538996
Sioux519174
Muscatine4920106
Marshall491479
Des Moines478275
Jasper452073
Wapello4366123
Buena Vista431040
Plymouth404982
Lee392658
Marion369177
Jones301257
Henry301037
Bremer292763
Carroll286252
Boone271234
Crawford270841
Benton262755
Washington259851
Dickinson250745
Mahaska232551
Jackson225842
Kossuth219166
Clay217327
Tama213372
Delaware211743
Winneshiek200636
Buchanan196734
Page195422
Cedar192923
Hardin191144
Wright189140
Fayette188243
Hamilton186851
Harrison181973
Clayton173057
Butler167835
Madison167719
Floyd164642
Mills163824
Cherokee161538
Lyon160941
Poweshiek159036
Allamakee155552
Hancock153134
Iowa148324
Winnebago145731
Calhoun143113
Cass140855
Grundy139333
Emmet136741
Jefferson134535
Sac132620
Shelby131838
Louisa130249
Union129535
Appanoose128049
Franklin127823
Mitchell127243
Chickasaw125717
Guthrie124532
Humboldt124526
Palo Alto114924
Montgomery106738
Howard105322
Clarke102424
Monroe100633
Keokuk99932
Ida92735
Adair89632
Davis86825
Pocahontas86822
Monona85931
Greene79111
Osceola79017
Lucas77423
Worth7568
Taylor67112
Decatur6629
Fremont64810
Ringgold56824
Van Buren56718
Wayne56323
Audubon52913
Adams3494
Unassigned90
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