The Public Employees Retirement Association of Minnesota (PERA) will investigate the public pension benefits earned by Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, for his work with a private foundation.

The Minnesota Jobs Coalition, a Republican allied political group, issued a press release on Monday calling for PERA to investigation Atkins' participation in the public pension he receives from the Inver Grove Heights School District.  

The school district was reimbursed for Atkins' salary and benefits by the Inver Grove Heights B.E.S.T. Foundation from 2001 to 2014.

"To remain tax-qualified as a government plan, we have to ensure that the people who are our members are employees of a government entity - that is one of our requirements," said Julie Leppink, who serves as the legal director for both PERA and the Minnesota State Retirement System. 

Leppink said the first step of the investigation will be to ask the school district to explain the employment relationship between Atkins and the school district. 

"It raises questions when you see the school district has been reimbursed," added Leppink. 

In an response to an email requesting comment, Atkins wrote that he "accepted the job in 1996 and have helped more than 2,000 Simley students go on to college over the last 20 years."   Atkins added, "helping all these kids go to college is one of the highlights of my life."

Leppink said the length of time needed for PERA to investigate the public pension benefits earned by Atkins will depend on how quickly the Inver Grove Heights School District responds to their inquiry. 

UPDATE: The Minnesota Jobs Coalition President Kevin Magnuson released the following statement earlier today about PERA's investigation:

"The Star Tribune today reported that the Minnesota Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA) is opening an investigation into Rep. Joe Atkins' employment with the Inver Grove Heights B.E.S.T. Foundation and Independent School District 199 at the request of the Minnesota Jobs Coalition. We are pleased that PERA noted: 'It raises questions when you see the school district has been reimbursed' and is swiftly opening an investigation into this matter. We presume Rep. Joe Atkins will fully cooperate with their investigation and that upon completion of PERA’s investigation Minnesotans will get the answers they deserve."

Picture source: Star Tribune