Republican lawmakers ramped up the pressure on DFL Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday, demanding answers about the recent leadership shake-up at the Department of Human Services. The massive social service agency has seen the resignations of two top officials — since rescinded — and ultimately the departure of Commissioner Tony Lourey and his chief of staff.
“The flurry of resignations, appointments and rescinded resignations has raised significant concerns from my office, from the press, and from the 1 million people served by DHS,” said state Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who is chair of a key health care committee with oversight of the $17.5 billion agency.
Benson and state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, released to the public the records requests they’ve made to DHS and Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans, asking to see correspondence between top DHS officials.
The Star Tribune has made similar public records requests since the leadership shake-up.
Lourey resigned abruptly this month, just six months into his tenure and days after his two top deputies also resigned. Lourey’s chief of staff resigned the next day, after which the two deputies returned.
The new GOP request for information will further thwart the Walz administration’s hopes for a quiet summer while lawmakers are back home. The upheaval at DHS was followed by the swift resignation of a deputy commissioner at the Department of Corrections who faced an internal investigation for wrongdoing.
A number of DHS officials and people with ties to the agency have said the recent turmoil stemmed from an internal power struggle between Lourey and his two top deputies, Charles Johnson and Claire Wilson, over how much independence they should be given to run their divisions.
Pam Wheelock, a longtime finance administrator with experience in the public and private sectors, has taken over as acting commissioner.
A separate request by Benson and Rosen is related to the investigation of Carolyn Ham, who has been on paid leave since a legislative audit found significant fraud in the state’s child care assistance program earlier this year. Ham had been tasked with investigating program fraud at DHS.
“This shouldn’t be complicated,” Rosen said. “The public deserves to know when the investigation into Carolyn Ham began, who is in charge of it, and what has been determined.”
A DHS spokeswoman said Thursday that the agency frequently receives public records requests and fulfills them as state law requires.