Economic agency's hiring of DFL operative raises questions

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz says he'll tighten hiring rules after a prominent Iron Range Democrat was hired for a civil service job without going through the normal hiring process.

Walz's move comes after Joe Radinovich, a former state legislator, was fast-tracked for a job at the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, an Eveleth-based economic development agency, the Star Tribune reported.

The weekly Timberjay newspaper first reported on Radinovich's unusual hiring, in which the job posting time was cut from the usual 21 days to 24 hours. The Timberjay also reported that an organizational chart produced by board staff nearly a week before the posting listed Radinovich in the job.

IRRR Human Resources Director Barbara Sanders said in a Feb. 14 memo requesting the short posting period that it was necessary because there was an "urgent need' to fill the position and "meet the expectations of selection and onboarding as expressed" by the Minnesota governor's office.

Walz said in a statement that the expedited hire was made without his knowledge or direction and the administration will require all classified management jobs to be posted for 21 days.

Radinovich declined to comment Thursday.

Radinovich, a longtime DFL political operative who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2018, was one of two people interviewed for the job, according to The Timberjay. The other candidate, Lorrie Janatopoulus, has a master's degree, won a prestigious Bush Fellowship and has worked for numerous nonprofit boards.

IRRRB Commissioner Mark Phillips made his preference for Radinovich known and sat in on his job interview, The Timberjay reported.

Republican Rep. Sandy Layman, of Cohasset, a former IRRRB commissioner, and Republican Sen. Eric Pratt, of Prior Lake, said the move raises questions about the impartiality, transparency and fairness of IRRRB's hiring practices. Pratt said he looks forward to questioning Phillips during the state Senate's confirmation process.

"This kind of political maneuvering undermines public confidence in the agency and reinforces the worst impressions people hold — fairly or not — about the IRRRB," Layman said.