By John Gessner on May 23, 2012 at 3:56 pm
State Rep. Pam Myhra of Burnsville may have faced a tougher choice than most legislators when voting on the Minnesota Vikings stadium deal earlier this month.
“Before I went into session this year, my mom said, ‘Pam, build a Vikings stadium,’ ” said the first-term Republican, who represents District 40A. “ ‘You know how much your dad loved the Vikings.’ ”
In the end, Myhra voted against the stadium deal, which relies first on tax revenue from expanded charitable gambling (electronic pulltabs and bingo) to fund the state’s share of the $975 million stadium.
Myhra said she stuck to her 2010 campaign pledge not to use money from the state’s general fund — including charitable gambling taxes — to fund a stadium.
“My dad loved the Vikings,” said Myhra, whose father died of cancer last August, “but he also taught me to be a woman of integrity and to keep my word.”
Myhra had plenty of company. A majority of Republicans, who control both the House and Senate, voted against the stadium in both chambers. Among legislators in the all-Republican, south-of-the-river delegation, only Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington voted for the stadium, the signature issue of the recently completed 2012 legislative session.
“First off, there’s gambling,” said Sen. Dan Hall of Burnsville, a first-termer representing District 40. “There’s what we call the 3-to-1 rule with gambling. For every dollar that a government makes, you lose 3 dollars in the ills that it brings to your society. … I’m not in favor of an expansion of gambling.”
The stadium passed on the strength of majority DFL votes in both houses. Hall said he’s received “a lot of kudos from a lot of Minnesotans” for his stand against the bill.
“I was really surprised that the Vikings (issue) brings out as much passion as it does,” said Hall, who is seeking re-election in the newly drawn Senate District 56. “You’d think the marriage amendment, pro-life issues — they certainly bring out passion. But I certainly saw another view that I’d not expected. I got a lot of mail to keep the Vikings, to vote ‘yes.’ Most of that was outside my district.”
Response to Chance controversy
Myhra and Hall both chief-sponsored legislation aimed at expanding disclosure of information behind public-employee buyout deals.
They were responding to the Tania Chance controversy in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191. The district paid its former human resources director nearly $255,000 in a settlement agreement under which she left the district with 18 months left on her contract.
At first, the district, on the advice of its attorney, concealed parts of the buyout agreement showing that Chance had initiated charges with state agencies against the district and Superintendent Randy Clegg. The district sought an opinion from the state Department of Administration on whether it had properly concealed that information under data-privacy law.
It hadn’t, the department said in April, weeks after many residents first expressed outrage.
“I got a lot of emails, and there was a lot of outcry at the School Board,” said Myhra, who is seeking re-election in the newly drawn House District 56A.
Myhra said she didn’t get everything she’d sought in disclosure requirements for settlement agreements and agreements involving more than $10,000 of public money, which by law already required disclosure of “specific reasons.”
The biggest change shepherded by Myhra and Hall, both said, is an expansion of the public officials to whom the language explicitly applies. It now includes not only high state positions, but also a number of management positions in cities with more than 7,500 people, counties with more than 5,000 and school districts.
“There’s more that we could do, but it is a huge improvement over what we had before,” Myhra said, calling the expanded definition of public official “90 percent of the reform.”
“It was the kind of bill that nobody liked and everybody agreed to,” Hall said, noting everyone from school board and school principals associations to the Minnesota Newspaper Association had their say.
“How far do you go in transparency without hurting people? We aren’t here to hurt people, but we are here to represent the public’s interest in payouts.”
Both lawmakers voted against a $496 million bonding bill signed by Gov. Mark Dayton.
Myhra said she voted for a $221 million Capitol building restoration bill and a general $280 bonding bill as a member of the House Capital Investment Committee.
The final bonding bill included only $44 million for the Capitol project and “just got a little too fat, so I voted ‘no,’ ” Myhra said.
“It was too big,” Hall said of the final bill.
Myhra, who serves on the House education and reform committees, said legislation she successfully authored includes a number of measures to define and promote digital learning in Minnesota schools.
Both lawmakers criticized the DFL governor for vetoing what they said was a bipartisan tax bill that included property tax relief for business.
Original article by Christopher Magan
St. Paul Pioneer Press
2:45 a.m. CDT, May 5, 2012
Local governments can no longer pay top officials under fire to resign without publicly saying why, thanks to a bill unanimously supported by state lawmakers and signed by the governor.
“I think it was ripe,” said Rep. Pam Myhra, the bill’s author. “I just think it was ready; taxpayers and parents really wanted to see this. I think stakeholders knew it was time.”
