In a report covering the final two years of Mary Kiffmeyer's second term, auditors said her staff didn't get proper approval for various personnel transactions.
Sixteen new hires were paid up to $11 more per hour than they were entitled. Another was promoted without prior authorization from the Department of Employee Relations and ended up making $11,000 more than his job's rate.
Kiffmeyer, a Republican, lost her re-election bid to Democrat Mark Ritchie, who took over the office responsible for overseeing elections and business registrations in January.
In a letter responding to the audit, Ritchie said the prior administration believed it retained power over its pay rates. He said he has asked for the Department of Employee Relations to review those rate decisions before he takes "appropriate actions."
Kent Kaiser, a Ritchie spokesman who also worked under Kiffmeyer, referred questions to the department.
“We relied upon it, we acted upon it, not knowing it was wrong information. If we had known we needed to do something differently, we would have done so.”Former Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer
Employee Relations Commissioner Patricia Anderson said Friday that her department is trying to determine how to recover the money, a process made harder by the fact that some of the workers are no longer on the state payroll. Only six are still employed by the Secretary of State's office.
"It's significant dollars," Anderson said. She added that some of the workers probably would have received authorization for the extra pay had the requests been put through the right channels. "For some it was justified and for some it was not."
Anderson said Ritchie has followed proper procedures of submitting pay rate assignments to her department.
It's not clear when the hires or the promotions in question were made. The audit didn't specify that information or give the names of the employees.
Kiffmeyer said she acted upon advice from the office's human resources director, whom she held over from the administration that preceded hers.
"We relied upon it, we acted upon it, not knowing it was wrong information," Kiffmeyer said. "If we had known we needed to do something differently, we would have done so."
In December, the Department of Employee Relations halted a handful of personnel moves by the outgoing secretary of state's administration designed to provide more job protection to certain workers.
"As your office is in a state of transition and it is only a few short weeks before a new administration takes over, making HR decisions that have the impact of a long-term employment commitment is not permissible," read a memo from the department to Kiffmeyer and a top aide.
The memo about the job classifications was not part of Friday's audit.
The audit also said Kiffmeyer was overpaid for mileage reimbursements, including some where the public purpose of the travel wasn't clear. The report doesn't say how much was improperly paid out.
Kiffmeyer said a staff member who filled out that form made calculation errors by counting miles driven from home to various events instead of from the secretary's St. Paul office. She said she will repay any overages and clarify the travel which auditors deemed unclear.