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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.

Confirmed Cases: 38569

Reported Deaths: 1511
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin12456787
Ramsey4911228
Dakota238291
Stearns237119
Anoka2241109
Nobles16696
Olmsted112915
Washington111440
Mower9522
Rice8447
Scott7344
Clay58738
Kandiyohi5731
Blue Earth4792
Wright4755
Todd4012
Carver3811
Sherburne3175
Lyon3162
Freeborn2920
Watonwan2340
Steele2311
Benton2173
St. Louis18015
Martin1695
Nicollet16912
Cottonwood1360
Goodhue1318
Winona12515
Crow Wing10612
Pine1050
Le Sueur1031
Chisago1001
Otter Tail951
McLeod920
Carlton870
Dodge870
Polk822
Chippewa791
Unassigned7837
Isanti730
Waseca680
Douglas650
Itasca6412
Murray640
Meeker611
Morrison591
Becker560
Faribault560
Jackson550
Sibley542
Pipestone522
Pennington510
Renville352
Mille Lacs342
Wabasha330
Brown312
Rock310
Beltrami300
Fillmore300
Yellow Medicine300
Houston260
Swift221
Wilkin213
Norman200
Redwood180
Cass162
Roseau160
Aitkin150
Big Stone150
Koochiching151
Wadena150
Kanabec141
Grant120
Marshall120
Lincoln100
Pope100
Mahnomen91
Clearwater80
Hubbard70
Lake60
Traverse60
Lac qui Parle40
Stevens40
Red Lake30
Kittson20
Cook10
Lake of the Woods00

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 31670

Reported Deaths: 722
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk6638179
Woodbury325244
Black Hawk230158
Buena Vista171411
Johnson13148
Linn129482
Dallas128029
Marshall104919
Scott81510
Story7793
Pottawattamie73612
Wapello70830
Dubuque70222
Crawford6772
Muscatine64344
Sioux4770
Tama46529
Wright3861
Louisa36213
Jasper32517
Plymouth3225
Warren2901
Dickinson2663
Washington2439
Webster2292
Hamilton1891
Cerro Gordo1821
Boone1481
Clay1340
Clarke1322
Allamakee1314
Mahaska11617
Shelby1140
Clinton1121
Poweshiek1068
Carroll991
Pocahontas971
Bremer946
Des Moines922
Franklin900
Emmet880
Henry863
Cedar841
Taylor790
Hardin770
Monona770
Cherokee751
Floyd732
Marion700
Benton691
Guthrie664
Jefferson640
Sac640
Osceola620
Jones610
Butler572
Buchanan551
Humboldt551
Hancock540
Harrison540
Lee542
Calhoun532
Iowa530
Delaware511
Fayette510
Monroe516
Madison482
Clayton443
Lyon440
Davis411
Palo Alto410
Mitchell390
Winneshiek390
Grundy380
Mills370
Kossuth350
Howard340
Jackson320
Lucas314
Greene300
Chickasaw290
Union290
Winnebago290
Ida240
Cass230
Van Buren220
Appanoose213
Keokuk211
Page210
Worth200
Unassigned170
Adair160
Audubon161
Ringgold160
Decatur120
Montgomery102
Wayne100
Adams80
Fremont70
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