Archive for the ‘Tim Walz’ Category

Faye Bernstein is a compliance officer within the Minnesota Department of Human Services. According to this article, Bernstein “said she has been excluded from the work she did before speaking out, told by superiors that her opinion ‘is no longer needed,’ and encouraged to take time off or seek therapy when she objected to the retaliation she continues to face. And Bernstein said some employees have even started ‘wild and hurtful rumors’ to discredit her.”

The article continues, saying “Bernstein, a 14-year veteran of the department, raised concerns in July about ‘substandard and noncompliant’ state contracts that were being approved by leaders in the agency’s behavioral health division, which pays out millions of dollars in contracts and grants for programs that include battling addiction and the opioid epidemic.”

This can’t continue. DHS needs to initiate an investigation into this immediately. Last night, I wrote this post to question Jodi Harpstead’s qualifications for the job of being the commissioner of Minnesota’s Department of Human Services. According to State Senator Michelle Benson, Commissioner Harpstead “said that DHS is ‘not in free fall, in crisis, in total chaos.'”

That’s BS. A department that taunts, intimidates and smears whistleblowers is in free fall and is in total chaos. Instead, Commissioner Harpstead is focused on building morale. Seriously, that’s her highest priority. It all got started with this introduction:

You can’t fix a problem until you admit that you have a problem. Thus far, Gov. Walz hasn’t admitted that he’s created a problem. In general, the DFL has pretended that DHS only needs a few minor fixes around the edges. That isn’t supported by the facts. The facts are that whistleblowers are getting harassed and tens of millions of dollars have gotten improperly shipped out the door.

The fact that Gov. Walz, the latest DFL protector of the DHS, has proposed hiring an outside consultant to make recommendations on how to break up DHS should say that DHS is in chaos. The fact that Ms. Bernstein continues to get intimidated for doing the job she was hired to do is proof that DHS is still in free fall and not improving.

The Senate, in its advise and consent role, should reject Harpstead. The Senate should tell Gov. Walz and the DFL that it’s time to find a leader who will fix the DHS within a year or less.

DHS is too important to too many people to let it flounder under substandard leadership. What’s required is a leader from the private sector who knows how to instill integrity and enforce the laws. Commissioner Harpstead isn’t that person.

That’s why it’s time for her to go.

Michelle Benson, the chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee, issued this statement on the crisis at the Department of Human Services:

When the legislature reconvenes in about one month, health and human services will once again be at the forefront. Two of the issues that will be on our agenda are the dysfunction at the Department of Human Services and the rising cost of prescription drugs.

90-day review of DHS: On December 10, I convened a meeting of the Health and Human Services Committee for the purpose of reviewing new DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead’s first 90 days on the job.

Commissioner Harpstead has a difficult task in front of her, but her appearance did little to reassure me that she grasps the severity of the problems at her agency. Instead, she said that DHS is “not in free fall, in crisis, in total chaos.”

Evidence does not support that tone, nor am I convinced that changes are imminent. There have been more than a dozen reports of mismanagement and corruption since session ended. Most recently, we learned an assistant commissioner approved $1 million in payments to a nonprofit while serving on that nonprofit’s board. These payments doubled the group’s revenue.

The nonpartisan think tank Center of the American Experiment is tracking government abuses and mismanagement, so you can keep tabs on state government easier. You can view it their scandal tracker at bit.ly/MNScandalTracker.

We did get some good news on the DHS front. Gov. Walz announced he is hiring an independent consultant to look at breaking up DHS. It’s good to see the governor finally engaging this issue, and it is encouraging that it appears he is taking a small step toward reforms that Republicans have proposed for a while now. But we have to remember this is only a start, and conducting a review is not a substitute for action on the Governor’s part.

It is my sincere hope that Gov. Walz won’t try to reshape the agency alone. The only way this overhaul will be successful is if Republicans and Democrats, the Senate and House have a seat at the table. The “go it alone” approach brought us the failure of MNsure. Let’s not make that mistake again. Together we can figure out an approach that will benefit the entire state.

It’s been my contention that Commissioner Harpstead was a terrible pick to lead DHS. From the start, I thought that she was too prone to being secretive with information. Nothing in this update suggests that she’s changed her ways.

Denying that DHS isn’t in crisis is likely done to rebuild morale within the department. That’s the wrong goal. The first order of business should be restoring competence within DHS. If that means ruffling some feathers, then that’s what has to happen. Morale can be rebuilt after expectations are raised.

