Star Tribune Publisher Steve Grove kept some ties with Gov. Tim Walz's administration after he stepped down as the economic development commissioner for the newspaper's top job, according to texts first obtained and reported by the Minnesota Reformer.

Grove took over at the Star Tribune on April 17, 2023, after four years leading the state's Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). Two weeks before that, he texted Walz Chief of Staff Chris Schmitter, "How's the DEED commissioner search coming along? Anything I can do to help? Hope you're well - lots of great work lately. Love those budget targets for economic development."

Schmitter responded that they had lots of great candidates for the governor to interview and "it's a hard one."

The soon-to-be publisher texted back, "Got it. Good to hear. Some strong candidates. Here if I can be helpful. Keep up the great work!"

Journalists generally refrain from active involvement in politics and government to avoid the appearance of bias. A publisher's role, however, is different from that of a reporter or editor in the newsroom. Generally, publishers are involved in the business of running a newspaper and traditionally do not weigh in on news coverage decisions.

Jane Kirtley, professor of law and media ethics at the University of Minnesota, found Grove's texts problematic, saying they suggest he "wanted to play it both ways; he wanted to continue to be an insider in the Walz administration, providing kudos and advice" while working as publisher, a role that in modern times has been independent of politics.

Contacted via email with a series of questions, the publisher deferred to company spokesman Chris Iles, who provided a written statement saying Grove "provided feedback and advice" to Walz's office as a departing executive would to ensure the strength of the agency he led.

"These personal texts were between two friends of nearly 20 years, and have no bearing on the business or editorial decisions of the Star Tribune," the statement read. "The Star Tribune's continued independence is our top priority as we continue to produce quality journalism for Minnesota."

Walz spokeswoman Claire Lancaster also provided a written statement saying, "It is standard practice for agency heads and executives in any industry to participate in succession planning and ensure a smooth transition. Steve led DEED for four years and his input was critical."

In subsequent emails with Schmitter, Grove praised the governor's speech and on April 24, Schmitter asked to chat on the phone "re DEED" and Grove agreed to a call later in the evening.

Grove also asked Schmitter to show Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan an apology he wrote regarding a controversial cartoon by then-Star Tribune editorial cartoonist Mike Thompson. Grove texted Schmitter that he had neither seen nor approved of the cartoon before publication. He said he thought it was "very troubling and in horrible taste." Months later, Thompson's position was eliminated.

Some of the topics of the roughly two dozen short texts are impossible to discern given redactions, but on May 25 and Aug. 24, Grove texted praise about appointments. On the May date, Walz named Matt Varilek as Grove's successor at DEED. In August, the governor elevated Associate Supreme Court Justice Natalie Hudson to chief and appointed his former general counsel Karl Procaccini as a successor to Hudson's seat.

In August, Grove texted, "!! Inspired choice. Congratulations!" and Schmitter responded, "Thanks! He'll be fantastic, as you know!"