Republicans criticize severance paid to political appointees

Published 10:12 am Wednesday, September 21, 2016

ST. PAUL — Minnesota Republicans are criticizing Gov. Mark Dayton for authorizing nearly $80,000 in severance payments to three top officials who resigned from his administration.

Minnesota Public Radio News reports that Dayton provided the severance packages to former Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioners Mark Phillips and Katie Clark Sieben, as well as Director of Higher Education Services Sheila Wright. Each of these officials’ severance packages equaled approximately three months of their salary.

“It looks and smells fishy,” said Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. “We think the governor should explain why he’s doing this. If there were circumstances that required that, I think he should disclose that.”

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Dayton’s administration contends the payments were appropriate and legal. But the radio report said it was unclear why Sieben, Phillips and Wright received severance packages while eight other commissioners who resigned from Dayton’s administration didn’t receive severance pay.

Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said she’s never heard of political appointees receiving severance, and it violates taxpayer trust.

“They are not expecting their tax dollars to be a buyout for you,” Anderson said. “They’re expecting that money to go to the programming that is part of that agency. And my question is ‘Where did this money come from?’”

In a statement, Linden Zakula, Dayton’s chief of staff, said the severances were authorized under state law, and in the Democratic governor’s judgment, “the circumstances justified those severances.”

“The Governor acted well within his statutory authority. The Governor believes governors should make executive decisions, and legislators should make legislative decisions,” Zakula said.

State finance officials say the severance payouts were managed through existing department budgets.

Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans said state law allows Dayton to authorize severance payouts. Anderson said the law cited was designed to cap severance pay for public employees, not authorize it.

“In these particular cases, the governor made a decision to use his discretion to make these payments and you’d have to talk to him to get those reasons,” Frans said.

Anderson said she will push to limit severance packages for political appointees in the next legislative session.