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Legislative Audit Commission

Minutes

March 28, 2008

Members Present:

Representative Michael Beard Senator Don Betzold
Representative Sondra Erickson Senator Joe Gimse
Representative Rick Hansen Senator David Hann
Representative Aaron Peterson Senator James Metzen
Representative Connie Ruth Senator Ann Rest
Representative Steve Simon Senator Claire Robling

The Legislative Audit Commission meeting was called to order by Representative Rick Hansen, Chair, at 9:33 a.m.  Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles thanked Senator Rest and the other members of the Topic Selection Subcommittee for their work to narrow the original 64 possible program evaluation topics down to the current list being presented to the commission.  Mr. Nobles named each of the seven evaluation topics recommended by the subcommittee, noting that five would begin immediately and two would be completed at a later date.  Senator Rest said that the subcommittee had wanted to choose an education topic but had been undecided between Q-Comp and Standardized Student Testing; the members had decided to bring that decision to the full commission.  Representative Erickson moved to choose Q-Comp.  Senator Rest seconded the motion. 

In response to a question from Representative Hansen regarding the OLA’s resources, Mr. Nobles explained that the OLA has 14 evaluators in the Program Evaluation Division.  Of the 14, only 6 are project managers and each evaluation needs a project manager to oversee the progress as well as experienced evaluators to conduct the work.  The office also has the ability to hire temporary evaluators; however, they generally need supervision and cannot conduct projects on their own.  Therefore, the OLA is limited in how many projects it can conduct. 

Representative Hansen noted a quorum was present.  He also introduced the new member of the commission, Senator Joe Gimse.  Senator Gimse said that he was excited to be on the commission and was looking forward to his new responsibilities as a member.

Senator Rest made the motion for these five topics to begin immediately:

MnSCU Occupational Programs
Personal Care Attendant Program
Q-Comp (Alternative Teacher Compensation)
Ethanol Subsidies
MINNCOR (Prison Industries Program)

The motion included these two topics for completion at a later date:

E-Verify (Employment Eligibility Verification Program)
Capitol Complex Security

The motion prevailed.

The meeting turned to the next item on the agenda regarding allegations involving the Attorney General’s Office (AGO).  Mr. Nobles explained that the OLA does have jurisdiction over the AGO and has, in fact, done special reviews of the office in the past:  Settlement with American Bankers Insurance, May 2003; Health Care Reform Booklet, April 2005; and Alleged Threat by the Attorney General to Cancel the State Contract with Dorsey & Whitney Law Firm, October 2005.  Mr. Nobles quoted Minnesota Statutes 2007, 3.971, subd. 6, which gives the legislative auditor authority to investigate allegations of noncompliance.  He also noted subd. 4 of the same statute, which gives the commission the ability to assign his duties.  Mr. Nobles said he had determined that it was not clear that there was sufficient evidence of a problem to warrant OLA initiating an investigation of the AGO.  However, in light of the recent news articles about the AGO, Representative Hansen asked that the issue be discussed at the commission meeting. 

There was a long discussion among the members of the commission, with the strongest recommendation for a special review coming from Representative Simon.  Representative Simon listed the allegations that have been mentioned in the media recently, including intimidation tactics, coercion, and retribution from the Attorney General herself.

Representative Simon moved to authorize Mr. Nobles to begin a special investigation of the AGO.  Senator Rest said that she thought a “fishing expedition” would not be appropriate.  Representative Simon agreed; he said that the commission should be very precise as to what the scope should be on this special review.  Representative Simon said that OLA should not investigate issues associated with whether staff at the AG’s Office should join or form a union.  He asked Mr. Nobles to give his opinion of what he would suggest be included in the review.  Mr. Nobles said he could not give an opinion of exactly what a review would entail.  He said there would have to be an initial inquiry to determine what the review would include, but it would definitely exclude labor, personality, and management issues.  It would, however, cover issues of impropriety, illegality, or unethical wrongdoing.  Mr. Nobles said that some preliminary inquiry—which is a normal part of the OLA’s process—would be necessary to determine a clear statement of what the issues are and the credibility of the allegations.

Senator Rest expressed her uneasiness with the commission voting to authorize Mr. Nobles to conduct a preliminary inquiry based on the allegations since they are so sensitive.  She suggested that possibly Mr. Nobles could take the discussions from today’s meeting and make his own decision whether or not to begin a special review.  Mr. Nobles said that because this has been an unfolding issue and that some of the issues have just come forth in the last few days, he indeed could make the decision to move forward on his own to do the investigation without a formal motion.  Representative Simon withdrew his initial motion authorizing Mr. Nobles to begin an investigation of the AG’s Office.  Mr. Nobles said that in light of the decision of the commission to not formally authorize a special review, he would like the Attorney General to understand that this in no way diminishes the OLA’s authority.  Senator Rest confirmed that this was true. 

With no further discussion or comments, the meeting was adjourned at 11:30 a.m.

_______________________________________
Representative Rick Hansen, Chair

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Shelly Watterud, Recording Secretary

 

Mentioned

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