Rep. Joe Atkins', DFL-Inver Grove Heights, work with a private foundation does not allow him to receive public pension benefits from the Public Employees Retirement Association of Minnesota (PERA), according to an investigation completed by PERA.

PERA conducted the investigation at the request of the the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, a Republican allied political group, who earlier this month first raised concerns about the public pension benefits received by Atkins' from Independent School District 199 for his work with the Inver Grove Heights B.E.S.T. Foundation.

Atkins is employed as the executive director of the Inver Grove Heights B.E.S.T. Foundation, which provides scholarships for students graduating from Simley High School in Inver Grove Heights.

Julie Leppink, the legal director for both PERA and the Minnesota State Retirement System, said PERA determined "there was not an employment relationship between Rep. Atkins and the school district that made him eligible for PERA membership."

Leppink said PERA sent a letter to both Atkins and ISD 199 informing them of PERA's decision. Atkins will receive a refund check for his contributions to PERA since 2001, said Leppink.

Kevin Magnuson, who serves as the president of the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, said he was "pleased with PERA's findings that Rep. Atkins was not an employee of the school district and is not entitled to the pension benefits he received."

But Magnuson added, "Rep. Atkins should answer the troubling questions that remain about the nearly quarter million dollars of other public benefits he received."

According to public documents obtained by the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, Atkins received over $200,000 in additional benefits from ISD 199, including health and dental insurance, aside from being permitted to contribute to the public pension program administered by PERA.

Atkins said yesterday he stopped receiving benefits from ISD 199 in May 2015 for his work with the Inver Grove Heights B.E.S.T. Foundation.

He acknowledge his work arrangement between the Inver Grove Heights B.E.S.T. Foundation and ISD 199 appears "complicated," but added, "it was very simple" when it was first established in 1996.

The school district, said Atkins, was "set up to do payroll and insurance" and since "the B.E.S.T. Foundation was an agency of the school district," Atkins said the decision was made to have the school district process his payroll and have the Inver Grove Heights B.E.S.T. Foundation reimbursed the school district.

Atkins said the Inver Grove Heights B.E.S.T Foundation has always reimbursed the school district for "every penny" of his salary and benefits, and his employment with the Inver Grove Heights B.E.S.T. Foundation has not cost the school district "one penny."

Picture source: Star Tribune