Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey abruptly resigned Monday, making him the third top DHS official to step down in just a few short days.
“I believe a new leader is necessary to best execute your vision for human services and continue the critical work of improving the health of Minnesotans across the state,” Lourey wrote in his resignation letter sent to Gov. Tim Walz, according to The Star Tribune.
Lourey’s sudden resignation is just the latest news from a department that has been marked by turmoil and controversy in recent months. As The Minnesota Sun reported, both Chuck Johnson and Claire Wilson, Lourey’s immediate subordinates, announced their resignations Friday.
Meanwhile, Inspector General Carolyn Ham, who’s tasked with investigating fraud in DHS programs, has been on paid “investigative leave” since March. She’s been paid $42,000 since her leave first began, and The Minnesota Sun learned Sunday that the investigation into her conduct has yet to begin.
She was placed on leave after an Office of the Legislative Auditor report confirmed that millions of dollars in government payments went to fraudulent child care centers under the state’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP).
Republican legislators said they were alarmed by Lourey’s departure during a Monday press conference.
“Leadership is top down, my friends. The chaos at DHS reflects a lack of focus by Gov. Walz in assuring that Minnesota’s disabled, elderly, and poor are taken care of and tax dollars are being used appropriately,” said State Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria), calling DHS a “dumpster fire.”
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) said it’s time for Minnesotans to know what’s going on at DHS.
“We’re calling for more transparency. We want to know exactly what’s going on at DHS,” he said, labeling the controversy “mismanagement of the highest level.”
“Frankly, it’s too early in the Walz administration to have a scandal of this size,” Daudt continued, noting that funding for DHS is the “second largest piece of the state budget.”
“This is a big deal, and it impacts about 20 percent of Minnesotans who rely on DHS for services. We know that there is fraud at DHS, everyone knows that. It’s not about whether or not there is fraud at DHS, it’s about how much is there,” he concluded, saying if Gov. Walz “does nothing to fix the fraud, he becomes part of the fraud.”
Gov. Walz released a brief statement Monday and announced that Pam Wheelock, former director of planning and economic development under Gov. Jesse Ventura, will take over as acting commissioner of DHS.
“I would like to thank Tony Lourey for his dedicated service to the state of Minnesota as the Commissioner of the Department of Human Services,” Walz said. “Tony is passionate about improving the health care of Minnesotans, and I am proud of what we accomplished together this legislative session.”
Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan said Walz “needs to step up, take control of his administration, and increase transparency to the Minnesotans he represents.”
“After Inspector General Carolyn Ham’s departure from Minnesota’s Department of Human Services due to widespread fraud, we were led to expect a renewed focus on seeking out and eradicating fraud and wasteful spending,” she said. “Instead, we learned the child care fraud investigation has yet to begin and have witnessed the resignation of three top officials in the past week, culminating with DHS Commissioner (of only six months) Tony Lourey.”
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