Gov. Mark Dayton signed Myhra’s bill on Friday, May 4 after it received unanimous votes in both houses of the Legislature last month. She wrote the bill in response to public outrage over the secrecy surrounding a nearly quarter-million-dollar buyout of a Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school official.
The measure strengthens the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, the state open-records law, by requiring that investigations of top leaders be made public even if they resign before the inquiries are concluded or receive a taxpayer-funded severance. Past complaints were only released if disciplinary action was taken.
The bill also clarifies that the “complete” terms of employee separation agreements are public when they involve more than $10,000 of public money.
“I think it is one of the best pieces of legislation we put out this year,” said Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, who guided the bill through the Senate, where it stalled and was amended before receiving unanimous support.
Myhra, R-Burnsville, initially hoped to make all investigations public, but advocates for local government leaders pushed back, fearing the release of false accusations and other “unintended consequences.”
She wrote the legislation after a $254,814 separation agreement between Burnsville-Eagan-Savage schools and former human resources director Tania Z. Chance sparked community outrage. Much of the frustration was aimed at school leaders who refused to give many details about the reasons for the payout, one of the largest for a local government official in recent memory.
Citing legal advice, school leaders redacted part of Chance’s separation agreement and gave few details about what led to her departure just six months into a new two-year contract. After repeated requests for more information, district officials asked the Information Policy Analysis Division of the Minnesota Department of Administration if they had released enough information.
The state agency opinion found Burnsville schools withheld information that was public, prompting the district to release a complete version of Chance’s deal. In it, Chance was required to drop complaints she filed, one to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and another to the state Board of School Administrators that involved Superintendent Randall Clegg.
School official have acknowledge the district also received a complaint regarding Clegg, but no disciplinary action was taken.
Under the new legislation, there would be no question of whether the entire separation agreement is public, Myhra said. Complaints made by an employee that were abandoned as part of a separation deal would also be revealed.
“This is a great advancement for transparency and I think taxpayers will be thankful for it,” Myhra said. Constituents have responded positively, she added.
Ron Hill, chairman of the Burnsville school board, said he had not seen the final bill, but he and the rest of the board were “supportive” of Myhra’s work.
“Any help from the Legislature to bring clarity to the Data Practices Act law is one we are supportive of,” Hill said.
Open-government advocates have applauded the measure as one of the best advancements in transparency in years. Mark Anfinson, attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association, said the changes will not only give the public more information about how tax money is spent, but it could also influence the types of settlements that government bodies enter into.
“The real public benefit is going to be not only access to information, but considerably enhanced accountability that this will impose on senior managers,” Anfinson said. “Less money will be paid out. The indirect effect access brings is accountability.”
Christopher Magan can be reached at 651-228-5557. Follow him at twitter.com/cmaganPiPress. Read our blog: Ahead of the Class at http://blogs.twincities.com/education/.
By Christopher Magan
Posted: 04/30/2012 12:01:00 AM CDT
Updated: 04/30/2012 11:49:48 PM CDT
Minnesota lawmakers have approved changes to a bill that would bring more transparency to separation agreements with top local government officials and the investigations that sometimes precede those payouts.
The House voted 130-0 Monday, April 30, to approve an amended version of the legislation that passed the Senate with a 62-0 vote late Saturday. Initial support in the House was also unanimous with a 131-0 vote April 16.
“I think (Gov. Mark Dayton) will sign it, given the support,” said Rep. Pam Myhra, R-Burnsville.
Myhra authored the legislation after community outrage over a $254,814 separation agreement between Burnsville-Eagan-Savage schools and Tania Z. Chance, former human resources director. School officials revealed little about the reasons for the deal and redacted parts of Chance’s agreement.
The district later released a complete version after the Information Policy Analysis Division of the state Department of Administration, which advises governments about public records, issued an opinion that public information was withheld.
The full agreement showed Chance made complaints to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and state Board of School Administrators and had to drop those claims in order to receive her severance payment.
Myhra said her bill would shed light on such deals in the future. Under the proposed legislation, investigations of local government leaders would be public if disciplinary action is taken, they resign or
a complaint is dropped as part of another employee’s separation agreement.
Myhra’s bill had tried to make all investigation of top government leaders public, but advocates for school and local government officials objected when the measure reached the Senate. They feared “unfounded allegations” or other sensitive information might be made public.
State Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, worked to amend the bill, reaching a compromise he believed would receive the support of both political parties and Dayton, a Democrat.
Myhra hoped for more transparency, but said she was happy with the end result.
“There is a lot of win in this bill,” she said. “I believe it is a win for transparency.”
Christopher Magan can be reached at 651-228-5557.