As the CEO of a major non-profit, cash-flow for Lutheran Social Services, aka LSS, wasn’t a problem. Money kept flowing in from the federal government. The minute President Trump clamped down on the Refugee Resettlement program, the cash-flow for LSS tightened exponentially. It didn’t take long for Ms. Harpstead to get this job as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services. She even talked about how she had led them to being in great shape for the foreseeable future.

In that initial testimony, Harpstead talked about being trustworthy in her opening statement. Denying that DHS has a problem won’t build trust. I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating. The Senate should vote to reject her as the nominee to be the Commissioner of DHS. It’s time to find someone who will run DHS properly. People that think DHS isn’t embroiled in a crisis don’t have a grasp of reality. While that might fit the profile of a typical government bureaucrat, that isn’t the portrait of a trustworthy public servant.

This SCTimes editorial about losing a congressional district avoids a topic most DFL politicians and DFL operatives would rather not talk about. In the second paragraph, it says “A slowing population growth rate in Minnesota and gangbusters growth in places including Texas, North Carolina and Florida signal a coming shift from eight House seats for Minnesota to seven.”

What it doesn’t say is why Minnesota is losing that district. DFL politicians, especially DFL governors, insist that Minnesota is doing fantastic. The truth is that Minnesota isn’t doing that great. We’re losing that district because we aren’t economically competitive. We have taxes that are far too high and regulations that are far too intrusive. Environmental activists have too many bites at the apple to kill prosperity, especially in rural Minnesota.

Today’s DFL is highly metro-centric and doesn’t care about blue collar jobs. Today’s DFL prefers white collar jobs in urban centers. The F in DFL stands for farmers. What’s disturbing is that today’s DFL have imposed costly regulations on farmers, making it more difficult for farmers to make a profit. The L in DFL stands for laborers. The DFL will fight to the death for public employee unions but they’ve ignored blue collar union jobs for 30+ years. That’s why Pete Stauber is favored to win re-election in the Eighth District.

When people think of Minnesota’s Eighth District, they immediately think of the Iron Range. That’s understandable but that’s just the most famous part of the Eighth. Huge portions of the Eighth are farmland (think Aitkin), woodlands ideally suited for logging (think Grand Rapids) and rural towns where the work ethic is outstanding (think Cambridge, Isanti and Park Rapids).

Those cities might as well be dead to the DFL. Anything beyond the inner ring of suburbs might as well be lunar landscape to the DFL.

Last year, I learned that 20+ states had a top tax rate that was lower than Minnesota’s lowest tax rate. In Pennsylvania, for instance, their top tax rate is 3.07%. Minnesota’s lowest tax bracket is taxed at 5.35%, with a top bracket taxed at 9.85%. That’s only because Republicans insisted on cutting taxes as part of their budget agreement. The DFL wanted to raise taxes. Is it any wonder why Minnesotans are leaving the state for low-tax states?

To compete with other states, you need a well-trained workforce, low taxes and fair regulations. Minnesota fails in all 3 categories. Why would a company start or expand here? Companies see what PolyMet has endured in terms of lawsuits, permitting and hostility and they cross Minnesota off the list.

The other thing that’s turning off Minnesotans is the number of scandals we’re dealing with. Whether it’s MNLARS, the multiple scandals within the Department of Human Services or things that government just doesn’t do well, people are paying a lot in taxes and getting very little in return. If Minnesota wants to lose another seat in 2030, they don’t need to change course. They just need to stay the course. If we want to become a prosperous state, then major changes need to take place.

Saying that Jason Rarick’s statement on the state of Minnesota’s Department of Human Services isn’t filled with compliments is understatement. Sen. Rarick opens the statement by saying “It’s time to break up the Minnesota Department of Human Services. This was the recommendation of Acting Commissioner Pam Wheelock this past August. It is not a brand new idea, but it is the only reasonable option. I can no longer see an alternative path that gets the agency turned around and functioning at the level Minnesotans demand.”

While there’s no doubt that DHS needs to be broken up, that’s only part of the problem. Another part of the problem is the corruption. There must be a way to get rid of corrupt employees.

