Former state senator Tony Lourey resigned suddenly as Minnesota’s commissioner of the Department of Human Services (DHS) on July 15.
As District 11 senator from 2007-2019, Lourey represented an area that included all of Pine County and parts of Kanabec and Carlton County as well.
Lourey gave up that senate seat in January after he was appointed as Commissioner of the Department of Human Services under the administration of Governor Tim Walz. DHS has a yearly budget of $18 billion with over 6,800 employees.
However, on July 11, it was announced that the two top DHS deputy commissioners – Chuck Johnson and Claire Wilson – were resigning, and the reason for their leaving was not announced.
Four days later, on July 15, Walz accepted Lourey’s resignation and appointed Pam Wheelock as acting commissioner of the department. Wheelock was commissioner of finance under the Ventura administration.
Walz thanked Lourey for his service. He said Lourey was passionate about improving the health care of Minnesotans, and said he was “proud of what we accomplished together this legislative session.”
On July 16 Lourey’s chief of staff resigned from DHS.
On July 17 Johnson and Wilson rescinded their resignations.
Minnesota State Senator Jason Rarick, who won the February special election to replace Lourey as District 11 representative, expressed concerns about the direction of the department in a statement.
“No matter who is in charge, my focus is overhauling DHS and getting answers for the countless program failures and privacy breaches that have happened on their watch. I am encouraged by the appointment of Pam Wheelock as acting commissioner, and I look forward to working with her to improve DHS’s operations and regain the public’s trust.”
Lourey’s letter of resignation
Dear Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan,
It has been a great honor to serve as Commissioner of the Department of Human Services. Ensuring Minnesotans served by the department receive the support they need and deserve in order to lead their best life is my mission and my passion.
I am proud of our shared accomplishments during my tenure. Together we strengthened services people rely on by increasing the MFIP grant for the first time in over 30 years, maintaining Minnesota’s provider tax to protect MNCare and Medical Assistance, and breaking down silos between Mental Health and Chemical Dependency to better treat the whole person. Each of these was achieved with a renewed focus on equity and with unparalleled bipartisan support. Finally, I am proud of the real change I pushed for in an agency that needs to grow in how it connects with and partners with the people we serve.
It has long been my belief that our social safety net is a key component that makes Minnesota one of the best places in the world to live. Not only do these programs – and the dedicated public servants who help them run effectively – enable people to lead healthier and fuller lives, they also demonstrate our collective compassion for one another that gives me optimism for the future.
It is because of this belief that today I tender to you my resignation effective July 15, 2019. I believe a new leader is necessary to best execute your vision for human services and continue the critical work of improving the health of Minnesotans across the state.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve. There are many compassionate and honest leaders inside the Department of Human Services, and I know they will do well by Minnesotans.
Sincerely, Tony Lourey