By Christopher Magan
Posted: 04/22/2012 12:01:00 AM CDT
April 23, 2012 4:45 AM GMTUpdated: 04/22/2012 11:45:34 PM CDT
The veil that now covers details of investigations into the conduct of top local government officials and the severance deals that can come in the wake of those inquires could soon be lifted.
State Rep. Pam Myhra, R-Burnsville, authored legislation to strengthen disclosure rules for investigations and taxpayer-funded settlements with high-ranking local government employees.
“This brings a lot more sunshine and transparency to government,” Myhra said.
Myhra wrote the bill after residents in her district expressed outrage over the few details released concerning a $254,814 payout to a former Burnsville-Eagan-Savage schools human resources director. Tania Z. Chance received the payment as part of a separation agreement that ended her employment just six months into a two-year contract.
School district officials redacted parts of the separation agreement and have said little about the reasons for Chance’s departure, citing privacy rules under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, which governs public records. After mounting public pressure to disclose details, district officials appealed to the Information Policy Analysis Division of the Minnesota Department of Administration for an opinion on whether the district disclosed enough.
A ruling is expected by Tuesday, April 24.
An unredacted copy of the agreement leaked to news organizations showed the agreement required Chance to drop any complaints she made to the district and state agencies about
Superintendent Randall Clegg in order to receive the severance payment.
Senators debated Myhra’s bill Friday before tabling it until more “stakeholders” had time to weigh in.
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers union, as well as advocacy groups for superintendents and principals had concerns about the bill.
They specifically worried it could require the disclosure of federally protected medical information.
“It’s easy to see the unintended consequences,” said Tom Dooher, Education Minnesota president, in a statement. “Medical records and unfounded allegations, which have been considered private for decades, could suddenly become public information with each separation agreement with our front-line educators.”
A number of other groups also have weighed in on the proposed changes.
Laura Kushner, human resources director for the League of Minnesota Cities, said her agency worked with the authors to fine-tune the legislation.
“We have been at the table and come to an understanding with the authors,” Kushner said. “It is probably something we are going to live with.”
Open-government advocates have cheered the legislation, calling it one of the biggest improvements of data practices act in decades.
“This addition is a major improvement to the way things are now,” said Don Gemberling, a longtime advocate of government transparency who once led the Information Policy Analysis Division.
Not only would the legislation require full disclosure of the details of a separation agreement involving more than $10,000 of taxpayer money; it also would make public the details of any investigation of top local administrators such as superintendents, city managers and human resources directors.
Current law calls for disclosure of investigations involving a state employee, but local leaders are shielded unless the inquiry results in disciplinary action. If a local administrator chooses to resign before an investigation is finished, the details remain secret.
Myhra’s bill passed the House with a 131-0 vote April 16.
Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, plans to meet with stakeholders at 8 a.m. Monday, April 23, and bring the bill back to the Senate floor before the end of the legislative session.
Myhra believes the measure has a good chance of becoming law.
“I think we have fine-tuned it enough that we have a good bill, and hopefully the governor will sign it,” she said.
Christopher Magan can be reached at 651-228-5557. Follow him at twitter.com/cmaganPiPress. Read our blog: Ahead of the Class at http://blogs.twincities.com/education/.
by Martin Bracewell
We’ve seen some changes here in Savage over the last several weeks, not the least of which has been the weather. I was grilling burgers in the backyard on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m not a year-round griller, so this was a first for me.
The other big change this spring has been political in nature. Scott County’s population has grown so much since the last census that we’ve been profoundly affected by redistricting. Savage is no longer part of the Scott County legislative districts.
At the precinct caucus, my wife, Sherry, volunteered to be a delegate to the BPOU convention, and our son, Joel, volunteered to be an alternate. At the time of the caucuses, we did not know how redistricting would turn out. Little did my wife and son know that they would be called to two conventions: one in Shakopee and one in Burnsville.
In Shakopee, Savage Republicans had to vote on whether to remain part of the Scott County Republicans. Scott County did not want to lose us, but to stay would involve going to two conventions every two years. It was a close vote, but they voted to separate.
Claire Robling will no longer be our state senator. Savage will join Burnsville’s state senate district, where John Doll (DFL) is the incumbent. His endorsed Republican challenger will be Dan Hall. Our state representative, Mark Buesgens, ran for re-election during the caucuses, but now that Savage is becoming part of district 56A, Buesgens has decided that now is a good time to bow out.
Pam Myhra is the incumbent representative for 56A. Sherry and Joel heard her at both of the conventions, and I went with Sherry to hear her speak and to meet her at a legislative update at the Capitol. If you liked Mark Buesgens, you will like Pam Myhra.
