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Lourey out as Walz's Human Services commissioner

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Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey has resigned just six months after being appointed.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News 2013

Updated 12:30 p.m. | Posted 9:50 a.m.

Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey has resigned, just days after the announced departures of two of his key deputies.

DFL Gov. Tim Walz announced Lourey's exit Monday as he named former state finance chief Pam Wheelock as the department's acting commissioner. There was no explanation offered for Lourey's exit or for his deputies stepping down.

By late Monday morning, however, Walz confirmed to reporters that the two deputy commissioners had met with the governor's chief of staff and expressed concerns about the direction of the department, and resigned over those concerns.

The department has been under fire over several issues in recent months, including questions of fraud in the state's Child Care Assistance Program and the aftermath of a phishing scheme that potentially exposed the personal information of several thousand people.

Walz said Human Services is a complex agency and Lourey had the "self awareness" to conclude it was best to have someone else manage the agency going forward. They met face to face Sunday night, which is when Walz first heard he was going to resign. 

Walz said he did not fire Lourey, a former state senator who took over as commissioner in January with the new Walz administration. The DFL lost that key Senate seat to Republicans in a special election in February.

The churn at the top of the Human Services department shows "there's a huge culture issue that needs to be addressed" at the agency, said state Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake.

Benson, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee, said she wants to see the governor get input from the private sector to help get Human Services on track rather than relying on the same "cast of characters" in state government.

In his resignation letter to Walz released by the governor's office, Lourey said, "I believe a new leader is necessary to best execute your vision for human services and continue the critical work of improving the health of Minnesotans across the state."

While his deputies are transitioning out, Lourey's resignation is effective at the end of Monday. Wheelock plans to meet with senior DHS leadership Monday afternoon and take over the department officially on Tuesday.

"Change is going to happen. This will not be the last time this happens. I think over the term of a governor it's not all that unusual," Walz said. "The important thing is that we have the continuity of leadership, that we have things in place."