Pitt: Mpls bridge collapse 'wasn't my catastrophe'

Sonia Morphew Pitt
Sonia Morphew Pitt was fired from her position as director of homeland security planning at MnDOT, after failing to return to the state in the aftermath of the 35W bridge collapse. An audit also questioned whether she spent state money for personal expenses.
Photo courtesy of MnDOT

(AP) - The fired Minnesota emergency manager who stayed out of state for several days after the Minneapolis bridge collapse told a Twin Cities television station: "it wasn't my catastrophe."

In an interview with KMSP-TV, Sonia Pitt said she was doing her job from Washington, D.C., after the bridge collapsed last year, and that she was working "in excess of 12 hours a day, every day, including weekend days."

Pitt had been the Minnesota Department of Transportation's director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

She had been in Boston, taking a leadership course at Harvard, and instead of returning to Minnesota she stuck to her original plan to go to Washington, D.C. The state says it never approved that leg of the trip.

After an investigation, MnDOT found that she had committed "serious employee misconduct" by misusing state resources and putting her personal life ahead of her professional obligations.

The agency fired Pitt last November, and an arbitrator upheld her firing.

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But Pitt claimed she was doing her job from Washington, acting as a liaison between the state and federal agencies.

When asked if there was a part of her that wanted to return to Minnesota, a part of her that said "these are my people, this is my catastrophe," Pitt responded: "It wasn't my catastrophe. The Hennepin County Sheriff's office was in charge until Aug. 11."

Pitt said MnDOT told her not to talk to the media, but then "sold me out and used me as a scapegoat for what transpired on the I-35W bridge and thereafter."

MnDOT did not comment directly to KMSP on what Pitt said in the story, but said the agency has tightened up its rules on employee travel.

Pitt told KMSP that she is the subject of comments when she's out in public, and that she has "no prospects." She said she thought she was starting over, moving "half a country away."

Pitt got a job with the Transportation Security Administration, but was fired in July, following a Star Tribune story about her hiring.

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Information from: KMSP-TV, http://www.kmsp.tv

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)