Gov. Tim Walz’s office announced Thursday that he will tighten hiring rules across his administration after learning that a prominent Iron Range Democrat was installed in a six-figure-salary civil service job without going through the normal hiring process, passing over a qualified woman.

Joe Radinovich, an unsuccessful 2018 candidate for Congress in the Eighth Congressional District, was hired in March by the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, an Eveleth-based economic development agency known as the IRRRB — and long accused of DFL cronyism.

The hire was first reported in the Tower-based newspaper the Timberjay.

Walz’s office acknowledged that the hiring process deviated from normal procedures by shortening the time it was publicly posted from the usual 21 days to just 24 hours. But a statement Thursday from Walz insists the hire was made without the governor’s knowledge or direction, and that the administration from now on will require all classified management jobs be posted for 21 days.

“The Governor’s Office was not involved in any decision making related to the expedited hiring process and did not direct the Department of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation (IRRRB) or Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) to vary from ordinary hiring procedures,” Walz press secretary Teddy Tschann said in a statement. “In an effort to further promote the Governor’s commitment to seeking a world-class workforce, we will be instituting an Administration-wide policy requiring, rather than recommending, that all classified managerial positions of this kind to be posted for at least 21 days. Any exceptions will require direct approval by the MMB Commissioner or his designee.”

Tschann also noted that more than two-thirds of Walz’s office staff is female and nearly half his appointees to boards and commissions are people of color or American Indians.

Radinovich’s hire, however, is likely to raise further questions about the Iron Range agency’s leadership. “I am deeply troubled by a hiring process at the IRRRB that lacked transparency and fairness,” said Rep. Sandy Layman, R-Cohasset, who is also a former IRRRB commissioner. “This kind of political maneuvering undermines public confidence in the agency and reinforces the worst impressions people hold — fairly or not — about the IRRRB.”

Radinovich declined to comment on Thursday.

Board member Justin Eichorn, a Republican state senator from Grand Rapids, said Radinovich’s hire seemed to echo what he called the “good old boys’ club” of the past.

The board is currently composed of four Republicans and five Democrats. Republicans in the Legislature signaled that current IRRRB Commissioner Mark Phillips — appointed by former Gov. Mark Dayton and reappointed by Walz — could face some tough questions over the Radinovich hire.

“Minnesota taxpayers deserve the most qualified individuals possible working on behalf of them, and a hyper-political hiring process does not benefit our state,” said Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, chair of the Senate Committee on Jobs and Economic Growth. “As a legislature, it is our duty to hold state agencies accountable, and I look forward to IRRRB Commissioner Mark Phillips addressing these questions during the Minnesota Senate’s confirmation process.”

House Republicans also plan to press Walz administration officials on their involvement in Radinovich’s hiring and ask for additional details on his employment arrangement, according to a legislative aide. Republicans also are considering legislation to codify the tighter hiring procedures Walz announced.

The Minnesota Management and Budget agency requires that hiring managers advertise state job openings for at least seven days, but encourages 21-day postings. The IRRRB received an exemption allowing them to post Radinovich’s job for just 24 hours. Records obtained by Layman and shared with the Star Tribune quote an IRRRB human resources director saying the expedited timeline was needed “to meet the expectations … as expressed by the Governor’s office.”

MMB Commissioner Myron Frans said that statement is inaccurate.

The records also indicate that MMB, which oversees state hiring, was helping facilitate the Radinovich hire. A human resources consultant at the agency sent an e-mail to the IRRRB with a hand-drawn organizational chart that included Radinovich — before the job was even posted.

Frans said that Radinovich’s name was included inadvertently.

Phillips also declined an interview request Thursday. Instead, the IRRRB issued a statement denying any wrongdoing:

“We followed a competitive process. Twelve applications were received, and four candidates met the minimum qualifications. Of those four, two candidates withdrew and two candidates were interviewed. Of the two candidates interviewed, Joe Radinovich was selected as the best candidate.”

According to the Timberjay, Lorrie Janatopoulus was the other candidate interviewed for the job, which pays $100,000 a year. She has a master’s degree, won a prestigious Bush Fellowship and carries a lengthy resume that includes the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency in Virginia and numerous nonprofit boards. Janatopoulus did not immediately respond Thursday to requests for comment.

Radinovich, meanwhile, has deep political ties in the state DFL. He was a Democratic state representative, 2018 congressional candidate and high-profile campaign manager for both former U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, for whom he was briefly chief of staff. He attended Macalester College in St. Paul, but his Minnesota House biography does not list a degree.

Radinovich wasn’t the only unsuccessful 2018 DFL candidate to find a home at the IRRRB. Jason Metsa, who left the Legislature to run for the same Eighth Congressional District but lost in the DFL primary to Radinovich, is now a deputy commissioner of the agency.

Nor is this Radinovich’s first tour at the Iron Range agency; he was hired as a political appointee — meaning without civil service protections of his new job — after he lost his seat in the Minnesota House in the 2014 election.

 

Staff writers Torey Van Oot, Jessie Van Berkel, Patrick Condon and Judy Keen contributed to this report.