Tom Steward

Tom Steward is the bureau chief of Watchdog.org's Minnesota Bureau, a project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. He is an investigative reporter focused on waste, fraud and abuse in government and has previously worked for WCCO-TV (CBS) and KSTP-TV (ABC) in the Twin Cities. Follow Tom on Facebook and Twitter.

Tropical Trip by Top Official Adds to MNsure Applicant's Frustrations

Posted by: Tom Steward Updated: December 12, 2013 - 12:19 PM

News of the tropical vacation trip recently taken by MNsure’s top official, April Todd-Malmlov, in the midst of the state exchange’s troubled rollout, left Barb Stonebraker speechless—almost.

Previous posts detailed the Victoria woman’s trials and tribulations in close to 100 hours spent sparring online and on the horn with MNsure.  Then came word of Todd-Malmlov’s trip to Costa Rica and two week out of office break in the last half of November. 

“There’s no excuse for it. Absolutely none and to stick up for her and the situation is just nuts,” said Stonebraker of Governor Dayton and the MNsure Board of Directors signing off on the trip.

In my Watchdog Minnesota Bureau report MNsure staff confirmed Todd-Malmov was out of the office for eight business days before the two-day Thanksgiving Day holiday for state employees.

“Our leadership here works very, very closely with April, and the rest of the MNsure staff are deeply trusted and have the full faith and trust of our executive director and were at the helm in partnership with April even when she was out of the office,” said Jenni Bowring-McDonough, media relations coordinator for MNsure.

To be sure, Todd-Malmlov was available by phone and email and communicated with MNsure personnel every day, according to MNsure communications staff.

Yet Todd-Malmov’s getaway comes after similar revelations that led to the resignation of Rebecca Pearce, the director of Maryland’s state health exchange, Dec. 6. Pearce came under fire for taking a Caribbean vacation in the midst of a rocky roll-out of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.  Media reports indicate Pearce was in the Cayman Islands and unavailable during Thanksgiving week. Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a Democrat, told the Baltimore Sun, “We needed all hands on deck. Now is not the time to take a vacation.”

From the perspective of someone on the ground level of trying to penetrate MNsure, Barb Stonebraker says there’s needs to be accountability for the technical glitches, systematic failures and ill-timed trips in Minnesota as well, starting at the top.

“I would like her (Todd-Malmlov) to be held responsible,” said Stonebraker.  “Companies don’t take off when there is peak season or they don’t let anyone take vacations. I worked for a household goods moving company and you did not take a two week vacation during peak season.  Or if you’re implementing something, you do not take a vacation.  I would like her to be replaced.”

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