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Updated: 11/21/2011 6:22 PM
Created: 11/21/2011 2:27 PM | Print |  Email
By: Mark Albert

Lawmaker Orders Hearing After KSTP Investigation

nullThe chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Employee Relations on Monday announced legislative hearings into the payouts of retiring state workers, based on the findings of a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Investigation on Sunday, which found Minnesota paid departing employees $86 million in unused vacation pay, sick time, and other severance in the past three years.

"I intend to be as proactive as possible," Sen. Mike Parry (R-Waseca) said in a news release, "in scrutinizing these agreements and improving them as we move forward."

In the release, Sen. Parry referred to specific findings from the 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation, including the $86,073,697.63 in total payouts from 2009-2011 as well as the $319,862.07 in severance received by James McCormick when he retired last year as MnSCU chancellor. An analysis of state data by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS showed 18 of the 20 largest payouts in the past three years have gone to administrators in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

Sen. Parry's statement continued: "We are aware of some issues within the current agreements that led to these allegations and large payouts. We plan to invite all parties involved to provide more information, details, suggestions and context to this discussion. If there are reforms and improvements we can make in the interest of protecting both our public employees and the taxpayers, such as possible vacation or sick time caps and payout limits, we will pursue them. I intend to be as proactive as possible in scrutinizing these agreements and improving them as we move forward."

The date, time, and location of a hearing was not announced.

Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights) on Friday, acting in advance of the KSTP report, called for a hearing of the House Higher Education Committee.

On Monday, he said the KSTP investigation "confirms the need," for hearings. The chairman of that committee, Rep. Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls), has not yet responded to a request for comment. 

Also on Monday, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS spoke with the chairman of the MnSCU Board of Trustees, Scott Thiss, by phone from Arizona. Thiss addressed the more than $32 million in compensation MnSCU paid to retiring workers in the past three years - including six-figure payouts for a half-dozen top administrators - by saying, "We need to have the very best people. The very best people in the long run will save us money - in terms of creative ideas, approaches, academic excellence."

"The students will benefit in the long run," Thiss said.