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Walz names Jodi Harpstead as new DHS commissioner

Updated: August 12, 2019 06:15 PM

On Monday, Gov. Tim Walz announced Jodi Harpstead as Minnesota's next Department of Human Services commissioner.

Harpstead previously served as chief executive officer at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. Prior to that, she was leader of management operations at Children's Home Society of Minnesota. 

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Her background also includes 23 years at Medtronic. Walz highlighted Harpstead's business credentials as well as her nonprofit work in announcing the appointment.

"I am honored to be given the opportunity to serve as the Commissioner of the Department of Human Services," Harpstead said in a statement. "I know the people of the DHS to be the same dedicated, caring, and competent people I have worked with at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota ... I am eager to see how my private sector skills can be useful in working with the dedicated people of the Department of Human Services to support people living full lives in communities across Minnesota."

Harpstead is expected to assume her new role Sept. 3.

Walz announced his pick amid turmoil at the DHS.

Former commissioner Tony Lourey resigned last month, just six months after being appointed.

Lourey out as Walz's Department of Human Services commissioner

Around the same time, two deputy commissioners quit but rescinded their resignations after Lourey's announcement.

DHS deputy commissioners rescind resignations after acting commissioner named

Harpstead did not directly address any specific controversy at DHS, but she acknowledged the intense scrutiny the agency is facing.

"Every time we get a chance to talk about what’s going on in the department and what can be done better, we learn something more that’s helping me to come into a position pretty well versed in what the issues are what needs to be done," Harpstead said.

Tuesday, a Minnesota Senate committee will conduct a joint hearing to look into various concerns within the DHS.

House Minority Leader, Republican Kurt Daudt, issued the following statement in regards to the new DHS commissioner: 

"I'm pleased a permanent leader has been put in place at the Department of Human Services who can dig in and work on fixing the culture and problems that have come to light over the past few months. Moving forward, I am hopeful Commissioner Harpstead will join legislators as we work to find and eliminate any waste, fraud and abuse in our public programs."

State Senator Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) described Harpstead as "trusted." He praised her appointment as commissioner, but did not hold back in his criticism of DHS.

"Jodi Harpstead is a very good choice for a commissioner. She's walking into an agency with very deep problems," Abeler said. "Whistleblowers are mistreated. People who call out concerns in their department are let go. They're walked to the door. 'There's nothing to see here, we don't need the help.' That's the biggest problem."

The Governor told reporters Harpstead will not attend Tuesday's Senate committee hearing. Interim Commissioner Pam Wheelock is expected to address lawmakers' questions, but she downplayed concerns about turmoil at DHS on Monday.

"Does the agency have issues? Of course it does. It's a 19 billion dollar budget with 6,700 employees. There will always be issues," Wheelock said. "I think the use of the terminology of 'chaos' and 'turmoil' is misplaced and it's time for all of us to move on."

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