In the heart of Sen. Rarick’s statement is this paragraph:

In just November, we have learned that the agency has habitually been violating state contract law to award more than 1800 illegal contracts last year alone. We have learned that DHS illegally instructed counties and Indian tribes to claw back $727,000 in overpayments to poor people, which must now be returned. We have learned a DHS screw up led to $624,000 in improper county payments to foster homes that didn’t meet federal background check requirements. And we have learned of an additional $22 million in illegal payments that must be repaid to the federal government, including $13 million that occurred even after the mistake was discovered. Again, that’s just from November. [emphasis added]

A department filled with waste, fraud and lawlessness needs transformation. Leadership is required to accomplish that. That doesn’t exist:

The Senate has held several hearings to get answers straight from those in charge. Unfortunately, those answers were mixed at best. For the most part, the officials we asked to testify evaded questions, stalled, or merely offered vague promises about being engaged and committed to comprehensive changes. The administration has also delayed for as long as possible responding to data requests we have made.

In fact, rather than address these problems head on, Gov. Walz seems disinterested. We’ve asked him to engage and help us fix the department, but instead he has placed his priorities elsewhere – like his newly-formed sub-cabinet to fight climate change.

It’s apparent that the DFL isn’t interested in fixing DHS. When it comes to Human Services, the DFL is interested in the status quo. Gov. Walz’s formation of a cabinet department on climate change is proof that he’s disinterested.

It’s also proof that Gov. Walz’s priorities aren’t Minnesota’s priorities. If you polled Minnesotans about what’s more important, it’s a safe bet that they’d say eliminating waste, fraud and lawlessness at DHS rates far higher than forming a new bureaucracy dealing with climate change.

This DFL administration is tone-deaf. This DFL administration is oblivious to the need for transformation. Watch Commissioner Harpstead’s testimony and you’ll see what obliviousness looks like:

She couldn’t care less if DHS is transformed. It isn’t clear whether she cares about the department she’s been charged with leading. Her opening statement was 100% incomprehensible word salad.

There’s an age-old principle about presidential candidates. It says that a presidential candidate’s vice presidential pick says much about the presidential candidate. That’s transferrable to this situation. When Gov. Walz picked Jodi Harpstead, it said that fixing DHS wasn’t a high priority. Further, the DFL House has followed Gov. Walz’s lead. They offer the same word salad as Gov. Walz. If the DFL won’t help fix the problem, then they’re part of the problem. Next November, it’s time to fix that problem.

The last part of Friday night’s Almanac Roundtable focused on DFL mismanagement of multiple agencies and departments. Moderator Eric Eskola opened that portion of the segment by saying “Gregg, you were around the legislature for a long time and with candidates and so forth. I really sense that this is a bad year for big government in Minnesota, Human Services and so many problems and I wonder if it was this bad when you were working for Speaker Sviggum?” Later in the segment, Eskola interjected, saying of Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles’ testimony at this week’s hearing that “If this was a prize fight, they would’ve stopped it. He just mopped the floor with her.”

Eric Eskola has been a significant part of the Minnesota media for a generation+. That’s the most provocative thing I’ve ever heard him say. That isn’t saying that he’s wrong. In fact, I think he’s exactly right. The times I’ve watched Auditor Nobles testify about DHS’s mismanagement, Mr. Nobles didn’t pull his punches. He’s landed some hard-hitting body blows to DHS management.

The laughable part of the segment was Abou Amara saying that divided government was to blame for the mismanagement. It’s laughable because the executive branch can function perfectly whether there’s unified government or divided government. Period. Stop.

Amara is right in the sense that it’s easier to pass legislation when it’s unified DFL government. That doesn’t guarantee problems getting fixed, though. The bigger point that Amara intentionally side-stepped is that reform-minded people in the executive branch could start changing the culture without passing a single law. That doesn’t mean we don’t need reforms to fix DHS’s problems. It simply means we can start fixing the problem by hiring high quality management personnel.

Gov. Walz got criticized for the mismanagement:

Gov. Tim Walz’s administration came under fire Wednesday for violations of state contract laws. Republican senators held a hearing about the violations, which occurred when vendors working with the state started work before contracts were signed and when employees committed to spending state money without agency permission. Records from the administration show these violations happened roughly 1,300 times over the last year.

Minnesota’s bureaucracy needs a major overhaul. There’s no time to waste.

Anyone that thinks that the Minnesota Department of Human Services isn’t suffering through a crisis hasn’t been reading LFR lately and they certainly haven’t read this article, either. After reading the article, LFR reached out to Rep. Nick Zerwas of Elk River, who consented to an interview.

