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Walz chooses Lutheran Social Service exec to lead Human Services agency

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Jodi Harpstead
Gov. Tim Walz announced Monday that Jodi Harpstead (center), President and CEO of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, will become the next Commissioner of the Department of Human Services.
Briana Bierschbach | MPR News

Updated: Aug. 13, 9:11 a.m. | Posted: Aug. 12, 9:11 a.m.

Gov. Tim Walz on Monday named Jodi Harpstead, a longtime executive at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, to lead the beleaguered Department of Human Services, taking on a role that became vacant after the previous commissioner unexpectedly resigned last month.

Walz announced the appointment one day ahead of a hearing called by Senate Republicans to dig into ongoing turmoil in the massive agency, including staff turnover and the agency’s handling of internal investigations and alleged fraud and misspending.

“It is my honor to appoint a Commissioner of Human Services with broad private and non-profit experience, and a proven record of strong, compassionate leadership,” Walz said. “As CEO of Lutheran Social Service, Jodi Harpstead has led an organization that touches lives in every corner of our state, and I look forward to her bringing that vision and expertise to DHS.”

Jodi Harpstead talks with MPR News host Phil Picardi on Morning Edition Tuesday, Aug. 13.
by MPR

Harpstead has been chief executive officer of the charity since 2011 and also oversees the management of the Children’s Home Society of Minnesota, which works with Lutheran Social Service to provide adoption services to families. The organization partners with government, including the Department of Human Services, to provide assistance to families and individuals in need.

Before joining the charity in 2004, Harpstead spent 23 years with medical device manufacturer Medtronic, where she was president of global marketing.

“I am honored to be given the opportunity to serve as the commissioner of the Department of Human Services. I know the people of the DHS to be the same dedicated, caring, and competent people I have worked with at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota,” said Harpstead.

In January, Walz appointed former state Sen. Tony Lourey to head the agency, but Lourey left in July following the resignations of two top administrators in the department. Lourey’s chief of staff also resigned last month. The two deputies then rescinded their resignations. Former state budget commissioner Pam Wheelock has been running the agency in the interim since Lourey left.

Sen. Jim Abeler, R- Anoka, who chairs the human services reform committee, said Harpstead is a good choice and brings a remarkable level of experience. But Abeler is critical of how Walz handled the appointment. He said the governor did a poor job communicating with lawmakers and others about the pick.

“It’s been handled like a political, above-down kind of a process, almost autocratic about just doing what they’re going to do and then we will defend it with talking points."