Buesgens and Myhra were both featured in the March 30 edition of “Session Weekly,” a non-partisan publication of the Minnesota House of Representatives Public Information Services. This publication can be mailed to you by subscribing online at www.house.mn/hinfo/subscribesw.asp or by calling (651) 296-2146 or (800) 657-3550. Session Weekly Online is available at www.house.mn/sessionweekly.
We took advantage of the opportunity to tour the Capitol. It is a truly awesome building, and the tour guides are great. We got to visit the roof for a close look at those gold-plated horses. The chandelier that normally hangs from the main dome was on the first floor being cleaned. It is globe-shaped, and with a couple of panels removed, you can see the multitude of light bulbs inside. It looks kind of like the Death Star under construction in the Star Wars movies.
Now that the weather is nice, we all feel like getting out and going places. The Capitol tour is well worth the short trip to St. Paul. Enjoy this beautiful Spring!
Martin Bracewell is one of several people in the Savage community who write for Community Voices — a column appearing weekly in the opinion and commentary section of this newspaper.
By T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
When Rep. Pam Myhra watches pre-kindergartners methodically working their parents’ iPads or smart phones, she sees possibilities. “The potential is really quite amazing,” Myhra said of the digital world impact on education.
Myhra, R-Burnsville, who serves on the House Education Finance Committee, saw her legislation requiring high school students to take at least one course with a digital technology component pass the Republican House on Friday, March 30 on a 96 to 32 vote.
“Digital learning is so exciting,” Myhra said.
It’s a means of tailoring learning to students, allowing them to move at their own speed, she said.
Myhra describes her bill, a graduation requirement for high school seniors beginning in 2017, as flexible.
School districts are allowed to shape the requirement to fit their school districts, she said. This could mean “blended” coursework involving digital and more traditional forms of education.
“It doesn’t have to be a virtual course,” she said, referring to online learning.
Myhra’s bill evoked lengthy debate on the House floor.
Some lawmakers argued the bill failed to recognize that school districts vary in terms of technology.
“You’re basically setting up another achievement gap,” said Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park.
But other lawmakers, such as Rep. Gene Pelowski Jr., DFL-Winona, holding aloft a smart phone, argued the digital revolution could not possibly be ignored.
Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, who serves on the House higher education committee, said digital technology has already profoundly impacted higher education.
“We need to follow this in K-12,” he said.
Myhra, too, said that in the race between digital technology and education it was education straining to keep up.
Myhra has been working on a handful of bills this session, she explained. “This is one of the keys ones,” she said.
The legislation is destined for conference committee with the Senate.
To the editor:
It was a little disappointing to find out that Pam Myhra will no longer be my state representative following the redistricting process.
If there is one thing that is clear, it’s that Myhra genuinely cares about her constituents and the state of Minnesota.
She won in 2010 because she worked tirelessly and connected with thousands of voters across Burnsville and Savage, and with the same commitment, I have no doubt that she will be sent back to St. Paul in 2012.
I urge the voters of the newly redrawn House District 56A to support Pam Myhra in 2012 and beyond – she will not disappoint.
VOICESPAC Endorses MN Representative Pam Myhra
Pam Myhra’s campaign gains support.
(Savage, Minnesota – March 8, 2012) – VOICES of Conservative Women State PAC (VOICESPAC) announces their endorsement and support of Representative Pam Myhra for Minnesota State House of Representative (56A).
“VOICES of Conservative Women State PAC has a solid track record of helping to elect fiscally conservative women,” said MN Representative Pam Myhra. “I am honored by their endorsement and support of my candidacy to continue to represent the people of Burnsville and Savage.”
“I remain focused on the priorities of promoting job growth by improving the economic environment so businesses start, stay, and thrive in Minnesota; advocating for responsible government through sensible state spending that lives within its means; and protecting family incomes by helping families keep more of what they earn.” Myhra said.
Jennifer DeJournett, President of VOICES of Conservative Women and Exec. Director of VOICESPAC said “Representative Myhra’s experience, dedication, and commitment make her uniquely qualified to continue to represent the people of Burnsville and Savage. Myhra’s work on the Capital Investment, Education Finance, Education Reform, and Tax committees has a clear focus on restraining government, promoting jobs, and reforming education. Her work has benefited her state and her community. Myhra is a thoughtful leader and we could not be more proud of her first term in office. Therefore, we enthusiastically endorse Pam Myhra for House and we will continue to support her campaign,” continued DeJournett.
VOICES of Conservative Women (VOICES) was formed to help train and support the next generation of women leaders and/or candidates at all levels of government who support fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free market principles. In addition, VOICES works to educate the general public on fiscal responsibility, the need to elect leaders who support those ideals and encourage more women to become involved in public policy. VOICESPAC’s political fund stands with and elects female leaders who support our ideals.
