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Lawmakers blast state officials over MNLARS report

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State lawmakers blasted a state agency leader Tuesday for not telling them about a report that blamed a former Minnesota IT Services executive for the problems in rolling out a new vehicle licensing system.

The report, which MPR News first reported on last week, was the focus of a hearing held jointly by two Minnesota House committees. It focused on the performance of Paul Meekin, who held the title of chief business technology officer, blaming him for failing to address known defects prior to the MNLARS launch last summer.

During the hearing, Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, told IT Services Commissioner Johanna Clyborne that he was concerned that the report surfaced in the media, and he didn't hear about it from her agency.

"If it sounds like evasiveness and looks like evasiveness, it may be evasiveness. I'm just wondering when we were ever going to hear about this report from you, because had it not been for the press, I don't believe we would have known," Nash said.

Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, the chair of the state government finance committee, said she too was left out of the loop.

"MNIT is actually under the state government finance purview, and yet you never bothered to call."

Clyborne, who's only been on the job for two months, defended her agency's handling of the report. Clyborne said she told a key lawmaker that the report was completed. But she said no one in the Legislature asked for it.

"It would be up to the body to request that information. I would be violating the laws that were put in place by this Legislature had I willy-nilly handed out that information, because it deals with an employee," Clyborne said.

Lawmakers passed a measure last month to provide $10 million for MNLARS repairs. The total cost of the decade-long project is now over $100 million. The state agencies in charge of MNLARS are seeking another $33 million yet this session to make long-term improvements to the system. 

Clyborne told lawmakers that she was disappointed by the investigator's findings. But she assured them that big changes are underway to improve the decision-making structure and testing requirements related to MNLARS. Both areas were identified in the report as significant problems.

Clyborne said it is unacceptable for a project launch to fail due to "a lack of leadership and the ignoring of IT principles."

Clyborne said she would not and could not speak specifically about the performance of Meekin, whom she terminated last month.

But in an unexpected twist, Meekin showed up for the hearing and read a brief statement. Meekin told lawmakers that he disagreed with the allegations made against him in the report.

He also claimed the premise of the investigation was "fundamentally misguided," because it focused only on him.

"We will continue to see very damaging impacts to the people of Minnesota, if the Legislature and governor don't dig deep into the many roots of the many problems of state IT," he said.