Q: What has bothered you the most about this scandal thus far?
A: Obviously the total lack of accountability is disappointing (but predictable).
Q: You say that it’s predictable that there was a lack of accountability. Why is that predictable?
A: In all of the scandals at DHS over the last 7 years I’ve been in the legislature, I can’t recall anyone ever being held accountable.

If you visit Rep. Zerwas’ legislative website, you’ll see a lengthy list of statements on the DHS crisis. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that DHS management has responded to the crisis.

Rep. Zerwas issued this statement yesterday:

Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, who serves on the House Health and Human Services Finance Division and has called for a full forensic audit of all state and federal spending at the embattled agency, is calling on Ramsey County Attorney John Choi to examine the latest report, and determine whether the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office should step in to prosecute the repeated violations of law.

“While I appreciate the good-faith efforts Commissioner Harpstead is making to clean up the agency and restore public trust, at some point we must determine whether there are consequences for violating the laws we have in place,” Zerwas said. “If the agency is unwilling to hold employees accountable, then it may be time for law enforcement to step in.”

At this point, actions and consequences are more important than words. If the Ramsey County Attorney won’t prosecute lawbreakers, then it’ll be apparent that their office isn’t taking this seriously. There were other questions asked of Rep. Zerwas. This one stood out:

Q: One final question: Should the legislature break up DHS? Or is just changing the culture required?
A: I think the agency is too large, and I would support breaking it up. However, a restructure of DHS alone will not fix anything. If the employees don’t believe there will be consequences for their illegal actions, then I guarantee you nothing will change.

That’s the growing consensus about DHS. There’s no question that the culture must change. The Department must change, too.

The records obtained by the newspaper show employees sometimes allowed vendors and grantees to perform work or services without finalized and signed contracts, while in other cases employees bought products such as software without the required permission. Department officials said the agency has safeguards in place that prevent spending in such situations. But legislators said the violations put the agency at risk for misusing taxpayer dollars.

Thank God for those departmental safeguards. Where would we be without them? Apparently, DHS management doesn’t pay much attention to those ‘safeguards’. Question: Can they be considered safeguards if nobody pays attention to them?

Apparently, the DFL isn’t serious about protecting whistleblowers. If the DFL was serious about eliminating corruption, this wouldn’t still be happening:

A state whistleblower says she is still being retaliated against months after she reported wrongdoing. Faye Bernstein, a compliance officer at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, said she has been excluded from the work she did before speaking out, told by superiors that her opinion “is no longer needed,” and encouraged to take time off or seek therapy when she objected to the retaliation she continues to face. And Bernstein said some employees have even started “wild and hurtful rumors” to discredit her.

Bernstein, a 14-year veteran of the department, raised concerns in July about “substandard and noncompliant” state contracts that were being approved by leaders in the agency’s behavioral health division, which pays out millions of dollars in contracts and grants for programs that include battling addiction and the opioid epidemic.

This started before the Walz administration but it’s obvious that the Walz administration isn’t taking their responsibilities seriously. When she was appointed, I said that new Commissioner Jodi Harpstead was a terrible pick. That was mid-August. It’s now late October. Changing the culture takes time but it isn’t unreasonable to think that Ms. Harpstead should get 1-2 of her top priorities fixed in that time. According to this testimony from Ms. Harpstead, changing the culture wasn’t a high priority:

That’s depressing. What’s depressing, too, is that, after naming Harpstead the new commissioner 2 months ago, Democrat Gov. Tim Walz essentially disappeared. I just did multiple searches for Gov. Walz but found only a handful of articles, most of which dealt the insulin issue. The insulin issue is important but the DHS whistleblower/bullying scandal is important, too. Walz and the DFL have disappeared on the issue of eliminating fraud within DHS.

The DFL hasn’t provided meaningful oversight on DHS. Tim Walz has disappeared. Walz’s new leader for DHS, Jodi Harpstead, hasn’t prioritized changing the culture in her new department, meaning that DHS’s culture remains toxic. Big government that thinks it doesn’t answer to anybody is a nightmare. Why doesn’t the DFL think that stopping corruption and bullying is a big thing? The DFL has treated these scandals like they aren’t interested.

Margaret Anderson-Kelliher is trying to con Minnesotans into a massive gas tax increase. Sorta. This is where we’ll get into the weeds a little. Normally, I wouldn’t waste my time but this isn’t normally.

Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Margaret Anderson-Kelliher is pushing a combined gas-tax increase along with what she’s calling a “debt-service fee” that would raise fuel prices by up to 15 cents per gallon, according to interviews with local news outlets.

