Minnesota Departments of Health, Public Safety, and Education to get new commissioners

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Some of the state leaders who’ve drawn the most criticism over the past few years will soon be replaced.

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan on Wednesday announced cabinet appointments and vacancies for their second term.

Notably, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, Commissioner of Public Safety John Harrington, Education Commissioner Heather Mueller, and Commissioner of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Mark Phillips have chosen to not seek reappointment, the governor’s office says. In addition to those vacancies, the governor’s office is also seeking applicants for the Department of Revenue and the Department of Labor and Industry, which both have interim commissioners after the appointed commissioners left earlier this year.

Malcolm was thrust into the state spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic. As she led MDH through testing, vaccine rollouts and expansions to the system overseeing long-term care facilities, she also was criticized by some for the state’s handling of the pandemic, and some Republican lawmakers even threatened to remove her from her position.

Malcolm also served as MDH commissioner from 1999 to 2003 before being reappointed by former Gov. Mark Dayton in 2018 and Walz the following year. Previously, she’s also been an adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, the CEO of the Courage Center, president of the Courage Kenny Foundation and vice president of public affairs and philanthropy at Allina Health.

FILE – MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm speaks during a press conference on Dec. 14, 2021. (KSTP-TV)

“Working with Governor Walz and his team to help Minnesota navigate the COVID-19 pandemic was the most challenging and meaningful work I’ve done in my career, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to serve,” Malcolm said in a statement. “Public health at its best has the power to save lives and lift up communities, and this isn’t the work of any one person or any one organization. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the thousands of unsung public health heroes in federal, state, and local health departments who are building a better, healthier future for their neighbors and their communities. I am so proud to have done this work with my colleagues at the Minnesota Department of Health and our local public health partners, as well as our health care systems and community organizations, over the course of my career. I know they will continue the vital work of protecting, maintaining, and improving the health of all Minnesotans.”

Mueller also became a focal point of critics during the pandemic as the state shifted to distance learning and hybrid models. After dozens of people were federally charged in the massive Feeding Our Future fraud scheme, she again became a point of criticism and some Republican lawmakers called for her to resign.

Before her appointment, Mueller was the education department’s senior director of teaching and learning, the assistant commissioner and the deputy commissioner. She also previously worked for Mankato Area Public Schools, where Walz also previously taught.

“I am honored and humbled to have been asked to serve alongside the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, particularly in such a tumultuous time for our public schools. From launching Due North to passing historic investments in public education, to helping our schools navigate a global pandemic, I’m grateful for it all and proud of the work we did together,” Mueller said. “As this term comes to an end, I feel like this is the perfect opportunity for me to close this chapter of my life.”

FILE – MDE Commissioner Heather Mueller talks during a press conference on Oct. 27, 2021. (KSTP-TV)

Harrington, meanwhile, has been in the spotlight from the state’s riot response following George Floyd’s death and the rise of violent crime in the Twin Cities this year. He was previously the chief of police for Metro Transit and St. Paul Police, and has spent 35 years in law enforcement. He also served as a state senator from 2010 to 2012 and has served as a faculty member for Metropolitan State, St. Mary’s and the University of St. Thomas.

“I thank Governor Walz for giving me the opportunity to serve as the 14th Commissioner of Public Safety and the opportunity to not only be his public safety and homeland security policy advisor, but to also be the leader of this magnificent department,” Harrington said. “I also thank all the members of the department – whether they work in victims’ services, emergency service, law enforcement, or Driver and Vehicle Services, they are the true backbone of the department that allows all the work to be done.”

FILE – DPS Commissioner John Harrington talks during a press conference on Feb. 23, 2021. (KSTP-TV)

Phillips led IRRR under Dayton and Walz and has spent more than 35 years in business, community and workforce development.

“It has been my privilege and honor to serve northeastern Minnesota as a representative of the Walz-Flanagan Administration,” Phillips said. “Whether expanding child care, increasing broadband access, improving downtowns, strengthening education, or enhancing outdoor recreation, I’m proud of the work we’ve done to make the region stronger and better positioned for the future.”

Those four will all continue serving through the end of the year.

Walz also reappointed the other members of his cabinet, which includes Administration Commissioner Alice Roberts-Davis, Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen, Commerce Commissioner Grace Arnold, Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell, Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove, Higher Education Commissioner Dennis Olson, Housing Commissioner Jennifer Leimaile Ho, Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero, Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead, Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter, Information Technology Services Commissioner Tarek Tomes, Mediation Services Commissioner Johnny Villarreal, Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen, Pollution Control Commissioner Katrina Kessler, Department of Transportation Commissioner Nancy Daubenberger and Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Herke.

Anyone wishing to apply can contact gov.appointments@state.mn.us to request an application, which is then due by 4 p.m. on Nov. 30.