Three MnDOT managers disciplined

ST. PAUL -- Fallout from former Transportation Department employee Sonia Morphew Pitt's termination continued Monday as three managers were punished for failing to properly supervise Pitt.

ST. PAUL -- Fallout from former Transportation Department employee Sonia Morphew Pitt's termination continued Monday as three managers were punished for failing to properly supervise Pitt.

Citing results of an independent review, the Department of Employee Relations suspended one MnDOT manager for three days without pay and reprimanded two others.

Pitt, of Red Wing, who led the agency's emergency response planning, was fired early last month after an investigation found she misused state resources. A subsequent report by the Minnesota legislative auditor alleged she cost the agency $26,000 in unauthorized expenses and personal leave reported as work time.

Pitt's activities came under scrutiny after she did not return to Minnesota from an East Coast work-related trip for 10 days after the Aug. 1 Minneapolis bridge collapse.

The disciplinary action announced Monday overshadowed another transportation development at the Capitol. Top MnDOT officials said they will have to delay $55 million of road and bridge projects because a legislative committee did not give them the spending authority they requested.


The latest in the Pitt case came with Employee Relations Commissioner Pat Anderson's release of a 32-page report concluding that a MnDOT supervisor failed to adequately review Pitt's expense documentation.

In a letter explaining his suspension, Anderson told Transportation Division Engineer Rick Arnebeck that he did not monitor Pitt's out-of-state travel and he "conducted only cursory reviews of Ms. Pitt's expense reports."

"Your lack of supervisory oversight attributed to the extremely damaging consequences that were inflicted upon the Department of Transportation and to a degree the image of all state employees which cannot be tolerated," Anderson wrote.

Steve Lund, a maintenance and security director, received a written reprimand from Anderson. Lund was faulted for not reviewing out-of-state travel authorizations approved before Pitt was under his supervision, but the review also found Lund was beginning to look into Pitt's expense reports when the agency audit was started.

Phone messages left with Arnebeck and Lund were not returned.

While the latest report focused on three upper-level MnDOT managers, Democratic lawmakers said blame also lies at the top of the agency.

"Carol Molnau should have been appropriately disciplined too (for) poor leadership," Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said of the transportation commissioner. Molnau, a Republican, also serves as the elected lieutenant governor.

The third MnDOT official cited in the report, division director Bob Winter, received an oral reprimand. Two former MnDOT employees declined to be interviewed for the investigation, the report says.


After Pitt was fired, Pawlenty requested the independent review of how she was supervised in her job overseeing five employees in a homeland security office within MnDOT.

Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said the governor "believes disciplinary action in this case is appropriate."

"MnDOT has taken steps to implement the recommendations of the legislative auditor to ensure better oversight," McClung said. "We will hold MnDOT accountable for making those improvements."

Molnau said her department is close to implementing all of the oversight changes it proposed in response to the legislative auditor's report last month. That includes more scrutiny of employee expense reports and use of state-issued mobile phones.

Meanwhile Monday, Molnau and her top assistants went before a legislative committee to request $85 million in spending authority. They said that is needed to continue building a new Interstate 35W bridge without disrupting other construction planned through mid-2008.

But the Democrat-controlled Transportation Continent Appropriation Group decided 7-1 that the agency could get by with $30 million in new spending authority until the panel meets again in January.

As a result, MnDOT officials said they will have to delay $55 million in road projects around the state from a list totaling $246 million. Tim Henkel, the agency's program division director, said projects are being planned several months before construction bids are taken.

"We have to look at the whole program," Henkel said after the hearing. "It's just not feasible for us to manage this on a month-to-month basis."


House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said lawmakers on the panel are trying to balance MnDOT's need to keep its construction schedule on track with their desire to leave major transportation spending decisions up to the full Legislature, which returns to work Feb. 12.

A visibly frustrated Molnau said the lawmakers' decision will "negatively impact the rest of our program."

"That will happen," she warned. "That's unfortunate because there's no winners in that."


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