Anderson-Kelliher did back-to-back interviews with the Rochester Post-Bulletin and the Mankato Free Press in September to promote the idea. Minnesota’s DFL Party began “actively exploring” the debt-service fee in July, which would increase gas prices to help cover the costs of borrowing money for highway improvements.

Next comes the razzle-dazzle:

In her interview with the Rochester Post Bulletin, Anderson-Kelliher said the state “should start anew and look at ways we can build from there. There is a real need in this community to address not only the transportation movement of cars and transit, but people want to bike safely and they want to walk safely. And to be able to do that, you actually need more resources,” she said.

The Center of the American Experiment’s Tom Steward thinks this means Anderson-Kelliher plans to use “the increased bonding capacity as a backdoor way of building bike paths and diverting billions of tax dollars to green alternatives to the automobile.”

Gov. Walz tried pushing through a massive tax increase during the budget session. It failed miserably. IF Gov. Walz tries pushing that agenda again, he’ll have to work with an all-GOP legislature in 2021. The other possibility is watching DFL legislators abandon him in large numbers. If Speaker Hortman pushes this agenda in the House, it will be her only term as Speaker. Tax increases aren’t popular. Gas tax increases are the least popular of the tax increases. Having the DFL push a gas tax increase right before an election is a gift — to Republicans. Having the DFL push a gas tax increase and ‘debt service fee’ increase to pay for bike paths and walking trails in an election year is political suicide for the DFL.

This won’t happen unless we have another Override Six fiasco. If something like that happens, which I don’t think will happen, those senators will be primaried and their political careers will be over.

To say that Michelle Benson is on a mission to fix the graft and corruption within the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) is understatement. Sen. Benson hasn’t let up in her pursuit of answers into why Democrats ignored the corruption within the Department. According to this official statement, Sen. Benson sent out questions to key figures in the recent crisis.

According to the statement, “During the HHS hearing on August 13, Senator Michelle Benson told DHS officials she would provide written questions for the department to answer. Questions were sent on August 19 to Carolyn Ham, Acting Commissioner Pam Wheelock, and Deputy Commissioners Chuck Johnson and Claire Wilson. Benson did receive acknowledgment the questions were received by Acting Commissioner Wheelock. However, with another hearing scheduled for September 4, Benson has not received substantial responses to the requests, nor has she received responses the data practices requests made in July.”

In other words, political appointees within DHS have refused to cooperate with the legislature’s legitimate oversight responsibilities. I wrote here that Jodi Harpstead, Gov. Walz’s appointee to replace Commissioner Lourey, has a history of specializing in hiding important details from authorities.

Ms. Harpstead hasn’t assumed her position as Commissioner but the Department has already started with hiding things from the legislature. Imagine how tight-lipped they’ll be when Ms. Harpstead, aka the silence-meister, takes over as Commissioner.

Check out these questions to these people:

View the written questions:
Questions to Acting Commissioner Pam Wheelock
Questions to Carolyn Ham
Questions to Chuck Johnson
Questions to Claire Wilson

It’s pretty obvious that these employees specialize in hiding information from taxpayers. It’s equally obvious that these employees think that they don’t answer to anyone.

Sen. Benson realizes that that’s a problem. That’s why she’s on a mission.

Just when you thought that things might return to normal at Minnesota’s Department of Human Services, another high-ranking official resigns. This resignation is different in that it’s the re-resignation of a former employee who returned to work only to resign again. Got all that? I didn’t think so. Suffice it to say that HHS is a department in disarray.

This article should help you figure out what’s going on:

Claire Wilson, deputy commissioner of the Department of Human Services, will leave the agency on Friday, according to an internal email sent to employees. Wilson, along with her fellow deputy commissioner Chuck Johnson, resigned last month from the agency but then rescinded their resignations after a new commissioner took over.

Acting DHS Commissioner Pam Wheelock convinced the two deputies to stay after Commissioner Tony Lourey and his chief of staff, Stacie Weeks, resigned. All of the leaders had resigned without public explanation.

I don’t have high hopes that this department will get fixed anytime soon, if at all. As I wrote here, the incoming commissioner seems to think that the Department is doing good work. It’s impossible to fix a problem until you admit that there’s a problem. Jodi Harpstead doesn’t think that there’s a problem.

I’m betting that Claire Wilson is thankful that Friday is her last day. With all the turmoil and controversy swirling around within the Department, I’m betting that she’d rather just move on.

I can’t blame her for wanting to leave.