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Mum is the word for the employees at the WRTC

When it comes to getting information about what's happening with human services programs and the jobs held by longtime local employees at the Willmar Regional Treatment Center, one has to go to St. Paul.

Local employees and administrators are not allowed to talk to the media on state time.

For the story on the utilities transition and the story on job cuts and transfers, no one at the Willmar Regional Treatment Center was allowed to answer questions about current and future programs and jobs on the campus. All the information came from Mike Tessneer, chief executive officer for Minnesota State Operated Services, which is the part of the Department of Human Services that oversees programs for people with disabilities.

Several employees at the treatment center expressed a desire to talk about losing their jobs and the anxiety they have about finding new jobs, but they were concerned about being reprimanded for speaking to the press if they did so.

Patrice Vick, communications director with the Minnesota Human Services Department, said their media policy states that only certain people, who understand the entire picture of the changes at the treatment centers, can represent the department when speaking to the press.

She said employees can say what they want on their own time.

That was not enough to persuade employees to speak to the Tribune. At least one said if employees are forbidden from talking to the press on state time, they won't talk to the press on personal time out of fear that they will be penalized when it comes to being offered a different job in the state system.

Geri Dale, secretary of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 701, said she was not aware of employees being concerned about being reprimanded for talking to the press. She said that had not been brought to the attention of the union.

Tessneer said he understands that it may be "devastating" for people who will be losing their jobs at the Willmar treatment center and that they're "going to have to struggle" with the transition.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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