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Iron Range agency, Walz under fire after Radinovich hiring

Gov. Tim Walz will require state agencies to post certain managerial job openings for 21 days, the administration said Thursday -- a response to a media report this week alleging crony hiring at the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabili...

Joe Radinovich, DFL candidate for the Minnesota Eighth Congressional District listens to Glen Cunningham of Duluth during an event at Clyde Iron Works. Radinovich started an 18-day/18-county listening tour in Duluth Tuesday evening. --- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com
Joe Radinovich speaks with a prospective voter during his 2018 campaign for Congress. Radinovich's hiring at the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation has come under fire for the way it was fast-tracked. file / News Tribune
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Gov. Tim Walz will require state agencies to post certain managerial job openings for 21 days, the administration said Thursday - a response to a media report this week alleging crony hiring at the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation.

"In an effort to further promote the Governor's commitment to seeking a world-class workforce, we will be instituting an Administration-wide policy requiring, rather than recommending, all classified managerial positions of this kind to be posted for at least 21 days," the governor's office said in its statement.

The IRRR hired politician Joe Radinovich in March after the Eveleth-based state agency, citing urgency, received permission from the state's Department of Management and Budget to post the opening for a single day.

The job amounts to a key managerial position, reporting directly to Commissioner Mark Phillips. Radinovich will earn $100,000 annually, according to data-requested documents shared with the News Tribune, and receive a state benefits package.

In addition to changing policy, the governor's office tried to distance itself from the report in a statement Thursday.

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"The Governor's Office was not involved in any decision-making related to the expedited hiring process and did not direct the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation or Minnesota Management and Budget to vary from ordinary hiring procedures," Walz spokesperson Teddy Tschann said in the prepared statement.

The Radinovich hiring drew criticism from Rep. Sandy Layman, R-Cohasset, who'd previously held the top spot at the IRRR as its commissioner, and is one of nine Range legislators on the IRRR board.

"I've been a defender of the agency for years, because the view from St. Paul can be a little jaded," Layman told the News Tribune. "Actions like this speak louder than words and support the worst images of an agency that has vast resources to do good work. But it needs to have the respect and trust of the public. Actions like this do damage."

Radinovich was the Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate in the 8th Congressional District election last November, losing to Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown. Radinovich declined to comment on the IRRR hiring process, telling the News Tribune he's not authorized to comment publicly on behalf of the agency.

The IRRR is a state agency created in 1941. It features roughly 60 employees and is designed to foster economic diversity and resiliency on the Iron Range and throughout Northeastern Minnesota, where the ups and downs of the mining industry can play havoc on the economy and residents' lives.

In its investigative report this week, the Timberjay alleged that Radinovich's hiring was preordained - with his name even appearing on a hand-written update of the IRRR organizational chart prior to the job opening being posted.

Phillips and Radinovich had worked together before at IRRR, and Phillips is reported in the Timberjay as saying, "I was openly talking about bringing him back on."

Phillips declined to discuss the Radinovich hiring, and the IRRR issued a statement responding to the Timberjay report.

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"Joe was hired through a competitive process," the IRRR said. "Two candidates interviewed. Joe was selected as the best candidate."

The Timberjay report went into detail about one other applicant, a female, who had prior IRRR experience and was passed over for the job following her interview. Layman said the female candidate had "far more relevant experience and education than Radinovich brings to the job."

Notably, the job description reviewed by the News Tribune features no minimum education requirements for a role officially titled "state program administrator manager senior." Radinovich attended Macalester College but does not have a post-secondary degree.

Prior to bringing Radinovich on board, Phillips had appointed Jason Metsa to the agency as its deputy commissioner. Both Metsa and Radinovich were considered for the deputy commissioner post, and both are former Iron Range state legislators. Metsa lost to Radinovich in the 8th District DFL primary last August. In its coverage of the Radinovich hiring, the Timberjay referred to the IRRR as "a revolving door of political patronage for Iron Range DFLers."

In emails with the Management and Budget office, the IRRR cited "an urgent need" to fill the position by March 4. The IRRR made a request for a 24-hour posting period Feb. 14, and it was approved five days later. Radinovich was hired in March and started work March 13.

In making the request to the Management and Budget office to fast-track the hiring, an IRRR email said it was "required in order to meet the expectations of selection and onboarding as expressed by the (MN) Governor's office."

The IRRR said in an email to the Management and Budget office that without fast-tracking the job, it "would not be able to fully comply with the direction and expectation of the (MN) Governor's office."

But there was never an executive order from Walz to fill leadership positions on any sort of urgent timeline, and the governor's spokesperson, Tschann, said only the IRRR knows what it meant by its urgency.

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"We were not involved in this at all," Tschann said.

The Department of Management and Budget did not respond to a News Tribune inquiry.

Throughout his campaign and term so far, Walz has hung his hat on diverse hiring. In its statement Thursday, the Governor's Office said, "Over two thirds, 67 percent, of the Governor's staff is female and nearly half, 47 percent, of the Governor's appointees to boards and commissions are people of color or indigenous Minnesotans."

Related Topics: EVELETH
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