Bill targets political appointee severance

A committee in the Minnesota House approved a bill Wednesday that targets Gov. Mark Dayton’s use of severance for political appointees and other highly paid state workers. The bill’s chief backer said it was needed after she learned Dayton quietly paid severance to three commissioners.

Republicans in the Legislature are taking the action after American Public Media’s investigative unit, APM Reports, revealed in September that Dayton paid nearly $80,000 in severance to three appointees who resigned from their positions. Dayton has maintained that the practice is legal, but Republicans in the Legislature disagree.

Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said she doesn’t believe Dayton had the legal authority to pay the severance. Her bill would limit severance to the lesser of six months pay or an amount that is equal to 35 percent of an employee’s unused sick time, she said. Anderson said she heard from several constituents who were unhappy that political appointees were receiving severance.

“They just do not believe that political appointees should be receiving a golden parachute before they leave office,” she said.

The House Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee approved the measure on a divided voice vote. The only member to vote against it was Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park. He said he opposes it because it could unfairly target highly paid state employees who aren’t appointed by the governor. Nelson said doctors working at state-run hospitals and administrative law judges could be harmed by the bill.

“It could effect a lot more people than just the commissioners than I think it originally was aimed at.”

No one in Dayton’s cabinet testified on the bill. Myron Frans, a Dayton appointee who runs Minnesota Management and Budget, argued in September that state law allows a governor to provide highly compensated employees who earn 60 percent or more of the governor’s salary a severance of up to six months pay.

In Dayton’s case, he authorized three months severance for each of this three commissioners. The largest payout was to Katie Clark Sieben, who served as Employment and Economic Development Commissioner from October 2012 through April 2016.  State records show Sieben received $33,750 in severance on top of $10,490 in unused vacation and sick time.

Anderson says her bill would have limited Sieben’s severance to roughly $3,500.

The bill has several more committee hearings before it’s considered by the full House.