Pawlenty says he won't fire MnDOT commissioner Carol Molnau in response to charges by the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee that she is incompetent.
In an escalating war of words, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday said Gov. Tim Pawlenty should fire Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau -- who is also lieutenant governor -- for what he said were numerous examples of incompetence.
A Pawlenty spokesman said the governor's office would not fire Molnau, who has faced criticism and renewed calls for her ouster since the collapse of the Interstate-35W bridge in Minneapolis on Aug. 1.
While he did not directly blame Molnau's stewardship for the collapse of the bridge, Sen. Steve Murphy, D-Red Wing, criticized Molnau and other MnDOT leaders for their actions following the collapse. He pointed to MnDOT's choice of the highest bidder for the replacement bridge, lawsuits and complaints filed by losing bidders, and the agency's emergency manager failing to return from a business trip to the East Coast for 10 days after the collapse as evidence of a need for change.
"The public has completely lost confidence in the leadership at MnDOT and so has the Legislature," Murphy said, standing near the LaFayette Bridge over the Mississippi River in St. Paul. The bridge is one of about 100 in the state with nonredundant, fracture-critical components like the I-35W bridge, and which are rated "structurally deficient."We have a serious problem in the state of Minnesota and we need serious people with serious answers. We need someone in there who is a professional, that knows engineering, that knows transportation and that is not Carol Molnau," said Murphy, with several other legislators standing nearby.
Murphy said the full Senate would likely consider refusing to confirm Molnau as transportation commissioner as one of its first duties when the legislature convenes in February and that the Senate has the votes to reject her confirmation. A commissioner may serve without confirmation, but if rejected, Molnau could be forced from the MnDOT post but she would retain her elected position as lieutenant governor.
The request for Molnau's termination comes in the midst of a larger debate over transportation funding and questions about a cash flow problem in the department, with the possibility raised of postponed projects to fund the I-35W bridge reconstruction.
Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung dismissed Murphy's remarks as personal name calling and said the governor is interested in moving ahead on a comprehensive transportation plan when the Legislature convenes in February. McClung said Molnau has been working through significant issues in a department that has historically generated controversy.
"From our perspective, Senator Murphy has been holding out this confirmation issue. We hope that legislators are going to take a fair approach to looking at her confirmation. We believe she should be confirmed," McClung said.
McClung said Pawlenty continues to express support for Molnau and that Pawlenty has had no reservations about Molnau serving a dual role as lieutenant governor and transportation commissioner.
Mark Brunswick 651-222-1636