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Legislative Audit Commission

Minutes

November 17, 2005

Members Present:

Representative Lyndon Carlson Senator David Hann
Representative Sondra Erickson Senator Warren Limmer
Representative Rick Hansen Senator James Metzen
Representative Ruth Johnson Senator Thomas Neuville
Representative Aaron Peterson Senator Ann Rest
Representative Connie Ruth       Senator Claire Robling
Representative Tim Wilkin  

Members Absent:

Representative Torrey Westrom Senator Richard Cohen
  Senator Sheila Kiscaden

Other Legislators Present:

Representative Mindy Greiling
Representative Sandra Peterson

The Legislative Audit Commission meeting was called to order by Senator Ann Rest, Chair, at 10:08 A.M. in Room 112 of the State Capitol.  The purpose of the meeting was two-fold:  1) to review the Program Evaluation report on School District Integration Revenue; and 2) discuss the request for a special review of the Minnesota Autism Center.

Senator Rest introduced Jim Nobles, Legislative Auditor.  Mr. Nobles gave an overview of the scope of the evaluation and the findings and recommendations contained in the School District Integration Revenue report.  He noted the purpose of the program is unclear and the Legislature needs to clarify it.

Mr. Nobles introduced Judy Randall, program evaluation project manager.  Ms. Randall thanked Senator Rest and her colleagues for their help with the report.  Ms. Randall reviewed the evaluation’s findings regarding the purpose of the program , districts’ various uses of the revenue , funding rates and formula , and summarized the report’s recommendations.  Mr. Nobles and Ms. Randall answered questions regarding the evaluation.

Senator Rest invited Department of Education (MDE) personnel to come forward, including Assistant Commissioner MaryAnn Nelson; the Director of the Division of School Choice & Innovation, Morgan Brown; and Program Finance Director, Dr. Tom Melcher.  Mr. Brown distributed a handout of frequently asked questions on the Minnesota Desegregation Rule and Integration Revenue Statute to all members.  Mr. Brown opened by saying the Commissioner asked him to let the LAC know that MDE supports all the recommendations made in the report and is happy to work with the Legislature to make any changes suggested by the OLA.  The agency representatives answered questions regarding the program.  Mr. Brown closed by expressing that MDE would like to work with the LAC before the 2006 Legislative Session to make a plan to present to the Legislature regarding the funding formula and clarity of the program.

Senator Rest thanked the Department of Education, Ms. Randall, and Mr. Nobles for their work on behalf of serving the State of Minnesota.

The focus of the meeting moved to a discussion on the Minnesota Autism Center.  Senator Rest acknowledged Jim Nobles and Claudia Gudvangen, Deputy Legislative Auditor.  A copy of a letter from Senator Kiscaden to Mr. Nobles, Senator Rest, and Representative Wilkin was distributed to all members.  The letter expressed Senator Kiscaden’s thoughts and concerns regarding the OLA doing a study of the Autism Center.  Mr. Nobles gave an overview of how the OLA assesses complaints to determine if an investigation should be done.

Mr. Nobles raised two issues regarding the OLA conducting an investigation of the Autism Center.  First, the Attorney General (AG) is already doing an investigation.  Mr. Nobles said he has already spoken to the AG about the OLA conducting an investigation, and the AG did not try to discourage the OLA from moving forward with it.  The AG said his office would cooperate with our investigation.  Second, Representative Wilkin was a member of the Board of Directors for the Autism Center in the past.  Mr. Nobles expressed his concerns of how this may be perceived as a conflict of interest.  Mr. Nobles suggested one approach is to monitor the AG’s investigation before moving forward.

Senator Rest expressed that she is not concerned about the perception issue; however, she is concerned about the time and effort needed to do an investigation when the AG is already conducting one. 

Mr. Nobles suggested that a broad overview of non-profits could be considered during the upcoming program evaluation topic selection process as a way to look into some of the problems that may be occurring at the Autism Center.  Senator Rest recognized and thanked Senator Robling for being the Chair of the Topic Selection Subcommittee for 2006.  Senator Robling took the opportunity to remind the LAC that she would be starting the process before the session starts this year so that OLA staff could get started as soon as possible.

Senator Neuville raised a concern about Attorney General Mike Hatch doing the investigation because of the sensitivity of the issues.  He also wondered if the LAC has the authority to pull the AG from an investigation and have the OLA conduct one instead.  Mr. Nobles explained that the LAC cannot tell the AG which investigations to pursue.  Senator Rest mentioned a concern had also been raised about DHS Commissioner Kevin Goodno conducting an investigation of this issue.

Representative Erickson suggested the OLA monitor the AG’s investigation before making any decisions and suggested a study of non-profits for topic selection. She will call an Ethics Committee meeting in the House to consider conflict of interest issues of House members. Representative Hansen inquired about staffing issues at the OLA in order to do this investigation.  Mr. Nobles explained the difference between staffing an investigation and staffing a scheduled program evaluation.

Senator Rest asked the commission members if they wanted to have a voice vote on whether or not the OLA should do an investigation on the Autism Center.  No motion was offered.  With no further opinions or discussion, the meeting was adjourned at 11:55 AM.

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Senator Ann H. Rest, Chair

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Shelly Watterud, Recording Secretary

Office of the Legislative Auditor ♦ Room 140, 658 Cedar St., St. Paul, MN 55155