“Just keep writing your checks, folks, and don’t ask any questions.”
That was columnist Joe Soucheray’s quip last month on the quarter- million-dollar payout to the Burnsville school district’s human resources director to resign her post.
Officials refused to say why they paid her that much to leave the district just seven months into a new two-year contract.
The public outcry is understandable. More than 150 residents packed a school board “listening session” March 1 to voice their displeasure over the payout and the secrecy, with many calling for the board and superintendent to resign.
Minnesota’s freedom-of-information advocates long have been proud of the state’s tradition of leadership in openness.
“Still, the state’s statutes shield information about the job performance of public officials in ways other states’ laws do not,” the Pioneer Press’ Christopher Magan reported.
A remedy: legislation introduced this week to strengthen part of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. The measure – forwarded to the House Civil Law Committee after a unanimous vote Tuesday by the Education Finance Committee – has our support.
It would require disclosure of specific reasons for employee separation payments, regardless of whether a dispute exists, when the payments include more than $10,000 of public money.
The bill’s chief author is Rep. Pam Myhra, a first-term Republican from Burnsville. Myhra told us Wednesday that she heard from a significant number of parents and taxpayers who were calling for answers.
Meanwhile, district officials said they were “being as transparent as the law would allow,” she said.
The current statute is vague, Myhra believes, and “clarifying the language will maximize transparency.”
In a report Sunday, Magan provided some perspective from leaders on freedom-of-information issues:
– In the 1990s, working for the state’s Administration Department, Don Gemberling wrote the portion of the statute requiring “specific reasons” for settlements. Gemberling, now with the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, said that by “specific,” he meant considerably more specific than recent explanations. “Do I think there’s some creative interpreting of the statute going on? Oh, yeah,” said Gemberling.
– “The attorneys for these public bodies are far more eager than they should be to keep these things private,” said Minnesota Newspaper Association attorney Mark Anfinson.
It’s a debate that’s especially appropriate during Sunshine Week, March 11-17. Ultimately, the sunlight of open government will give the folks writing the checks more power.
Bill would require transparency in public-employee settlements.
In his only public statement about the $255,000 payout to his former human-resources director, Burnsville schools chief Randy Clegg did nothing to clarify the matter. In fact, his comments muddied the waters further, if that’s possible.
On Monday, Superintendent Clegg defended hiring Tania Chance back in 2010, gave her high marks for her “professional qualities” and said he “would highly recommend her for any position in the human resources area.”
So if all of that is true, why pay Chance $255,000 not to apply those superb skills in Burnsville? The glowing assessment deepens the mystery around why it was necessary to craft such a pricey agreement to buy Chance out of the remaining 18 months on her contract.
Add to the intrigue the fact that Chance had filed complaints against Clegg with both the Minnesota Board of Administrators and the state Human Rights Department. A condition of the settlement was that those charges have been dropped and that neither side can talk about them.
In the absence of more-complete information, speculation can and will run wild about what may — or may not — have happened here.
But it’s not just inquiring minds that want to know. The taxpayers who paid that big bill want and deserve an explanation. They rightly made that clear late last week when dozens of angry district residents questioned the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school board about the decision.
Like the superintendent’s remarks, the board’s response was unsatisfactory. During the listening session, board members maintained that they are forbidden by the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act from revealing details about Chance’s departure.
Some boards and administrators say that the secrecy surrounding separation agreements allows the parties in such situations to resolve what could become long and even more costly investigations or court battles.
Paying a few hundred thousand now is better than spending two or three times as much over a longer period of time, they argue, even if district leaders believe they’ve done nothing wrong.
Too many school districts and other local government bodies have taken that approach when dismissing officials — too often with six-figure cushions and vague explanations.
The severance-and-silence treatment occurs despite a provision in the Data Practices Act that says settlements resolving disputes with public employees “must include specific reasons for the agreement if it involves the payment of more than $10,000 in public money.”
That may seem clear, but legal interpretations over the years have often skirted the original intent of the law. Lawyers have argued, for example, that once a settlement is reached, there is no “dispute,” so the law doesn’t apply. One data practices expert called that a “creative interpretation” of the statute.
To require more disclosure, Rep. Pam Myhra, R-Burnsville, introduced a bill that would drop the dispute clause altogether. She proposed that no matter the reason, the public should be told about the circumstances that lead to any payout of more than $10,000 for any contractual public officials.
The measure is a step in the right direction. Minnesota’s data practices rules need stronger, clearer language about payouts to public employees.