Legislative Auditor to Conduct Review of MnSCU Payouts
UPDATE: In February 2012, Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS his office would not be conducting a special review afterall, in light of the information disclosed by MnSCU during a Legislative hearing on Jan. 19, 2012, that appeared to satisfy concerns raised by Minnesota lawmakers who called for such a review.
The state's Legislative Auditor will conduct a "special review" of millions of dollars in payouts to departing workers in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, prompted by the request of a House lawmaker in response to a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation.
Jim Nobles said the request by Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights) raised "a legitimate issue" that the Office of Legislative Auditor will address in the coming weeks.
"I can certainly make a commitment that we will be conducting a review of the issues that have been raised," Nobles told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Tuesday afternoon.
Nobles said the special review, essentially an unscheduled audit or report, "clearly" falls within his office's "jurisdiction and responsibility."
In a letter sent to Nobles earlier Tuesday, Rep. Atkins had called for the Legislative Auditor to audit the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system over its payouts to departing employees, an amount that reached $32 million since 2009, according to a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation.
Of all payouts to state workers in the past three years, the KSTP analysis of state data showed 18 of the top 20 payouts - and all 15 of the top 15 - went to retiring MnSCU administrators. Those 15 took home payouts totaling more than $2.1 million, our investigation revealed, with the largest, $319,862, going to departing chancellor James McCormick.
Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights), quoted figures from the 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation in a letter sent Tuesday to Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles. "Thus, in light of the significant sums in question, I am now turning to the Office of the Legislative Auditor with a request that you examine the aforementioned use of student tuition and taxpayer dollars," Atkins wrote.
"The purpose of the audit," the letter continued, "would be to examine the compensation in question, ascertain its size and scope, the purpose it serves, and determine whether there has been appropriate oversight and transparency relative to these payouts." A message left with the Legislative Auditor on Tuesday morning has not yet been returned.
Atkins' call for an immediate hearing before the House Higher Education Committee, of which he is a member, was rebuffed on Monday by the committee's chairman, Rep. Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls). Nornes, in a phone call to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, said the issue of state worker payouts was not an "urgent" matter and did not "rise to the level of an emergency hearing." But Nornes said he would be open to holding a hearing in the 2012 Legislative session or in concert with a Senate committee hearing.
In the Senate, Sen. Mike Parry (R-Waseca), ordered hearings before the Subcommittee on Employee Relations that he chairs a day after the Nov. 20 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation aired
MnSCU spokeswoman Melinda Voss, in response to Atkins' audit request, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, "We understand there's going to be legislative discussion. All of our contracts were approved by the House and Senate and signed by the former governor."