Three upper managers at the Minnesota Department of Transportation were reprimanded Monday and one was suspended without pay for their failure to adequately supervise former MnDOT employee Sonia Morphew Pitt.
Department of Employee Relations Commissioner Patricia Anderson suspended Transportation Division director Rick Arnebeck for three days without pay. She issued a written reprimand to Maintenance and Security director Steven Lund. Division director Bob Winter received an oral reprimand.
In a strongly worded letter released Monday, Anderson said that Arnebeck's lax oversight in particular had "extremely damaging consequences" for the department and "to a degree, the image of all State employees, which cannot be tolerated."
She based her actions on an independent report ordered by Gov. Tim Pawlenty that was released Monday.
That report -- large portions of which were blacked out -- found that Pitt's MnDOT supervisors had little notion of her day-to-day activities or specific job duties.
The report comes on the heels of a legislative auditor's report that found Pitt, the department's emergency management director, to be a "belligerent, aggressive" employee who had scammed the department for thousands of dollars in excessive compensation for hotels, airfare, mileage, unauthorized overtime and personal cell phone calls.
Pitt first came to public attention when it was discovered that she had stayed in Washington D.C., on a non-work-related trip in the days after the I-35W bridge collapse. Neither Arnebeck, Lund or Winter asked her to return. In the report, Lt. Gov. and Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau said it took her "five or six days" to notice that Pitt was not around.
Pitt was fired early last month following a MnDOT internal investigation and may still face criminal prosecution in Ramsey County. She has filed an appeal of her dismissal.
Two refused interviews
Molnau, who has come under frequent fire since the Aug. 1 bridge collapse, declined to say Monday whether she bore any responsibility for the lax supervision of Pitt.
Molnau said the department had been "mandated" to create Pitt's position and that "I did not make the selection or the recommendation" of Pitt for the job. Molnau said that in a department of 5,000 employees, she had to rely on subordinates to attend to details.
The report found that Pitt was given great autonomy over her schedule, travel and expenses. Despite the fact that she was one of the few department employees to hold a state credit card, her reports were only minimally scrutinized, the report said.
Her last supervisor, Lund, the report noted, was the first to detect irregularities and ask for an informal investigation in August.
But that did not spare him a written reprimand on Monday. Anderson noted that Lund "exercised poor judgment" in failing to call Pitt back from Washington.
The investigating agency, Minneapolis-based Ratwik, Roszak and Maloney, attempted to interview nine people connected with Pitt. Two former MnDOT employees refused: Marthand Nookala, who had been Pitt's first supervisor, and former Deputy Commissioner Doug Differt. Nookala is an assistant public works administrator for Hennepin County. Differt left the department in early 2007 to become a vice president at URS Inc., a primary consultant on the bridge.
In Monday's report, Lund said he would have called Pitt back for "public relations reasons," but "still believes there was no operations necessity" for Pitt to have returned.
Molnau under fire
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said on Monday that the reprimands were an "inadequate response."
Kelliher said she also is concerned about the blacked-out portions of the report.
"We need some sunshine here," she said.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said that the real blame should be placed on Molnau, not lower-level managers.
"She's trying to push her responsibilities on other people," Murphy said. "We're not going to let that happen."
Murphy said that if Pawlenty allows Molnau to remain in charge of transportation, the Senate will vote down her confirmation, which would force her to step down as commissioner.
Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288