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m9152 BC-MN-AbsentEmergencyMa 2ndLd-Writethru 12-10 0731

Minn. disciplines 3 managers who oversaw fired emergency manager

Eds: UPDATES with attempts to reach the managers, more details and background on Pitt’s job description.

With BC-MN--Absent Emergency Manager-Summary Box

By MARTIGA LOHN

Associated Press Writer

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ST. PAUL (AP) — State officials have disciplined three Transportation Department supervisors for lax oversight of an emergency manager who stayed out of state after the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.

All three supervised Sonia Morphew Pitt, the emergency manager who was fired last month after an internal investigation found that she committed serious misconduct involving travel and unauthorized expenses.

The Minnesota Department of Employee Relations suspended division director Rick Arnebeck for three days without pay for failing to monitor Pitt’s out-of-state travel and inadequate reviews of her expenses. Arnebeck was Pitt’s direct supervisor from January 2006 to April 2007.

Maintenance and Security Director Steve Lund, who took over as Pitt’s boss in April, got a written reprimand for failing to monitor her expenses adequately. He was also told he had "poor judgment" for not ordering Pitt back to Minnesota after the bridge collapse.

"Mr. Lund stated that he deferred to Ms. Pitt’s judgment regarding the need for her to return to Minnesota," said the report from outside investigator Eric Quiring.

The report added: "Mr. Lund acknowledged that in retrospect, he would have directed Ms. Pitt to return to Minnesota for public relations reasons. Mr. Lund stated that he still believes that there was no operations necessity for Ms. Pitt to be present in Minnesota."

Lund and Arnebeck did not immediately return messages.

Lund’s supervisor, Division Director Bob Winter, was reprimanded verbally. The report said Winter didn’t notice Pitt’s absence until almost a week after the collapse. Neither did Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau, who was interviewed by the investigator and said Pitt’s absence did not hurt the emergency response to the bridge collapse.

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Winter referred a call to the Department of Employee Relations, and wouldn’t say more.

As the director of MnDOT’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Pitt was responsible for developing and maintaining emergency preparedness for the agency. She supervised a staff of five and was also charged with getting grants for the office.

Both Arnebeck and Lund got disciplinary letters in their personnel files that said: "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."

Both now must take remedial training in employee expenses, including how to identify discrepancies in expense reports.

Lund would have faced more severe discipline but got credit for starting to scrutinize Pitt’s expenses and travel more closely, according to the disciplinary letter signed by Employee Relations Commissioner Pat Anderson. Still, the investigator’s report said Lund lacked a basic understanding of Pitt’s day-to-day activities.

Lund told the investigator that most of Pitt’s travel — except for one June trip to Boston that he approved — was "inherited," meaning Arnebeck had previously approved the trips. Lund had told Pitt she would have to prioritize her upcoming trips for budgetary reasons.

Neither Arnebeck nor Lund reviewed her cell phone bills, the report said. Arnebeck didn’t even know Pitt has a credit card billed to the department.

Some parts of the report were blacked out.

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Of the nine managers directly or indirectly responsible for overseeing Pitt, two — former Deputy Commissioner Doug Differt and former Division Director Marthand Nookala — have quit and would not cooperate with investigators. No disciplinary action could be taken because they no longer work for the state.

Another four managers met with Anderson and her staff to go over the concerns.

Molnau, who is also lieutenant governor, said in a statement that MnDOT has added safeguards to prevent future abuses.

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On the Net:

Investigator’s report: http://www.doer.state.mn.us/pdf/pitt.pdf

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